By: Yvonne Pallone, M.Ed, BCBA, LBA
You finished your coursework, your practicum, and are anxiously awaiting the up to 45 days for the result of your test to see if you have earned the prestigious certification for your field.
Wait, you no longer get delayed reinforcement with this per the new BCBA® testing updates. Once you see that passed status on your portal, you are prepared to take on a full caseload of varying ages and behaviors and the whole world that ABA therapy has to offer, right?
The certification brings you into the fold, but your background and experiences bring you your employment and cases. Maybe you are collecting your forms, your transcripts, and all other required documents to send in to sign up for your testing window?
Whether you have taken your test or are studying in between reading blog posts for the next testing window, here are 5 helpful tips for soon-to-be BCBAs®.
1 – Self-Assessment
Self-assessment reflects the skills and experience you currently have versus the skills you may still need. Depending on where you participated in your coursework, practicum, and mentorship provided,you may have broadened or narrowed your scope of practice. Be honest about your initial skillset and do not confuse your comfort zone with the scope of practice.
This is an ever-evolving field, and expanding your repertoire is a required task. This brings me to my second tip.
2 – Continuing Education
The BACB requires you as a practitioner to maintain your certification by completing 32 Continuing Education Units (CEU) in the two-year cycle including 4 units of Ethics (BACB 2020). Even before taking the test, take advantage of conferences and seminars. Conferences are a great way to learn updated strategies and about new research being performed to enhance or create additional resources in the field of ABA therapy. It is also a great way to start shopping around for the service providers you can look to for employment. Many companies will have tables that can be visited. This will let you get an abbreviated version of the company culture and will make you aware of the many providers locally and across the nation.
There are large providers and smaller providers, and it is easy to be overwhelmed. It is important to reflect on your self-assessment and find out where you fit in. That brings us to tip number 3.
3 – Understand the Company Culture
After I passed my test, I received so many emails from companies across the country seeking BCBAs®. I was promised living allowances, moving bonuses, and multiple opportunities to enroll in every doctorate program in America. I was already employed, but just like any other newly certified BCBA®, had to see if the grass was greener. Research companies.
From 2010-2017, the need for BCBAs® has increased by 800% (BACB 2018). This means a lot of opportunities for employment, but the need for you to strongly consider how you want your career to look. Every position will have stipulations on hour requirements, salary, caseload requirements, population served, and required knowledge. Perhaps research is your driving force. This will also change how you look at prospective employers.
Whatever path you choose, company culture can direct your career and further your experience. You also need to abide by the ethical code of our field, which brings us to tip number 4.
4 – Honesty is the Best Policy
When choosing employment, be honest about your background and experience. Keep this honesty when taking cases as well. Learn to say, “No.” This is not a field where winging it is recommended. This is a human services field, and the impact of services rendered directly relates to the evidence-based practices of ABA. “No” is not an excuse. “No” should be said with reasons such as: “No, I would need additional training,” “No, I have never worked with a self-injurious client,” or “No, this case doesn’t fit within my current schedule and caseload.”
There can be pressure to take on more than you can serve or outside your scope of practice. By saying “No,” you are allowing for compromise. Maybe it is taking a training in that area of service (i.e. social skills, feeding programs, assessments etc.). Maybe it is swapping a case from your current caseload that is stable to one that needs your expertise. Being honest is better than being overwhelmed.
Our position consumes a lot of our time within client visits, training, and at home or the office developing programs and treatment plans. We also tend to be on call for our families, staff, and clinical directors/employers even when we are home in our pajamas. This brings me to tip #5.
5 – Time Management and Work/Life Balance
Human services fields tend to have a high attrition rate. “Low job satisfaction and burnout are common among those providing behavioral services potentially leading to absenteeism, turnover, low standards of service, and poor health outcomes” (Plantiveau Et. Al 2017). My Google calendar is updated almost daily with demands for supervision, team meetings, collaboration, and general duties. This also includes my self-care, mom time, and other daily activities. I couldn’t believe when I started to note activities outside of work in my calendar myself. I reached burnout near year 2 in my initial renewal cycle. It is very easy to be so caught up in the needs of your clients that you forget to eat, get enough sleep, or plan your life. Time management skills are a must in order to survive our everyday rigor.
There is a huge satisfaction when you see the positive impact on the families we serve, or in research breakthroughs. It is reflected in the data we interpret, the social validity in our parent reports, and every small or large skill attained and generalized by our clients. Participating in the human services field is a love/hate relationship. I know myself personally, I survive on an extraordinary amount of coffee and the feedback of my team and families. Whatever brought you to the field, remind yourself of that. For some, it’s because of the firsthand knowledge and struggle of learning how to parent or give care to a special needs individual. For others, it is improving the current strategies. Whatever brought you here, focus on this and push through those first few years until you find your stride.
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2018). US employment demand for behavior analysts: 2010-2017. Littleton, CO: Author
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2020). Board Certified Behavior Analyst https://www.bacb.com/bcba/
- Plantiveau, C., Dounavi, K., & Virues-Ortega, J. (2018). High levels of burnout among early- career board-certified behavior analysts with low collegial support in the work environment. European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 19(2), 195-207
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