By: Gabrielle Galto, MS, BCBA, NYS LBA

In many fields it is important, even required to partake in continuing education courses. I believe in order to be successful and grow as a professional it is necessary to have a scholar-practitioner outlook; meaning, even after obtaining your degree it is important to continue to seek learning opportunities and educational growth as a practitioner.

Of course, it is also a requirement within the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) as both a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and Board-Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). Therefore, it is not only necessary but essential to maintaining one’s credentials. Unfortunately, this does not mean that practitioners within the field see the importance of continuing education courses or engage in self-study, which is the main focus of what I would like to speak upon.

What is Self-Study?

Self-study, what is it exactly? Does it include continuing education courses? Definitely! But isn’t it really just studying by yourself, well maybe? But I believe it is more than that. I believe that within our practice it is important to engage in not just what is required, but truly go out and seek opportunities to learn. As a scholar-practitioner some ways to engage in self-study can include partaking in relevant webinars, studying texts from previous courses, conducting literature reviews, and reading up on new studies and findings within the field of behavior analysis, which is very important within our growing field! Self-study can go a step further by taking a closer look into the subject or area you are learning. Truly becoming not just a researcher but your own teacher. This can be such a huge advantage as a clinician to ensure the most appropriate and individualized interventions are provided, expanding our skills and competence on a more daily basis can further reinforce past knowledge through daily practice.

Self-study is a way of learning without relying on others to directly teach or train as a way to strengthen one’s own knowledge. For example, when working with a client you hold the credentials and are competent with the areas required, however notice a lack of progress and decide to conduct a literature review within the past 5 years. When doing so you learn a more effective, empirically evidenced based intervention package, opposed to the same cookie-cutter techniques typically used. This can then lead to teaching oneself how to set up the intervention package, train your technicians or practitioners on the specific strategies and finally apply the new treatment plan with your client. Self-study is not just more convenient but a practical way for a clinician to learn new or improve one’s skills at a much faster rate than other methods. It is not to say that a more structured way of learning will never be needed. For ethical reasons it could be required for a clinician to seek out further support or training when expertise is needed in order to become competent. Nevertheless, as a professional engaging in self-study prior to seeking additional support from other colleagues can exemplify initiative as a resourceful and self-driven professional.

Implementing the Technique

Make sure that prior to implementing any technique, strategy or behavior change procedure that you follow the BACB ethical guidelines, which could be a whole other blog post in and of itself! Applying new strategies, findings, and techniques can further provide our clients with the most successful outcomes.

The opposing outlook of only doing the bear minimum, which I assume if you are reading this then you are already part of the other side who are self-driving and motivated to grow within the field! Which I love! Congratulations! Anyway, back to my point on if you are a part of those that only get just enough CEU’s and barely sit through the lectures without scrolling on your phone or falling asleep. As a professional within the field of behavior analysis, doing so will only hurt you in the long run.

It is clear that our field continues to grow in and of itself with new research findings, intervention packages, and evidenced based practices. Where if you feel that you do not need to engage in self-study this can lead to a very tunnel vision mindset, one that may not be able to see the bigger picture or implement a different strategy than the one you were trained on 10 years ago. I am not saying I am perfect. I have had cases that I thought I had the answers, I knew exactly what needed to be done without question and when it didn’t work I was completely stunned. In those moments it was hard to think of any next steps as I was in such disarray, which is a huge hindrance for any clinician. Imagine if we never engaged in self-study, we could continue to be providing hot sauce to patients as a punishment procedure opposed to incorporating the most recent empirically validated treatment plans.

Behavior intervention plans may be created based only on topography and not function or including functional alternatives. These are all an exaggeration of course, but it is clear that self-study is important based on how it can expand our knowledge and practice as well as lead to future research within our ever expanding field of behavior analysis!


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