Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a form of structured and progressive therapy that is used to help patients overcome a wide range of behavioral disorders. It’s characterized by an emphasis on evidence-based treatment and frequent application of the scientific method in measuring and modifying treatment programs. Behavior analysis is typically provided by a licensed practitioner in a clinical environment, but its principles and techniques are useful in domestic, educational and long-term care settings as well.
The Science of Behavior Analysis
ABA is the application of the science of behavior analysis or the study of human behavior. The field of behavior analysis focuses on the observable facets of human behavior and how behavior changes in response to external pressure. Practitioners of ABA focus on understanding and changing the patient’s current state rather than delving into past trauma or experiences that could be to blame. As a scientific discipline, behavior analysis also relies on a series of observable, measurable and predictable trials to establish a framework for success.
Techniques and Methodology
ABA therapy sessions, also called interventions, can take many different forms depending on the needs of the patient. Since treatment requires mutual participation, the goals and preferences of the patient are often taken into account during therapy design. ABA methodology is based on three simple concepts: antecedent, behavior, and consequence. The antecedent describes the stimuli or environmental factors leading to unacceptable behavior, while consequence describes anything that positively or negatively reinforces the behavior immediately after it occurs. Therapy sessions seek to mitigate antecedent factors and shift consequences to create progressive changes over multiple weeks or months.
Applications in Clinical Psychology
One of the reasons why ABA has become a staple of modern clinical psychology is its applications for a wide range of patients. While it gained recognition as a viable therapy for people diagnosed with autism, psychologists have successfully used it to address a wide range of other conditions. Almost any developmental or cognitive disorder that produces behavioral changes is a potential candidate for ABA. This kind of therapy is also a valuable tool in long-term care centers for seniors, correctional facilities, language learning environments and to help manage addiction disorders.
Careers in ABA
As demand for qualified behavior analysts continues to rise across the nation, many psychology students consider pursuing a degree to help them launch a career in the field. A master’s degree is the minimum required to become a board certified behavior analyst (BACB), but this isn’t the only option for career seekers, according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Many clinics and other care providers employ behavior technicians and assistant analysts who handle many patient care responsibilities. Certification isn’t required in every state or by every employer, but these credentials can significantly expand career options and professional growth.
ABA may only be one small branch in the much broader study of psychology, but it has quickly become one of the most relevant and influential disciplines in the entire field. Practitioners of applied behavior analysis not only enjoy strong career potential in the years ahead, but they also enjoy the satisfaction of helping people overcome personal obstacles and improve their quality of life in a meaningful, lasting way.