Congratulations! You did it! You are now a certified BCBA!
It took time, dedication, and perseverance to get to this point, and now that it’s time to get to work, you’ll quickly find that there is still much to learn. One of the best ways to grow as a BCBA can only happen once you’re finally in the driver’s seat. Here’s a crash course on a few things they might not teach you in school but will be vital to your success.
You will meet people with different perspectives on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Some positive, some not.
While many will listen to your insights and gladly accept your recommendations to help and support their child, student, or client, others are opposed to the idea of help, and ABA in particular.
This mindset might catch you off-guard. You will find people that do not believe in ABA and proceed to detail horror stories they’ve read or heard about it. While jarring, don’t take it personally. In some circles, ABA has gotten a bad reputation based on misconceptions and misinformation, not to mention a few bad practitioners.
One of the best things you can do in these situations is to redirect the conversation away from ABA therapy and focus on other topics.
Suppose you have to consult with this person or someone in their care. You can still be effective by focusing on applying the principles and strategies you’ve learned without a heavy emphasis on the ABA-specific lens behind them. The fantastic thing about ABA therapy is that the principles are applicable in real life, and they do not require fancy tools or terminology to use them. Let the person in question come to respect you, the practitioner, and your perspectives, and forget about their reservations regarding ABA on their own. In time, you can help them realize that there is a lot more to ABA than they initially thought and that the benefits of an ABA approach are real.
Taking time to build rapport is critical to effective consultation.
Both new and seasoned BCBAs must dedicate more time to building relationships with clients and families. Even the best ABA strategies and recommendations will get pushed aside because rapport and trust have yet to be established.
Imagine you’ve been working with a student or a child that has had challenging behaviors for a long time. You’re confident in your knowledge and belief that you’ve tried everything possible to help facilitate positive behavior change. Then, suddenly, a new person is brought in to consult with you and “fix” the situation.
In all likelihood, your defenses went up immediately because they aren’t going to tell you anything that you haven’t already tried. Or maybe you believe the situation cannot be changed, but your manager requires you to meet with another professional, let them observe your home or classroom, and give you feedback. That would put most of us on the defensive.
Try to remember this with every new relationship you develop with teachers, parents, or caregivers. Keep their perspective in mind, as they might view your arrival similarly to the situation described above. The most successful BCBAs use this lens with the goal of creating comfort by meeting people where they are and their backgrounds. Most importantly, listen to their concerns, respect all of the work they have already done, and partner with them, not direct them, to implement strategies that can lead to positive behavior changes.
Develop a Professional Network
You must have a network of colleagues you can learn from and use as a support system.
In our field, no two situations are the same. Although we are all trained in the same principles, subjective experiences and individual perspectives matter, contributing to the success of ABA as a science.
Every BCBA out there has encountered variety in their careers, even before they were officially certified. This variety will provide insights and perspectives that may have an impact on the individuals that we serve. In addition, the day-to-day conversations between BCBAs likely sparked even the most trailblazing research studies. Therefore, it is essential to know other BCBAs, or have a professional learning community, to talk with one another about challenges and successes and add ideas to your ever-expanding toolbox.
In addition, a professional network will also serve as an incredible support system and help mitigate burnout. Our field is challenging. BCBAs are brought in to advise on highly challenging behaviors in tough situations. The things BCBAs see are often not pretty. We regularly work brutal hours, drive a lot, and put in extra time outside the designated “work day.” It’s so hard not to take the stress home. Even the best boundary-maker and self-care enthusiasts will experience burnout.
Establish a network of a few BCBAs that can relate to your experiences so that you can lean on each other to help keep things in perspective and let you know when you might need to decompress, especially when you might not be able to see it yourself.
The life of a BCBA is highly demanding. However, it is also incredibly rewarding. Even the smallest success makes it worthwhile. That’s why you got into the field in the first place! Embrace challenges because they are what make our field exciting. Dive in and be confident in the knowledge you have already gained but remain humble enough to know you don’t know everything. Remain open to learning from and leaning on your colleagues.