Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) vs Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Career Paths
Drexel University School of Education
Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) are two distinct credentials within the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, a category of therapy that employs positive reinforcement practices to treat individuals with behavioral and developmental issues, such as autism, ADHD, traumatic brain injury, and dementia. RBTs and BCBAs often work together, and both roles offer opportunities for a rewarding career making a difference in the lives of those needing treatment. However, there are key differences between the two professions in terms of level of education, certification requirements, and job responsibilities. When thinking about a career as a RBT vs BCBA, understanding the differences will help you select the pathway that’s right for you.
What is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)?
BCBAs are behavior therapists with a graduate-level certification, who assess individuals’ behavioral issues and then develop treatment strategies for improving targeted behaviors. Using positive reinforcement tools, the goal of their work is to teach individuals academic and/or behavioral skills to acquire as much independence in their personal and professional lives. BCBAs work with individuals of all ages and practice across a range of settings, but education and healthcare are the most common industries for the profession. Because of their level of training and certification, BCBAs are qualified to supervise the work of Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs).
What is a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)?
An RBT is a paraprofessional within the field of ABA therapy who has received the training and demonstrated competency to become certified to support the work of a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA). Under the supervision of a BCBA, RBTs provide important ABA services, helping to implement behavioral interventions and other teaching strategies to help individuals struggling with behavioral challenges. The RBT is an entry-level role in the field of ABA, and while many RBTs continue their education and work toward their BCBA certification, others may choose to remain at the paraprofessional level.
What's the Difference Between RBTs and BCBAs?
The main difference between RBTs and BCBAs is that BCBAs are trained and certified to practice independently, while RBTs are trained and certified to only provide ABA services designed by and under the supervision of BCBAs. An RBT is an entry-level position in the field of ABA and does not require as much education and training, while a BCBA requires an advanced degree and a higher level of training and certification.
RBTs help implement behavioral treatment strategies but are not responsible for assessing individuals’ behaviors, designing treatment plans or providing supervision. RBTs support BCBAs by implementing learning goals and behavior support plans and assisting with data collection. They may also be responsible for providing notes on observations of individuals’ experiences and progress.
BCBAs are responsible for a broader scope of tasks. Depending on the setting, BCBAs may be responsible for conducting intake interviews and screenings and functional behavior and skills assessments and designing, training and monitoring data collection systems and behavioral and skills interventions. BCBAs also are responsible for communicating progress or changes in treatment strategies with the appropriate stakeholders. BCBAs work with parents, administrators and other professional disciplines to develop goals and behavior support plans. In school settings, BCBAs may not only provide services for individual students but also to the school through school-wide positive behavior support programs.
Education and Training Requirements
Aspiring RBTs must hold a high school diploma (or equivalent), be able to demonstrate basic math and literacy skills, and pass a background check. Eligible individuals must also complete a 40-hour RBT training program and acquire and demonstrate competencies, which must be overseen by a BCBA or a qualified Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). The 40-hour RBT training program provides instruction on basic ABA assessment and measurement techniques, programming for skill acquisition, behavior reduction procedures, proper documentation, and ethical standards and requirements. Upon completion of the RBT training program, individuals must pass a RBT Competency Assessment demonstrating their skills in the field.
BCBA candidates must hold a master’s degree and complete 315 hours of coursework in ABA. Graduate degree programs, like Drexel’s MS in Applied Behavior Analysis and Applied Behavior Analysis certificate, that are ABAI-verified provide the coursework necessary to the take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst® examination. Aspiring BCBAs must also complete 1,500-2,000 hours of fieldwork supervised by a qualified BCBA.
Certification and Licensure
To become certified, RBTs and BCBAs must pass qualifying examinations. The 90-minute RBT certification exam covers the same content areas included in the 40-hour training program, and upon passing the exam, individuals will be listed in the RBT registry and can begin applying to jobs using the RBT title. RBT certification must be renewed every year, and the renewal process includes documentation of supervision, adherence to the RBT code of ethics, and completion of a renewal competency assessment. The four-hour BCBA certification exam covers the content areas of behavior-analytic skills and client-centered responsibilities, and after successful completion of the exam, individuals are considered board certified and can apply for positions using the BCBA title. BCBA certification must be renewed every two years, and the renewal process includes continuing education requirements and adherence to the BCBA code of ethics.
Certified RBTs do not need to obtain a state license in order to practice, and BCBA licensing requirements vary from state to state. Some states do not require a license, some states require BCBA certification for licensure. Individuals should visit the APBA Licensure and Other Regulation of ABA Practitioners page to learn about the requirements of their state. Currently, Pennsylvania’s licensing law for the practice of ABA therapy does not require BCBA certification, and individuals must apply for the Behavior Specialist license through the State Board of Medicine. Requirements for Pennsylvania’s Behavior Specialist license include a master’s degree, background checks, and documentation of 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, among other criteria.
When working with individuals with behavioral and development issues, successful RBTs and BCBAs exhibit qualities that lead to compassionate and holistic care. Both RBTs and BCBAs must display empathy, so that patients feel understood and respected, and adaptability because patients’ needs, personalities, and treatment strategies are unique and can evolve over time. RBTs and BCBAs must also create calm environments and exhibit patience, as treatment strategies are implemented over the long term and progress can take time.
In addition to these critical qualities, BCBAs must possess additional skills, including analytical and data collection skills to identify behavioral patterns, design research-based and individualized treatment strategies, and track progress over time. Successful BCBAs have advanced communication skills to work effectively with patients and to explain diagnoses and treatment strategies with patients’ partners, families, and other stakeholders. When working with children, BCBAs must also be skilled in parent education, minimizing any confusion about causes for behavioral issues, diagnoses, treatment plans, and expectations for progress.
Salary and Job Outlook
The average salary for an RBT in the U.S. is $36,218, or $17.76 per hour, according to Payscale. The average salary for a BCBA in the U.S. is $68,554, also according to Payscale. For both RBTs and BCBAs, salaries may vary based on location and years of experience. In the field of ABA therapy as a whole, individuals can build a career in many settings and industries, so there is an equally wide range of earnings potential.
The demand for trained and certified RBTs and BCBAs has increased dramatically in recent years and continues to grow year over year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for positions similar to RBTs is expected to grow 9% between 2021 and 2031, especially as the U.S.’s aging population faces cognitive issues related to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The demand for BCBAs has increased 5,852% between 2010-2021, with the greatest increase in California, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, and Illinois.
Pursuing a Career in Applied Behavior Analysis
RBTs and BCBAs are both essential roles in the field of ABA therapy, and both professions are experiencing exponential growth. As you consider the career path that’s right for you, it’s important to select the academic program or programs that will best prepare you for the specific responsibilities you will perform. Some RBTs work to become BCBAs while gaining important professional experience at the same time. Gathering the right credentials means earning a bachelor’s degree and then selecting a graduate program, like Drexel’s Master of Science (MS) in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
Drexel’s MS program equips students with the skills and knowledge they need for a successful career in the ABA profession and provides the required courses for taking the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) exam. For those with a master’s degree but not in ABA, Drexel offers a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis that provides the ABAI-verified coursework necessary for taking the BACB exam.
Interested in a career as a BCBA? Take the first step by applying or requesting more information about our ABA programs.