ABA Therapist Salary Outlook

Applied Behavioral Analysts are specialized therapists who observe the behavior of individuals to better understand the unique reasons behind their behavior and offer methods and techniques to modify problem behaviors.

While ABA therapists are most often brought in to help individuals with autism spectrum disorders, they also often help provide analysis and treatment for people with developmental disabilities or even traumatic brain injuries.

Given the increased awareness both of autism spectrum disorders and traumatic brain injury, the need for ABA therapists should continue to rise, and many psychology students may be interested in pursuing careers in this exciting and challenging specialty. Let’s learn more about this type of psychology and what students should know about possible careers and salaries.

What Is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)?

Applied Behavior Analysis is a distinct method of psychological examination that’s based on a detailed study of human behavior and the ways in which behavioral patterns set in and how they might be changed. Individuals who practice this type of study are alternately called Applied Behavior Analysts, Applied Behavioral Analysts, Applied Behavioral Therapists and other similar job titles.

Regardless of the terminology used, counselors, psychologists and therapists trained in this type of analysis help patients and clients understand the roots of their behaviors and how they can reduce behavior that’s harmful and increase behavior that’s helpful. As a field, modern behavior analysis began to emerge as a distinct psychological science in the 1960s.

ABA-based therapeutic tools go beyond the type of talk therapy that’s common for individuals coping with stress or relatively minor periodic mental health issues. While it’s true that some people who undergo other forms of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, may work to modify behaviors, unless the counselors they are working with are trained (and likely certified) in Applied Behavior Analysis, true behavior analysis is probably not the source of their therapy.

Some but not all ABA therapists are formally certified, and earning this certification is an important step for many Applied Behavior Analysts. Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification provides an important signifier for those with advanced education in behavior analysis. Earning the badge is a several-step process that has multiple hurdles to clear, including education, coursework and professional experience.

Many employers require therapists who are going to provide ABA services to earn their certification, and for those who plan to practice independently, BCBA certification can help illustrate your professional bona fides for prospective clients.

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ABA Therapist Educational Options

ABA therapists who plan to seek BCBA certification should be sure that any psychology programs they’re considering will help them earn that badge, and generally, there are a handful of educational paths ABA therapists could consider.

Master’s Degree

Many colleges and universities offer master’s degrees in Applied Behavior Analysis or related fields. While not all therapists will end their academic journey with a master’s degree, it may be the best option for many.

But depending on the state, for those who wish to earn a psychologists license, a master’s degree may not be enough, so whether this option is feasible will depend on many individual factors.

Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)

Psy.D. programs have become much more common over the past few years, and these programs are helping to advance the educational options for this clinical-focused doctoral degree. Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, colleges and universities began offering this alternative to traditional Ph.D. programs for psychology students who wanted to focus on the practical applications of psychology rather than furthering the scientific study of the subject.

Thus most Psy.D. programs have a heavy focus on the clinical practice of psychology, and for those who want to have a career in Applied Behavior Analysis, there are multiple Psy.D. programs that offer coursework focusing on this type of treatment.

Importantly, Psy.D. programs can provide the educational foundation for earning professional psychologist licensure in most states.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

A more traditional psychology doctorate, Ph.D. degree programs will usually focus more heavily on scientific research surrounding philosophy and various areas of the field. For those who want to understand applied behavioral analysis, this could be an ideal option, since the most crucial aspect of ABA that separates it from other forms of therapy is the intensive analysis required to understand root causes of behavior.

Ph.D. degrees can also provide the foundation for a psychologist license, as well as possibly ensuring the educational requirements of BCBA certification.

ABA Therapist Salary Outlook

Expected salaries for ABA therapists vary by where in the country they work, as well as their educational and experience levels. Let’s explore data from Payscale.com on how a variety of jobs in the space compare when it comes to what professionals in the role can expect to earn.

Of the five ABA-related jobs for which Payscale has published data, the average annual salary is about $53,000, with Applied Behavior Analyst commanding the highest average wage.

Average annual salary by job

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapist $50,778
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Home Therapist $48,704
Applied Behavior Analyst $61,005
Behavior Analyst $60,155
Registered Behavior Technician $45,514

With any job, salary expectations will vary depending on geography, and it’s no different for ABA jobs. On average, salaries tend to be higher for these roles on the East Coast, with Boston and New York each providing above average salaries for all the jobs for which data was available.

Average annual salary by job and city

Job title San Diego Los Angeles Boston New York
Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist $51,793.56 $76,167.00
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Home Therapist $46,268.80 $50,165.12 $56,009.60 $129,552.64
Applied Behavior Analyst $85,407.00 $81,746.70
Behavior Analyst $65,568.95 $70,381.35 $66,772.05
Registered Behavior Technician $48,699.98 $46,879.42

While growth projections aren’t available for these specific job titles, it’s notable that diagnosis rates for autism spectrum disorders are on the rise. This almost certainly reflects greater awareness of spectrum disorders, but it’s also a potentially positive sign for the career prospects of people trained in ABA as a therapeutic tool.

Autism prevalence among children in 2002 was about 6.7 in 1,000. By 2014, it had risen to 16.8 per 1,000, and by 2016, the rate was 18.5 per 1,000. Whether more children have autism than did in decades prior, or it’s simply more commonly diagnosed is the subject of great debate. But there can be no doubt that the need is great for professionals trained in providing behavior-modifying therapy.

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Counselors, psychologists and therapists trained in Applied Behavioral Analysis provide an important service in helping those whose behavioral disorders may be holding them back from the full enjoyment of life. As awareness continues to grow for this field of psychology, ABA therapy will continue to be a popular educational option for psychology students.