You may want to become a professional ABA therapist, but becoming an RBT may seem like the most accessible option. There are fewer requirements for becoming an RBT, so you can get into this career much more quickly and easily than if you become an ABA therapist.

You can work for a while as an RBT and then become a BCBA. You’ll need to return to school to do this.

Registered Behavior Technicians & Board Certified Behavior Analysts

A registered behavior technician (RBT) is a paraprofessional who works with applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists to implement treatment plans. These plans are tailored to help clients struggling with developmental conditions, usually autism.

RBTs work directly with clients under the supervision of an RBT supervisor or a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA). The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) created the RBT position to make ABA therapy more accessible to people with autism and other developmental disorders.

An RBT is an extremely important professional in the ABA therapy world, but it is also an entry-level position. While becoming a BCBA requires a master’s degree, you only need a high school diploma to be an RBT.

BCBAs must have many supervised hours of training and pass a 90-minute exam. 

Requirements for RBTs & BCBAs

While RBTs and BCBAs are both ABA providers, there are big differences in the qualifications for either position.

RBTs must:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Have a high school diploma.
  • Pass a background check.
  • Take 40 hours of certification training.
  • Complete the competency assessment and RBT exam.

Once you meet the qualifications to sign up for the competency assessment, you will submit your application and receive information about the date and location where you will take the exam. You will be registered with the BACB for one year, and during that time, you can take the RBT exam up to eight times. When you pass, you will receive your certification via email.

You must maintain your certification as long as you want to work as an RBT. This means you must receive ongoing supervision from an RBT supervisor or BCBA, adhere to the code of ethics, and renew your certification annually with updated continuing education.

In contrast, BCBAs are therapists, doctors, or educators who have ABA therapy training. They have a specific approach to helping people with autism or other developmental disorders, and they craft the treatment plans for clients.

There are three ways that someone can become a BCBA: 

  1. Behavior-analytic coursework: You start with a graduate degree in a related field from an accredited institution. Then, you must complete acceptable graduate coursework in behavior analysis and a certain amount of supervised experience. This ranges from at least 750 hours to 1,500 hours, depending on how intensive the supervision process is. 
  2. Faculty teaching and research: If you choose this route, you must have a higher degree in a related field that leads to you getting a full-time faculty position at a teaching institution like a university. You must teach behavior-analytic coursework to graduate students, be published in at least two peer-reviewed journals, and have an understanding of the behavior therapy process. Once you meet these requirements, you can apply to the BACB to receive supervised experience and become certified in ABA therapy.
  3. Postdoctoral experience: To get ABA therapy certification on this path, you must have a postdoctoral degree conferred at least 10 years ago in either behavior analysis, psychology, or education from a qualifying institution. You must have practiced using this degree for at least 10 years under relevant state regulations, like a license to practice therapy, or under a national professional credential. You can hold different credentials over this time, including being an RBT. Then, you must get at least 500 hours of supervised experience.

While there are many more qualifications that BCBAs must meet compared to RBTs, you can still start as an RBT and work your way toward becoming a BCBA. One path does not exclude the other, although you are unlikely to hold both certifications actively at the same time.

Start as an RBT, Become a BCBA Later

RBTs are paraprofessionals and BCBAs are professionals in the ABA therapy field. If you know you want to work in ABA therapy, you can start as an RBT and then gather the credentials to become a BCBA. 

This means that you must obtain an undergraduate degree and then work toward a graduate degree or complete relevant educational requirements as defined by the BACB. This coursework spans several years, so you can work as an RBT to get experience with ABA therapy while you do this.

You will also need to pass the BCBA certification exam. Once you complete your higher degree, take the required training in ABA specifically, and complete the required supervised hours, you can send all this information to the BACB and request an examination time. You will also need to pay for the exam in order to register.

As with the RBT exam, you will know immediately after the test whether you passed the exam or not. When you do pass, you will receive your certification by email.

There is not a way to take your RBT credentials and use them toward becoming a BCBA. You must get a higher degree at an accredited or approved institution. 

Weighing Your Options

Becoming an RBT can show you what ABA therapy is like, and it can help you determine what type of work environment you want to be in. As an RBT, you may work in a clinician’s office, a school, or as an in-home ABA practitioner. Choose which appeals to you most as you complete your graduate studies, so you can eventually become a BCBA. 

Elemy has launched Ecademy: a fully-paid, 3-month, training-and-certification program for registered behavior technicians (RBTs).