Career Paths for RBTs and BCBAs
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Both are certified in ABA therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis), the gold standard of autism therapy.
Both use positive reinforcement to teach individuals with a wide range of emotional and developmental disabilities new skills and behaviors.
Both are certified by the BACB (Behavior Analyst Certification Board) and must meet continuing education requirements to retain their respective licenses.
Yet despite these similarities, there are critical differences in the career paths for registered behavior technicians and board-certified behavior analysts.
Understanding the distinctions between an RBT and a BCBA will help you select the professional pathway that suits you best and ensure you provide the utmost care to your clients.
What is an RBT?
A registered behavior technician is an entry-level position in the field of behavior analysis. The BACB details this position’s professional responsibilities through the RBT task list, which is divided into six sections:
- Acquiring Skills
- Reducing Behaviors
- Documenting and Reporting
- Maintaining Professional Conduct and Wide Scope of Practice
Though RBTs are trained to work with individuals who have developmental and emotional disabilities, they can be found working most often with autistic people.
An RBT has a range of responsibilities, including assisting with individualized assessment procedures and implementing behavioral interventions at any given moment.
As a paraprofessional within the ABA therapy field, the RBT must always work under the supervision of a BCBA. They execute the treatment plans designed by the BCBAs.
What is a BCBA?
Their extensive ABA training allows them to execute these programs in a variety of settings as well as supervise others who are doing the same, including RBTs.
What Are The Main Differences Between BCBAs and RBTs?
The primary difference between these professionals is that a BCBA is certified to work independently.
While an RBT must always be under the direct supervision of an ABA professional who is more senior, such as a BCBA.
BCBAs are responsible for a broader range of tasks within a therapy team.
For example, if a child presents themselves at their clinic describing symptoms of autism, the BCBA is responsible for their intake interview and initial assessment.
After a diagnosis, they design and oversee the treatment plan of the autistic child.
Communicating with the young client’s family and other stakeholders regarding goals (i.e., pediatrician, teachers, and other therapists) and adjustments to behavior plans is also the duty of a BCBA.
In their supervisory role, the BCBA is in regular communication with all of the child’s therapists to ensure the autism intervention program they designed is meeting its objectives.
In a supporting role, RBTs execute the goals and treatment programs devised by the former.
For example, if the young autistic client assessed by the BCBA were demonstrating harmful behaviors, it would be the RBT’s responsibility to curb this using the most suitable type of ABA therapy given the situation.
The RBT would collect different data types during this child’s therapy sessions.
Similarly, with all clients, the RBT would constantly observe and note the client’s progress and areas of improvement. Then, they would communicate that information to their supervisor, a BCBA.
The educational requirements of an RBT begin by obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent.
Candidates must be 18 or older, pass a background check, and complete a 40-hour RBT training program.
The RBT training can be done online or in a classroom setting through a local college.
During the training, students learn about ABA therapy, including instruction on client skill acquisition, such as improving social skills, approaches for behavior reduction like aggressive behavior, the importance of proper documentation, and the ethical standards of the job.
Upon completion, they must sit for an RBT exam administered by the BACB.
Once they pass that exam, candidates are eligible for RBT certification.
By comparison, a master’s degree and 315 hours of ABA coursework are required to become a BCBA. That coursework can be taken at many different ABA-certified post-secondary institutions.
When complete, candidates can sit for the BCBA exam. Additionally, they must complete 1,500-2,000 hours of fieldwork under the supervision of a qualified BCBA specialist.
Once this is accomplished, the candidate is eligible for BCBA certification.
Certification and License Requirements
The official career paths for RBTS and BCBAs begin with certification from the BACB.
RBT certification must be renewed annually. This process involves providing documentation from their supervisor, completing the renewal competency assessment, and adhering to the RBT code of ethics.
BCBA certification must be renewed bi-annually. They need to fulfill continuing education requirements and adhere to the BCBA code of ethics.
Currently, RBTs do not require a state license. Yet licensure is required to practice as a BCBA, depending on the state.
The career paths of RBTs and BCBAs diverge dramatically concerning salary. The median RBT salary is $44,133 annually compared to a BCBA salary of $75,784.
It’s important to remember that salaries for both careers can vary greatly depending on experience and location.
For example, a BCBA salary in Brooklyn, New York, is $123,312 annually, compared to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they take home $70,927.
Similarly, an RBT salary in Houston, Texas, is estimated at $38,735 compared to San Jose, California, where the same professional would earn $51,058.
Career Paths for RBTs and BCBAs
A similarity in the career paths for RBTs and BCBAs is that both professionals are currently in high demand.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected job growth rate is above the national average for the professions, where RBTs are expected to grow 9% from 2021-2031. In comparison, the demand for BCBAs increased by 5,852% between 2010-2021.
With a swift increase in the number of people being diagnosed with emotional or physical developmental disabilities such as autism, the opportunity for growth in both the RBT and BCBA appears limitless.
Many professionals begin a career as an RBT in the ADA therapy field to gain experience and learn about the industry.
At a certain point, they often decide to further their education to become a lead RBT who supervises their own team. Or they can go as far as earning a master’s degree and become a BCBA.
The professional opportunities for an RBT are limitless. Registered behavior technicians can be found working everywhere, from private clinics or hospitals to schools, clients’ homes, or in public settings.
With a high level of education and experience, BCBAs can work in various settings as a supervisor or director. They can even operate their own clinics employing many ABA therapists, including RBTs.
Choosing the Best Path for You
There are similarities and differences in the career paths for RBTs and BCBAs. Both have the ABA training to help individuals with special needs reach their fullest potential. Yet the professional role of a BCBA is more complex and, therefore, requires greater responsibility than an RBT’s.
The more you understand these different career paths, the more likely you’ll be able to choose a profession you’re passionate about to provide your clients with the best care possible.