Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the application of the principles of behavior to problems of social significance.

In the field of psychology, this applied science focuses on ways to produce measurable change in the behavior of humans or animal populations.

ABA has a wide variety of practice areas, including mental health treatment, organizational psychology, education, and more. Julianne Lasley, EdD, lead faculty in Capella University’s Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Sciences Department of Psychology, further explains ABA and potential career opportunities in the field.


Q. What is the field of applied behavior analysis all about?

A. The larger field of behavior analysis has two major branches: experimental and applied. Experimental behavior analysis involves researching the principles behind behaviors and behavior changes in order to improve understanding. Applied behavior analysis then takes this knowledge and applies behavior principles to real-world situations, often focused on helping children and adults learn new behaviors or reduce problem behaviors.

ABA has become known recently for its use helping individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or other disabilities. However, it can be used with any issue related to human or any living organism’s behavior. Behavior analysts can work with organizations to address employee performance, with individuals dealing with substance abuse issues, phobia, or fears, as well as with animals in zoo settings.


Q. Who would be interested in studying applied behavior analysis? What skills and competencies are necessary for success in the field?

A. ABA is a good field for anyone who desires to help others reach their full potential through changing behavior.

The practice combines psychology, counseling, social work, education, and organizational management, making it a great fit for someone interested in any of these fields. Teachers, particularly those in special education, would benefit from the study, as would psychologists, counselors, or other direct therapists.

Behavior analysts must practice applying the principals in a variety of settings. They should be comfortable dealing with people (or animals) with behavior disorders, and must be observant, detail-oriented, and compassionate. Good written and oral communications skills are another important skill set.


Q. What types of industries employ applied behavior analysts?

A. The most in-demand industries for ABA are those that provide ABA services to children and are funded by various insurance reimbursement agencies. This includes schools, clinics, rehabilitation or residential facilities, client homes, and treatment agencies.

Other ABA opportunities can be found in corporations, governmental agencies, such as the FBI, or even in zoos.


Q. What are some responsibilities of a behavior analyst?

A. Generally speaking, a behavior analyst assesses a client’s behavior to identify particular skill deficits or excesses. Following their assessment, the analyst will develop a treatment plan that they or other behavior specialists will implement, and then monitor and oversee that implementation.


Q. What career opportunities are available with an advanced degree in this field?

A. With an advanced degree in ABA, you can become a board certified behavior analyst provided you meet the boards’ requirement and pass the BACB exam. Individuals cannot practice ABA unless they are certified or are overseen by someone certified.

Related job titles to explore with a master’s in applied behavior analysis include:

  • Clinical director*
  • Program supervisor*
  • Applied behavior analysis instructor*
  • Behavior analyst or behavior specialist
  • Applied behavior analysis therapist

* Requires BACB certification


Q. What is the focus of Capella’s master’s in psychology, applied behavior analysis program?

A. Our master’s program prepares students to apply research-based findings from studies done in the applied behavior analysis field to help create new treatments and practices for addressing behavioral issues.

Although program graduates will be prepared in the overall science of behavior analysis, the focus is on addressing the treatment needs of individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or other disabilities in various setting.


Q. Why should individuals consider a career in applied behavior analysis?

A. A couple of reasons. ABA is a rewarding field that allows you to make a huge impact on individuals’ lives. Also, the demand for behavior analysts right now is very high, particularly those experienced in working with individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disabilities.



Learn more about Capella’s Master of Science in Psychology, Applied Behavior Analysis program.

Important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program.