Applied Behavior Analysis is a field that is in-demand. But is certification as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) worth it? Most often, you’ll find people on the internet, “of course it’s worth it!” But this career path isn’t ideal for everyone.
Certification as a Registered Behavior Technician isn’t very expensive, nor is it overly difficult if you have an aptitude for science and logical thinking. But to maintain your certification you will need to meet the supervision requirement set by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). If you are able to meet this requirement, then certification can create new career paths and could help you earn more money. However if you are unable to meet the supervision requirements you should consider another option.
While the rest of this post goes into detail, the table below will help you decide whether certification as an RBT is the right path for you. Even if certification isn’t a good fit, taking the training and learning ABA skills can benefit many individuals.
|Become Certified||Take RBT Training||Try Something Else|
|You’ll be able to receive ongoing supervision||You won’t be able to meet the supervision requirements||You want to control or manipulate customers or clients|
|You like the idea of executing someone else’s plan||You prefer to work independently with little or no supervision||You find the idea of collecting data tedious|
|You have a high school diploma||You have an undergraduate or graduate’s degree and are considering working in ABA||The idea of working with a science is unappealing|
|You want to advance your career||You want to become more proficient in your current position||You lack empathy for the individuals you may be supporting|
|You’re looking for a new career working with children or adults with disabilities||You’re not sure if a career in ABA is right for you|
RBT Ongoing Supervision Requirements from the BACB
In order to maintain certification, individuals must comply with the requirements set forth by the BACB. The most challenging criteria to meet for some candidates will be the ongoing supervision. As an RBT you are not permitted to work without the oversight of a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or BCaBA (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst). A BCBA or BCaBA must oversee 5% of your hours at each organization where you perform ABA services. As part of this requirement the BACB also does not permit RBTs to be independent contractors as they are required to take direction from the supervisor, therefore the supervision must take place as part of their position. If you’re not able to meet this requirement, it’s unlikely to be worth obtaining certification.
However, training in Applied Behavior Analysis can help in a variety of careers so you may still want to complete the training without following through with certification, or you may decide to obtain a higher certification that doesn’t have this requirement.
The RBT Handbook has complete details on the requirements for ongoing supervision. In this document, the BACB explains the need for supervision:
As an RBT, you must practice under the close, ongoing supervision of a qualified RBT Supervisor and/or RBT Requirements Coordinator who are responsible for the work you perform. The purpose of ongoing supervision is to improve and maintain your behavior-analytic, professional, and ethical repertoires, and facilitate the delivery of high-quality services to clients (i.e., any recipient or beneficiary of behavior-analytic services). All activities must comply with the respective Codes (i.e., RBT Ethics Code for RBTs, Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts for RBT Supervisors and RBT Requirements Coordinators). For that reason, you must meet the supervision requirements at each organization where you are providing behavior analysis services.
Supervision is a critical piece of maintaining certification and therefore if you’re not able to receive supervision there is little reason to take the steps to become certified. Be aware that this advice is contrary to what you’ll find in many places on the internet. The website Applied Behavior Analysis Program Guide , for example, states:
Not only is the Registered Behavior Technician credential often required by employers working with people displaying problematic behaviors, but it’s also useful for parents and guardians of developmentally challenged children.
While it may be true that parents and guardians, and many others not working specifically as an RBT, can benefit from the training, obtaining certification is meaningless unless you plan to work in the field.
Cost to become Certified as an RBT
Depending on your budget and your ability to learn independently, a certification as a Registered Behavior Technician can be achieved for under $100 (just the cost of the application fee through the BACB and the exam itself). Conversely, if you want someone who will walk you through the entire process including having all fees paid for you, exam prep, and personal coaching you may pay about $1500 (see ATCC for more). The fact that RBT certification requires nothing more than a high school diploma makes this one of the more affordable fields to pursue.
If on a budget, the 40-hour training requirement could be met with a free training offered by the Autism Partnership Foundation. However, this is unlikely the best option for most candidates. You can read our full explanation in our post Can You Get the 40-Hour RBT Training for Free? Other options are available for as little as $29/week or even $99 for 180 days of access to the training. Our post Become an RBT: Choose the Best 40-Hour Course for You! compares what you can expect from 3 different options.
Career Prospects for an RBT
The field of Applied Behavior Analysis is growing exponentially, Individuals who hold a certification as a Registered Behavior Technician can work in a variety of settings including clinics, schools, clients’ homes and the community. Additionally, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and more may opt to obtain certification as an RBT. Because of the range of potential employers and job responsibilities, hourly wages and salary can vary dramatically. When considering certification in the field you might expect to earn approximately $13-20/hour.
Let’s look at some examples of fields you could enter with an RBT certification.
While New York, California, Texas, Washington and Massachusetts have the highest demand for home health workers, the map below clearly demonstrates demand throughout the country:
Community Health workers, on the other hand, may earn a median hourly wage of $20.19 ($42,000 annually):
Not surprisingly, New York, California, Texas, Washington and Massachusetts also have the highest demand for community health workers, however once again the map below clearly demonstrates a demand nationwide:
Although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t list Registered Behavior Technicians as a separate category, these examples are representative of what you can expect when you begin your career.,
Should You Become Certified as an RBT?
Should you become certified as an RBT? Well, the answer depends on your career goals, your personality and your level of education. This option is good for individuals with a high school diploma who want to work under the supervision of a BCBA or BCaBA. It may not be the best choice for someone with a college degree, who wants to work independently, or who won’t have access to a qualified supervisor in their role. However, it’s also important to consider your aptitude for the science of ABA as well as your desire to work one-on-one with clients who have disabilities.
Let’s look at the options by level of education first, then discuss options based on career.
High School Graduates
If you’ve graduated high school but have decided that a college degree isn’t for you, then certification as an RBT may be a good fit. This certification is one of the most affordable career-focused programs you’ll find. For someone motivated to complete the training and other requirements, preparation for certification can be completed in just a few weeks. Therefore the risk of trying this as a career option is minimal.
You may find that the structure of data collection mixed with the variety of everyday tasks is a good fit for you. Or you might discover that the jargon and constant data collection is tedious and overwhelming. Either way, you won’t have to invest much time or money to find out! If you discover you love the field there is plenty of room to grow and advance.
As a college graduate you have many career options available to you, depending on your area of study. The BACB offers individuals with undergraduate and graduate degrees the option of becoming certified as a BCaBA (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst) or a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst), respectively. Still, obtaining certification as an RBT can help you determine your aptitude and affinity for Applied Behavior Analysis before attempting to meet the more rigorous certification of these higher levels.
Be aware however, when entering the field of ABA as an RBT with a college degree some employers may see your degree as a benefit, however others may consider you to be over-qualified. Also, most RBT positions are entry-level and the pay may not be adjusted because of your degree.
To help you decide whether pursuing RBT certification is the best option, consider the BCaBA and BCBA alternatives below.
Undergraduate Degree (BCaBA)
For candidates with an undergraduate degree, certification as a BCaBA is an option. When applying after January 1, 2022 the BACB offers 2 pathways for certification as a BCaBA (see BCaBA: 2022 Eligibility Requirements for more):
*If applying prior to 2022, see the BCaBA Handbook for requirements.
This certification takes more time and money to achieve, however you’ll find the pay to better reflect the investment you’ve made in your education. However, this level of certification still requires ongoing supervision so if you will not have access to supervision you will not be able to maintain certification.
See our post Becoming Certified in Applied Behavior Analysis for more information on this certification.
Graduate Degree (BCBA)
For candidates who have achieved, or are willing to complete, a graduate degree, you may still consider training as an RBT to explore the field of ABA as an option, but certification will likely not be worth your time. It’s unlikely someone with this level of training will be satisfied with the pay and required supervision you’ll experience in a position working as an RBT.
Instead, you may want to consider certification as a BCBA. When applying after January 1, 2022 the BACB offers 4 pathways for certification as a BCBA (see BCBA: 2022 Eligibility Requirements for more):
*If applying prior to 2022, see the BCBA Handbook for requirements.
Unlike RBT and BCaBA certification, the BCBA certification doesn’t have the ongoing supervision requirement. While there are other requirements to maintain this level of certification, you can meet these requirements even if your current role doesn’t support this.
Teachers often find themselves working with children with autism, disabilities and behavior problems. Depending on their training and experience they may feel unprepared to cope with the situations they encounter in the classroom. Training as an RBT can help teachers learn the fundamentals of Applied Behavior Analysis and may better prepare them for working with these children. If you are able to meet the ongoing supervision requirement of RBT certification, obtaining this certification can help you advance in your career, or may open the door for other opportunities.
Physical, Occupational or Speech Therapist
While understanding behavior and motivation can be valuable in many careers, physical, occupational and speech therapist can especially benefit from training in Applied Behavior Analysis, even when not working with children or adults with autism or other disabilities. These therapists work directly with individuals who need to be motivated to perform tasks and create habits that are often difficult for them. ABA provides many tools therapists can use to achieve this. Similar to teaching, certification may be a good option if you’re able to meet the supervision requirement as this can provide new career possibilities.
For many individuals looking to change careers, RBT certification is a good fit. It will allow you to test out the field of ABA while learning new skills. It can serve as a good way to launch a new career, but can also prove to be an option for those approaching retirement so long as you have the energy and physical abilities required of the position.
Parents of Children with Autism
Often on the internet parents of children with autism are advised to pursue a certification as an RBT. Unless a parent is planning to work in the field and help other children and families, there is NO REASON a parent needs to obtain certification. That being said, for parents who want to really dig into learning and understanding ABA concepts, taking the RBT training might be an option. Alternately, the membership on our site run by our sister organization, Accessible ABA, can provide the training and support parents need. Visit Understanding Your Child with Autism for more information. This membership is temporarily closed to new members as we improve the training, however bookmark the link and come back 1/1/2022 to get access to the tools all parents need!