Applied Behavior Analyst: A Definition

An Applied Behavior Analyst is a trained expert who uses empirically established principles of learning, behavioral conditioning techniques, and related environmental modifications to create demonstrably effective and humane outcome-based therapies with the primary goal of establishing and enhancing socially important functional independent living skills.


In practice, an applied behavior analyst uses techniques based on learning theory to shape important new behaviors in individuals with specific behavioral excesses and deficits. Interventions conducted by applied behavior analysts typically include the following components:


• A data-based functional analysis of the conditions responsible for the problem behavior.

• Specific and verifiable treatment goals and objectives.

• A well-defined plan using reinforcement theory principles to meet the goals and objectives.

• Ongoing data collection to show that the intervention was actually responsible for the treatment gains.

• A plan to ensure the generalization and maintenance of treatment gains.

• Measures to ensure the social validity of the treatment goals and objectives, and to ensure that all those affected by the treatment can contribute substantially and constructively to all its elements to the best of their abilities.


The range of behavior issues addressed by applied behavior analysts is broad and deep. The list below is illustrative of, but does not exhaust, the scope of practice of applied behavior analysts:


Teaching social skills to children with autism.

• Enhancing marital satisfaction in couples through behavioral contracting.

• Re-establishing independent living skills in people with brain injuries.

• Training appropriate toileting in children with enuresis.

• Reducing or eliminating aggression, soiling, and other problem behavior in companion animals.

• Honing high-level physical performances in athletes.

• Establishing speech or other modes of communication in non-verbal individuals with autism.

• Reducing or eliminating unwanted thoughts in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

• Improving medical compliance in people with illnesses.

• Reducing or eliminating severe self-injury in people with developmental disabilities.

• Training animals to find people trapped in rubble, locate landmines, and detect drugs.

• Establishing effective study habits in at-risk students.

• Reducing repetitive habits such as nail biting and trichtotillamania.

• Reducing avoidance of medical procedures.

• Establishing and enhancing academic skills in children with and without developmental disabilities.


Although an applied behavior analyst would be trained to employ diagnostic and assessment information supplied by psychologists and other health care professionals, and work in concert with other professionals as necessary and appropriate to set goals and objectives and achieve good treatment outcomes, applied behavior analysis as a practice does not include traditional psychological testing, the general diagnosis of psychopathology, long-term counseling, psychoanalysis, and all those treatment techniques not considered part of practice of psychology.


This statement should not be taken to exclude applied behavior analysts with the appropriate training and credentials from engaging in the aforementioned and other professional practices.

Behavior Analysis Association of Michigan, Department of Psychology, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197