Understanding Behavior Analysis Licensure

The mission of the Virginia Association for Behavior Analysis (VABA or VirginiaABA) is to promote and support the practice, research, and dissemination of behavior analysis throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.  VABA recognizes that the law and regulations to license practitioners of behavior analysis afford important protections for consumers, funders, the state, and the profession, and that the law and regulations apply to the practice of behavior analysis regardless of client population, setting, funding source, and the like.  

The licensure statute to practice behavior analysis specifies that the qualification for licensure is certification by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) “or any other entity that is nationally accredited to certify practitioners of behavior analysis” (https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?121+ful+CHAP0003) The statute also requires the Board of Medicine (BoM) to promulgate regulations for implementing the statute, including requirements for licensure as a behavior analyst or assistant behavior analyst.  The BoM did that in 2012 and the current regulations state: (http://www.dhp.virginia.gov/media/dhpweb/docs/med/leg/BehaviorAnalysis.pdf).

18VAC85-150-60. Licensure requirement. An applicant for a license to practice as a behavior analyst or an assistant behavior analyst shall hold current certification as a BCBA® or a BCaBA® obtained by meeting qualifications and passage of the examination required for certification as a BCBA® or a BCaBA® by the BACB.

Recently a petition was filed with the BoM to change that regulation “To remove the specific requirement for BACB certification and accept certification from an entity that is nationally accredited to certify practitioners of behavior analysis.”  You can find the petition and comments about it at https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/ViewPetition.cfm?petitionid=359.    The petitioner and some commenters are specifically advocating for the BoM to accept certifications issued by another certification board as qualification for licensure to practice ABA in the Commonwealth.  Public comments about the petition can be made on the Townhall site (https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/comments.cfm?petitionid=359) or sent directly to William L. Harp, MD, Executive Director of the Board of Medicine (william.harp@dhp.virginia.gov) until 11:59 PM EST April 13, 2022.   The information that follows is offered to assist ABA practitioners, current and future licensees, consumers, employers, and other stakeholders in evaluating the petition and crafting comments about it should they choose to submit them.

VirginiaABA has adopted a “Position on Credentials to Serve as Qualification for Licensure to Practice Behavior Analysis”(http://virginiaaba.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Position-on-Credentials.pdf).  We invite you to read it carefully.  Some of the key points are highlighted and elaborated here:

        Entities that certify professional practitioners of ABA should be nonprofit organizations.  Internal Revenue Service regulations require nonprofit (tax exempt) organizations to serve and be accountable to the public; have no owners, shareholders, or investors; and use any surplus revenues to benefit the communities they serve. The organization should be governed by an independent board of volunteer directors and make its bylaws and other governing policies available to the public.  That is, nonprofit credentialing organizations must be transparent about how they are governed and operated, how their credentialing and other standards are developed and implemented, and other aspects of their credentialing programs.  That allows applicants for and holders of the credentials, consumers, employers, funders, and governments to easily access critical information about the organization.  The overwhelming majority of U.S. organizations that issue professional certifications in healthcare and human services are nonprofits.  Some that are relevant to the petition are cited below; also see the American Psychological Association’s Criteria for the Recognition of Organizations that Provide Certifications in Specialties and Subspecialties in Professional Psychology, which has as its first criterion “The certifying body is a non-profit organization that has published bylaws, standards, and procedures and is governed by an independent board of directors, with specified procedures for selection and tenure of board members such that control does not rest with one individual or group of individuals indefinitely” (emphases added).

        Certifying entities should conduct job analysis studies using well-established procedures and standards to identify the competencies required to practice ABA with any client or service recipient, not just a subset (e.g., those with a specific diagnosis).  The studies should involve large numbers of subject matter experts, credentialed members of the profession, and experts in psychometrics (test construction and validation).  The resulting list of competencies should drive the contents of the professional examinations that are required to obtain the certifications.  It may also inform decisions about other certification eligibility requirements (often called task lists or exam outlines), eligibility requirements, and related standards should be readily available to the public.  

The BACB meets all of those and other important criteria, and its certification requirements parallel requirements for licensure in most professions.  The petitioner and some other commenters argue that the BoM should not accept certifications issued by just one entity as qualification for licensure.  In fact, it is common for national certifications issued by single entities to be accepted or required for licensure in many professions.  The licensure laws and/or regulations for several other professions that are regulated by the BoM are cases in point.  Some example professions and certifying entities represented in those laws and regulations include athletic trainer (National Athletic Trainers’ Association Board of Certification, https://bocatc.org); midwife (American Midwifery Certification Board, https://www.amcbmidwife.org); occupational therapist and occupational therapist assistant (National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, https://www.nbcot.org); physician assistant (National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, https://www.nccpa.net); and surgical technologist (National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, https://www.nbstsa.org).  Like the BACB, all of those certifying entities are nonprofit organizations and credential individuals to practice their profession with any client, patient, or service recipient.

Prior to making public comment, we encourage you to carefully evaluate all organizations that credential professional practitioners of ABA.  Examine their requirements for obtaining and maintaining credentials (degrees, amount and content of coursework in behavior analysis irrespective of any diagnosis, organizations that are certified to deliver the coursework and their independence from the credentialing agency, amount and content of supervised experiential training in behavior analysis, breadth and depth of behavior analytic content covered in the exams, continuing education, etc.) and compare them to current standards.  Consider that if the VA licensure regulations are changed to allow credentials with less rigorous requirements (including a focus on just one client population) to be accepted for licensure, it will create multiple levels within the same license (LBA), each level with different types and amounts of training and competence in the practice of ABA.  Those differences will not be apparent to consumers, funders, or employees, which would jeopardize consumer safety and the integrity of the profession in our state.  

Here are some other evaluation tools, courtesy of the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA):

Evaluating certification programs in the practice of behavior analysis

At the behest of some state regulators, some of our Affiliate organizations, and others, in 2018 APBA developed Guidelines for Evaluating Credentials in the Practice of Applied Behavior Analysis. We also offer the following suggestions for exercising due diligence with regard to companies that issue certifications in the practice of ABA that state they are “equivalent” to those issued by the BACB by reviewing information that is available through public sources:

o   Check the company’s website for information about key characteristics, including its for-profit or nonprofit status, mission, governing board and policies, operations, staff, history, relationship to other companies or organizations (may be embedded in the bios of board members and staff, job task analysis reports, or documents available from other sources; see below), reports of job task analyses, task lists or exam contents, eligibility requirements and how they are determined, other standards and how they are determined, accreditation of its certification programs, and the like.

o   To check the nonprofit status of a company, search for its name at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/search-for-tax-exempt-organizations. If that search brings up the company’s name, click on it to access information about it. Review documents such as annual tax returns (990s) for information like the name and address of the principal officer and the names of the company’s officers, directors, trustees, and key employees.

o   If the company is for-profit, try to find out who owns it and who benefits from the profits.

o   If you know the state(s) in which the company is incorporated or doing business, you can probably find information about it by searching the website of the state agency that regulates business entities, such as the Secretary of State. (For instance, the California Secretary of State has a Business Search feature at  https://businesssearch.sos.ca.gov. It allows you to search by corporation name, LP/LLC name, or entity number; you might have to search with more than one of those filters). If the company is found, you should be able to see what type of organization it is, the address, and the principal agent or owner. If available, peruse documents like the company’s original registration and recent corporate filings for additional information.

o   If the company has trademarked any titles, names, or brands, search for them in the trademark database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/search. If the company is found, search the records on that site for information about the company’s goods and services, the owner, and the address.

o   If reports of job task analyses (JTAs) or exam content outlines can be obtained, compare the content with the corresponding BACB documents (most recent JTA report at

https://www.bacb.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/January2017-newsletter-200828.pdf; current task lists [certification exam content outlines] at https://www.bacb.com/task-lists/). In particular, look for evidence that

  •       the JTA pertained to the practice of professionals rather than paraprofessionals/technicians, and to the practice of ABA with any category of client or service recipient rather than just one or a few;
  •       the characteristics and numbers of individuals to whom the JTA survey was sent and the subject matter experts involved indicate that they were representative of the profession as a whole;
  •       the task list or exam content outline describes the entire array of concepts, principles, and procedures involved in practicing ABA professionally with any client or service recipient.

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