If I Had Only Known

So it happened. You passed the test. The years of school, hours of supervision, and even more hours of studying have led you to the part where you receive the piece of paper that says, “Congratulations!”. I think all of us who have taken “the exam” and passed can remember the very moment we officially became a BCBA or BCaBA, but can we recognize the exact moment we were asked to put those letters into practice? 

I remember the week after I passed my exam. I was with a behavior technician, and they asked me a question about the client they were working with, and I was observing. Until then, I could give feedback with the thought that I could always check with the BCBA to ensure I was providing the correct protocol or adjustments to programming, but no more. While I could always look to other BCBAs in the company or my supervisor, I was a BCBA. I should know everything, right? Well, as most of you in the field know, we will never have all the answers. Still, we can try our best with the information we have to make evidence-based, client-centered decisions. 

So, I asked a few BCBAs what they wished they had known when they first became a BCBA. Their advice was helpful, and I wanted to share some of it. 

  1. You May Always Feel a Little “New.”
    Most BCBAs I talked with often felt like they had just passed the test, even though it had been years. That seems to be the blessing and curse of a job with many unexpected opportunities. You can never truly plan for how your day will unfold and train for circumstances you never imagined. And while the BCBAs may have felt new, they never felt alone, which leads to our next piece of advice. Do you still feel a little “new”?
  2. Find a Mentor.
    During your supervision, you had an excellent opportunity to have a sounding board in your supervisor, someone you could come to for advice or questions, and hopefully, that relationship continues after your supervision hours are over. But if it doesn’t, start to build your circle. Look for those who specialize in areas you are still learning about. Find strong mentors who will help you develop your skill level and support you during challenging times. Do you have a mentor that you can look to for advice? 
  3. Advocate for Yourself.
    It can be hard to advocate for yourself when starting a new position, but it is important. As a new BCBA,, it is our duty to the Board and ourselves to speak up. So when should we be an advocate? We must speak up if we are asked to do something outside our scope of competence. If we feel we are given too many billable hours to complete ethically, we should speak up. We should speak up if we need to take time after a particularly hard client and regroup. Can you advocate for yourself in your current position? 
  4. Take Advantage of Learning Opportunities.
    Covid gave us some great things. One of them is the ability to attend so many more events online. Not only are we required to have CEs, but it also helps us feel less “new.” Online events make training and conferences more accessible and cost-effective for new BCBAs. Take advantage of free CE events, travel to conferences, and learn as much as possible from others who have been in the field longer. Have you gotten to attend a conference yet? If so, what was your favorite part?
  5. Be Open to Collaboration.
    Our clients often come to us with very complex cases. They may be receiving individual and family services from several different providers. While we must maintain an evidenced-based ABA program, we still collaborate with other professionals. This can include schools, OT, Speech, medical doctors, parents, or case managers. No matter the title, all individuals, including ourselves, work toward the same goal: we want our clients to have better lives. We need to be open to collaborating with others and work in our client’s best interests. This can be difficult, but in the end, we must remember the goal of providing client-centered services, which means collaborating with all service providers as much as possible. What are some of the ways you have collaborated with others outside of ABA? 

While these are just a few things to remember as a new BCBA, I hope it has given you a good start on things to remember as you begin your career. It is an exciting time, but it can seem daunting. Just know others have felt the same way and are here to help you grow in your practice. 

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