Updated: May 2
For aspiring behavior analysts, the fieldwork experience can be daunting. Frustration and confusion are often expressed by student analysts. If you're pursuing BCBA certification or considering doing so, read on for the answers to the commonly asked fieldwork questions.
Note: The BCBA Handbook is your best resource for understanding each requirement for becoming a BCBA, including fieldwork experience. We'll review several common components in this Q&A, but reviewing the handbook in its' entirety is strongly urged.
What exactly does BCBA fieldwork entail?
BCBA fieldwork consists of 1,500-2,000 hours of activities applying behavior-analytic concepts and principles to real-world situations (pathway 4 only requires 500 hours, though that pathway will be eliminated in 2027). Your fieldwork experience is supervised by a qualified supervisor (i.e., a BCBA). The end goal is to prepare you for a role as a behavior analyst. While coursework provides the knowledge, there is no substitute for actively applying that knowledge with actual clients. This is why fieldwork experience is a vital component.
When can I start BCBA fieldwork?
You can start your fieldwork hours as soon as you attend your first course and sign a supervision contract with a supervising BCBA!
What are restricted and unrestricted hours?
Unrestricted tasks are all of the activities a BCBA is likely to do. The goal of BCBA fieldwork is to prepare student analysts for the role of a BCBA. Because of this, it's required that the majority (60%+) of the fieldwork experience centers around activities that develop BCBA-related competencies.
Unrestricted activities may include:
Creating data systems
Writing FBA reports, treatment plans, progress summaries, or other clinical documentation
Analyzing and interpreting data
Supervising and training staff
Evaluating and modifying interventions
Restricted activities include the direct implementation of therapeutic and instructional procedures. This is typically the role of a behavior technician or other paraprofessional role. You don't have to do restricted hours at all. You can complete 100% unrestricted with no restricted hours. Most people do both though.
The one requirement is that you must have at least 60% unrestricted hours and no more than 40% restricted. For those accruing 2,000 hours, this means you must have at least 1,200 unrestricted hours and you cannot accrue more than 800 restricted hours.
It's important to be aware that the BACB's guidance on fieldwork activities is somewhat generic to encompass the wide array of populations and manners of applying behavior analytic principles. The BACB provides several examples in the BCBA handbook of allowable activities, though they won't directly answer whether a particular activity counts.
You cannot mistake this vagueness to mean they are lenient or that just any activity will count. It is ultimately up to the BCBA to determine what does and does not count toward your hours. Keep in mind though, it is also your responsibility to have a thorough understanding of the guidelines. In the event that you're ever audited by the BACB, you may need to provide supporting documentation to demonstrate that the activities you did during your fieldwork experience should have been counted. If your supervisor assigns you a task that you know can't count toward your supervision hours, yet they tell you to count them, decline counting them. Politely point out why that activity cannot count.
Can you give some examples?
For sure. This can be a little confusing, especially for those who haven't started their hours yet or those who are new to the field.
Perhaps your supervisor delegates RBT scheduling to you. They assign you the responsibility of entering schedules into an online platform, modifying sessions, calling staff to inform them when sessions are canceled, etc. Scheduling is not behavior-analytic in nature and therefore would not count toward your fieldwork hours, even if they are a part of your job duties.
Your fieldwork experience should encompass activities that will best prepare you for a BCBA role. Scheduling, administrative duties, or other tasks that aren't behavior-analytic and/or duties specific to a behavior analyst, cannot be counted.
The BACB provides further clarification in the handbook. Here is a list of unacceptable activities. You cannot do any of these activities for restricted or unrestricted hours, per the BACB.
Attending meetings with little or no behavior-analytic content
Providing interventions that are not based on behavior analysis
Performing nonbehavioral administrative activities
Nonbehavior-analytic training related to service delivery (e.g., crisis management, CPR, billing systems)
Completing nonbehavioral assessments (e.g., diagnostic assessments, intellectual assessments), paperwork, documentation, billing, or any other activities that are not directly related to behavior analysis
Attending professional conferences, workshops, or university courses
Didactic-course assignments (e.g., completing homework assignments, readings, etc.)
What are the monthly supervision requirements?
The following table shows the monthly supervision requirements for both supervised and concentrated supervised fieldwork. The primary difference between the two is with the concentrated path, you can complete your hours quicker. However, you would need more monthly supervision. Some supervisors may not have the capacity to provide concentrated supervision, so if that is something you're interested in, clarify this before agreeing to supervision
Concentrated Supervised Fieldwork
Number of total hours
Number of supervisor observations with a client
Number of contacts with supervisor
% of hours supervised
What are the pathways to becoming a BCBA?
There are currently 4 pathways, though 2 will be eliminated in a few years. You can learn more about the pathways to becoming BCBA here.
What should I do if my fieldwork experience doesn't feel right?
I firmly believe that everyone is not for everyone and that is okay. In other words, your supervisor may not be a great fit for you. Having a supervisor who fits your needs can make a big difference in the level of quality supervision you receive. If something doesn't quite feel right, advocate for whatever changes may be needed. I.e., more tasks assigned, increased feedback, additional support in XYZ, etc. If your requests are not acknowledged or addressed, you may want to consider seeking supervision elsewhere. This might include seeking employment elsewhere or securing external supervision.
Can I have more than 1 supervisor?
Yes, you can! As long as you have a contract in place with each supervisor, you can accrue hours with more than one supervising BCBA. If you have more than one supervisor within the same organization, then the supervisors can collectively work together to meet all of your monthly supervision requirements (i.e., you might have 2 contacts with supervisor A and 2 contacts with supervisor B). However, if you have supervisors in different organizations, each of them will need to independently meet all of the monthly requirements.
Let's break it down further. Imagine you work for ABC Company. You have one supervisor there, but they aren't providing you with as many hours as you'd like. You secure a remote supervisor outside of your company who provides you supervision to supplement your hours. In this case, your supervisor at ABC Company and your remote supervisor will each need to observe you with a client at least once per month, have 4 supervisory contacts, and supervise a minimum of 5% of your hours. Your total hours must still be between 20 and 130 per month. You cannot accrue more than 130 hours monthly, even if you have multiple supervisors.
Who counts as a client?
The BACB considers a client as anyone who receives behavior-analytic services in any setting. They further clarify anyone to mean a person or group of people. A large majority (around 70%) of the field works with the autism community, so many people accrue their hours while working with autistic children in the ABA field. However, this is not required. Any person or persons who would benefit from behavior analytic services can count as a client.
How long does the fieldwork experience last?
You can accrue a maximum of 130 hours per month. This means if you are maxing out hours, you could complete your fieldwork hours in as little as 11.5 months if you are going the concentrated route (1,500 hours) or 15 months if you are going the traditional route (2,000 hours).
Typically it takes between 1 1/2 and 3 years for student analysts to complete their hours. It is important to note that you cannot exceed five consecutive years though. Factor this into your plans if you expect to take breaks along the way or if you'll be accruing hours on the lower end of the range (reminder: You can accrue between 20 and 130 hours monthly).
Can any BCBA supervise?
No. A supervisor must meet one of the following requirements.
A current BCBA with no current disciplinary sanctions. Must complete an 8-hour supervision course and meet ongoing supervision CEU requirements. If they have been a BCBA for less than one year, they must receive ongoing consultation from a qualified consulting supervisor.
A licensed or registered psychologist certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology who has tested in ABA.
An authorized Verified Course Sequence (VCS) instructor.
You can check the BCBA Registry to confirm that your potential supervisor meets the requirements to supervise.
The following links are more BACB resources specific to the fieldwork experience. I highly recommend reviewing each of these.
What other questions do you have? Feel free to comment or reach out with any others that I can help clarify!
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