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Be a Better Supervisor: Best Practices in BCBA Supervision

Updated: Mar 29

As you have likely noticed, the ABA field has grown significantly in the past two decades. The need for behavior analysts is quickly rising. At the turn of the century, there were only 392 Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). In the twenty-two years that have followed, that number has risen to 58,345 as of October 3rd, 2022.

With this tremendous growth comes tremendous responsibility for supervising behavior analysts. We are responsible for ensuring that the next generation of behavior analysts have a solid understanding of the science of behavior, behavioral principles, and how to apply those to socially significant behavior. We further have a duty to ensure our supervisees are engaging in ethical and compassionate practices. Respectfully, we are dropping the ball on this. When aspiring behavior analysts are assigned busy work like listening to podcasts and writing fictional BIPs, rather than applying skills to actual clients, we should all be concerned about the projection of the field.

We can, as a collective field, do better. It starts with the supervising BCBA.

woman and man looking at computer

First things first

Before agreeing to take on the supervision of student analysts, fully consider the magnitude of your responsibilities. I strongly urge against companies requiring all BCBAs to provide supervision. Adding those 4 letters behind your name does not immediately indicate that one is prepared for the responsibilities that come with BCBA supervision. The BACB's recent change requiring a consulting supervisor for newly minted BCBAs appears to demonstrate that concern.

Evaluate the needs of the supervisees, the time commitment required, and your available time and resources. Consider whether you have supports in place (i.e. a consulting supervisor) for guidance and support. Consider taking additional courses or training on supervision practices.

Consider reviewing the literature on supervision practices and reading behavior analytic supervisory content. Building and Sustaining Meaningful and Effective Relationships as a Supervisor and Mentor is an excellent read for both new and seasoned supervisors.

Only proceed with providing supervision once a complete self-assessment has occurred, supporting the notion that you are well prepared for supervisory expectations.

Establish Clear Expectations

A common concern reported by student analysts (i.e. those pursuing fieldwork hours) is that expectations are not clear at the onset of supervision. The supervisory contract should explain terms, roles, and responsibilities. However, it is beneficial to have an open discussion about all aspects of supervision. Especially for those who are newer to the field, it may be challenging to fully understand what to expect. Provide clear expectations (estimates) for the number of restricted and unrestricted hours that the trainee may accrue. Many trainees who expect to max out at 130/month, are barely getting half of that. While there are many factors that go into these hours, be as thorough and upfront as possible about what they can expect. Discuss the types of tasks and responsibilities that they will be doing for both restricted and unrestricted hours. Monitor body language for signs of understanding and answer questions as needed to further clarify.

BCBA Supervision Contract

The first requirement of supervision is the creation of a supervision contract. A sample supervision contract, as provided by the BACB, is attached below.

It is vital to clearly outline what criteria need to be met for you to sign the monthly and final verification forms. The last thing anyone wants after spending years accruing hours is to hear that their F-EVF can't be signed.

Download DOC • 33KB

Curriculum and/or Structure

Supervision activities and meetings must be well-planned and structured. While a curriculum is not in any way necessary to provide effective supervision, it may be desired to take some of the guesswork and prep work out of the equation.