Updated: Nov 1
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.
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 Supervisory 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.
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. You can find a BCBA supervision curriculum here.
Regardless of whether or not you use a curriculum, you should have a generally identified structure and flow of supervision. Create an agenda to keep things organized and well-prepared. The following shares general tips for planning and structuring supervision. Modify this in whatever way works for you and your trainees.
Prior to each meeting
Create a shared agenda in which items can be added throughout the week/time leading up to the meeting date. The supervisor should review this shared agenda prior to the meeting to briefly prepare for questions, concerns, or areas of interest noted by the trainee.
Start of the meeting
At the start of each meeting, review the agenda items together. Address any emergent items on the agenda first.
Throughout the meeting
Once emergent matters are addressed (if applicable), follow up on the last meeting. Discuss an overview of the last meeting, review goals that were implemented, and follow up on any "homework" or tasks that the trainee has been assigned.
Supervision meetings should address:
The development of knowledge and skills per the 5th edition task list
Client scenarios, questions, concerns
Ethical scenarios-Ideally applicable to clients, though fictional may be appropriate as well
Feedback on recent observations and/or client tasks
Soft skill development
End of meeting
Summarize discussions and feedback that was provided throughout the meeting. Identify and assign action items, both for the supervisee and yourself. Clearly outline the next steps in observable and measurable terms. Sign monthly verification forms, if necessary.
Behavior Skills Training (BST)
What seems to be often forgotten is that the principles of behavior apply beyond our work with clients. Behavioral principles we have developed knowledge and competency in with the populations we work with, also apply to the individuals we supervise. Supervision must be provided using evidence-based practices. We should be training our supervisees to competency. As such, behavior skills training is an effective method to be used in supervision.
Learn more about BST basics here.
Evaluate the Effects of Supervision
Per ethics code 4.10, behavior analysts are responsible for creating systems to evaluate the effects of their supervision. High-quality supervision should first and foremost be evident in the progress your supervisee is making. If they are making minimal progress through competencies, consider what you can do to modify the environment to increase their success. In addition to their progress, what feedback do they have specifically for you as their supervising BCBA? There should be systems in place to actively seek this feedback and make modifications as necessary.
Positive effects of supervision should also be evident in the progress the clients are making. If the clients that the trainee is working with are making less than desired progress, consider whether supervisory practices can be modified to increase this success. Additionally, actively seek feedback from the client and/or caregivers regarding the trainee's progress, as that is another way to monitor and evaluate the effects of one's supervision.
Don't forget about soft skills
Teaching social and interpersonal skills during BCBA supervision is a requirement per the BACB as outlined in the Supervision Training Curriculum. However, this continues to be an area often missed in supervisory practices. Make a concerted effort to include the trainee's development of soft skills such as perspective-taking and problem-solving.
25 Essential Skills & Strategies for the Professional Behavior Analyst is an excellent read with tips and strategies in the area of interpersonal skills.
As supervisors, we hold a vital responsibility to develop knowledgeable, ethical, and compassionate behavior analysts. Consider this responsibility with the weight that it truly holds.
Andzik, Natalie & Kranak, Michael. (2021). The Softer Side of Supervision: Recommendations When Teaching and Evaluating Behavior-Analytic Professionalism. Behavior Analysis Research and Practice. 21. 65-74. 10.1037/bar0000194.
Sellers, T. P., Valentino, A. L., & LeBlanc, L. A. (2016). Recommended Practices for Individual Supervision of Aspiring Behavior Analysts. Behavior analysis in practice, 9(4), 274–286. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-016-0110-7
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