Behavioral specialists work with people who have a range of disorders and conditions that affect their mental and emotional health and potentially their quality of life. For women, this can include ante- and postpartum depression, anxiety disorders, weight and stress management and bereavement help. If you’re interested in becoming a behavioral specialist, you’ll need an advanced degree and industry-specific training and experience. You’ll also need to earn your license and potentially other certifications.
You’ll need to earn a master’s degree in psychology, behavioral health or a related field in to qualify for most jobs. The school you attend must be accredited and approved by the licensing board in the state where you plan to work. You may be able to find work as a behavioral specialist with a bachelor’s degree, as long as you have several years of relevant experience. While you don't need to earn more than a master's degree to work as a behavioral specialist, having a doctorate in psychology qualifies you to work with people who have a range of mental health problems and also prepares you to perform diagnostic tests.
Your degree program will likely include a clinical component, giving you experience working as a behavioral specialist. Most employers require behavioral specialists to have some experience. For example, the May Center for Child Development in Randolph, Massachusetts, wants behavioral specialists to have at least some experience conducting behavior assessments and developing behavior intervention plans. Plan to tailor your experience to the populations with whom you want work. For example, to work with children who have autism in Pennsylvania, a behavioral specialist needs at least 1,000 hours of direct clinical experience working with people who have autism spectrum disorders. Some employers will weigh your education and experience together when reviewing your qualifications. For example, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities waives its two-year experience requirement if you have a master’s degree.
You may need to become licensed to work as a behavioral specialist in the state where you live. Since license requirements vary, your state’s licensing board can give you information about applying for one. In Pennsylvania, for example, you have to pass a background check and meet education and experience requirements. Some employers, like the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, also require behavioral specialists to become licensed.
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board, or BACB, offers two types of certifications for behavioral specialists. To become board-certified, you need to have a master’s degree and meet BACB experience standards. For example, you need to complete at least 1,500 hours of supervised independent fieldwork or 1,000 hours of a supervised practicum. You can earn board certification as an assistant behavioral analyst as long as you have a bachelor’s degree and meet BACB experience standards. For example, you need to complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised independent fieldwork or 670 hours of a supervised practicum. For either certification, you have to pass an exam. Though certification is not always a requirement for working as a behavioral specialist, some employers give preference to applicants who have it.
- Hartford Hospital: Behavioral Health Services
- Lancaster General Health: Behavioral Health Specialists
- University of Pittsburgh School of Education: Application for a Behavior Specialist License
- Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board: Eligibility Standards
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board: Standards for Board Certified Behavior Analysts
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board: Standards for Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board: Experience Standards
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.