PennABA Behavior Analyst Licensure Act Statement

The discipline of behavior analysis has undertaken significant strides in order to protect individuals receiving services based on the empirical evidence of behavioral experimentation and methodology (BACB, 2014; Van Houten et al., 1988). In addition to the creation of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB®), there has also been a movement for individual states to create professional licensure laws which would regulate practice of ABA-based treatment services (Dorsey, Weinberg, Zane, & Guidi, 2009; Green & Johnston, 2009a; Green & Johnston, 2009b; Guercio & Murray, 2014; Johnston, Carr, & Mellichamp, 2017). According to the Association for Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA), there are currently 29 states that have licensure laws for the practice of applied behavior analysis (APBA, 2019). The state of Pennsylvania is working to create a licensure law specifically for behavior analysts and the leadership of PennABA are endorsing this effort.

Professional licensure advances the field and the quality of services in a number of ways. First and foremost, professional licensure laws are designed for consumer protection (Dorsey, Weinberg, Zane, & Guidi, 2009). Written into the proposed bill are several specific measures meant to protect individuals receiving ABA-based intervention. The new licensure law would both restrict professionals from practicing ABA-based intervention as well as referring to themselves as a behavior analyst unless they are certified as a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or Board-Certified assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). This would allow for consumers to more readily identify what type of service they will receive as well as the credentials of the staff who will be delivering these services. In addition, the licensure board created out of this new law would have the ability to investigate professionals engaging in unethical or potentially harmful practices and hold them legally accountable. The ability to distinguish ABA-based treatment as well as being able to stop detrimental practice are crucial steps for the continued growth of the field of behavior analysis in PA.

Due to state insurance mandates (PA Act 62), payers have sought out ABA-based providers, but they have not created payment and policy structures which fit well with the delivery of ABA-based treatment. Under the current state guidelines, applied behavior analysis is not seen as a distinct profession. This is problematic for consumers trying to identify effective services, but it also presents significant challenges for practitioners and providers. Recognition of behavior analysis as a distinct professional discipline opens up opportunities for negotiations with governmental and insurance payers which could allow for the increased availability of professional employment within the field. This in turn should increase capacity and access to services for consumers.

The proposed legislation creates standards for both licensed behavior analysts (LBA) and licensed assistant behavior analysts (LaBA), but it is valuable to define who this law does not cover. There are notable groups of professionals that do not practice applied behavior analysis directly with clients or that require exemption from these proposed statutes. Behavior analytic practices conducted within a school setting by school district employees, organizational behavior management services provided to businesses, university students that are supervised by a licensed behavior analyst, academic researchers, professors teaching behavior analysis, and professionals practicing behavior analysis with animals are exempt from these licensure standards. In addition, licensed psychologists that are not BCBA’s but have sufficient education and training may practice behavior analysis within the ethical and professional boundaries of their profession. Thus, the licensure standards being developed regulate the delivery of ABA-based intervention directly to individual or family consumers but are not meant to restrict the ethical practices of behavior analysis in other realms.

Next Steps
As a leader in the dissemination of best practice application of applied behavior analysis, PennABA is providing this information to its members. The organization has endorsed and committed resources to the passing of this legislation and wants to state the positive impact that licensure could have on professional practice within the state. PennABA has had several leaders within the organization participate in drafting and editing the proposed legislation and have attended meetings with legislators and other important officials. PennABA has worked collaboratively with the ABAinPA initiative who has been leading the way towards creating the licensure law. Both PennABA and ABAinPA have had regular contact with the Association for Professional Behavior Analysts and the Behavior Analyst Certification Board® in order to learn from their experience in creating other state licensure acts. We believe that behavior analyst licensure is a significant step forward for both consumer protection as well as for the growth of high-quality of ABA-based intervention within the state of PA.

If you are interested in reading the current version of the proposed legislation, click here.

Tim D. Caldwell, Ph.D., BCBA
Central Region Member at Large
PennABA Executive Council


APBA. (2019). Overview of state laws to license or otherwise regulate practitioners of applied behavior analysis. Retrieved from

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2015). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts. Littleton, CO: Author. Retrieved from

Dorsey, M. F., Weinberg, M., Zane, T., & Guidi, M. M. (2009). Behavior Analysis in Practice, 2(1), 53-58. doi:10.1007/BF03391738

Green, G., & Johnston, J. M. (2009a). A primer on professional credentialing: Introduction to invited commentaries on licensing behavior analysts. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 2(1), 51-52. doi:10.1007/BF03391737

Green, G., & Johnston, J. M. (2009b). Licensing behavior analysts: Risks and alternatives. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 2(1), 59-64. doi:10.1007/BF03391739

Guercio, J. M., & Murray, W. J. (2014). Licensure for behavior analysts: The path to responsible and cooperative action. Behavioral Interventions, 29(3), 225-240. doi:10.1002/bin.1388

Johnston, J. M., Carr, J. E., & Mellichamp, F. H. (2017). A history of professional credentialing of applied behavior analysis. The Behavior Analyst, 40, 523-538. doi:10.1007/s40614-017-0106-9

Van Houten, R., Axelrod, S., Bailey, J. S., Favell, J. E., Foxx, R. M., Iwata, B. A., & Lovaas, O. I. (1988). The right to effective behavioral treatment. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 21(4), 381-384. doi:10.1901/jaba.1988.21.381

Here is a recent news article by State Rep. Tom Mehaffie  in support of the "Better Access to Treatment (BAT) Act".