What is a Behavioral Consultant?

What is a Behavioral Consultant and How is This Different From a Psychologist?

These questions are often asked by people trying to find a behavioral consultant for a family member, a friend or someone else with mental retardation or another developmental disability for whom they provide support. They sometimes come up because many people are not aware that the majority of psychologists are not qualified to serve as behavioral consultants. This is because many do not have the specialized training and experience in applied behavior analysis or behavioral psychology and mental retardation/developmental disabilities (MR/DD) needed to provide appropriate and effective behavioral treatment for people with MR/OD. On the other hand, some people who do have the appropriate training and experience have graduate degrees in areas other than psychology, such as special education or human development. Unfortunately most states at present, almost anyone can legally call him or herself a “behavioral consultant.”

These issues have bee a source of confusion and frustration for many consumers. This flyer was prepared to help you make an informed choice of a behavioral consultant for a person with MR/DD or yourself. It was developed by representatives of three major professional organizations. They are the Psychology Division of the American Association on Mental Retardation, the MR/DD Division (Division 33) of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Behavior Analysis. Each of these organizations has a primary focus on the issues presented here.

What is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst?

This is a professional who has documented graduate training and supervised, hands-on experience in applied behavior analysis, and has passes a special examination in this area. This voluntary certification assures you that the professional has basic, general competence in applied behavioral analysis. This national program is managed by the Behavior Analyst Certification (see http://www.bacb.com on the internet for more information about this organization) . Professionals with masters’ or doctoral degrees who are certified under this program are called Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) . Over time, the number of board certified behavior analysts is expected to increase, and it should become easier for consumers to find qualified behavioral consultants.

What to Expect from a Behavioral Consultant:

• They have a master’s or a doctoral degree in applied behavior analysis, or in a closely related discipline (psychology, special education, human development) with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis.

• They have supervised experience implementing behavior analysis interventions for people with MR/DD.

• They follow the ethical principles of the American Psychological Association (APA) whether or not they are licensed psychologists or members and/.or the ethical codes of their respective affiliated chapters of the Association for Behavior Analysis. Among other things these ethical guidelines of the Association for Behavior Analysis. Among other things, these ethical guidelines require professionals to provide only those services for which they have the appropriate training and experience.
(See http://www.apa.org/ethics/code.html),

• They adhere to the Right to Effective Treatment position statement of the Association for Behavior Analysis. Other qualifications are shown at http://www.bacb.com

• Recommended qualifications for professionals who direct and supervise applied behavior analysis programming for children with autism spectrum disorders are shown in the autism section of http://www.behavior.com under Guidelines for Selecting Behavior Analysts.

• Other standards and requirement may be applicable for third party reimbursement of behavioral consultation services by private insurers or government agencies, which could include supervision or direct provision of all services by a licensed psychologist, membership of the professional on a panel of approved providers, and/or recognition by a state agency as a Medicaid or other specific program provider. Well qualified providers may not be eligible for third party payment of fees by particular agencies because of closed provider panels or because they have not enrolled in the required government program. These financial factors should be discussed when arranging for services with a behavioral consultant.

There are some practices you should expect from a Behavioral Consultant:

• They will observe the person with MR/DD or Autism Spectrum where the person lives, works, or goes to school at least a few times.

• They will develop a system for collecting objective data about the skills and needs of the person and train caregivers or teachers to implement it.

• They will conduct a functional assessment or functional analysis of any problem behavior to determine why the problem occurs.

• They will develop an intervention plan, based on the functional assessment or analysis results that address the factors in the person’s physical and social environments that contribute to the problem and aims to change those factors. They will seek input from caregivers and other professionals, where appropriate, in developing the intervention plan

• This plan should include training to help the person with MR/DD develop appropriate and useful skills (instead of using “problem behavior” to get what they want) but may also include other intervention procedures.

• They will directly train caregivers or teachers to implement the intervention plan.

• They will observe the people implementing the intervention and provide feedback.

• They will modify the plan as needed to ensure its continued effectiveness, based on direct observational data.

• They will share data and collaborate with other professionals involved in the case, such as a psychiatrist if the person is receiving medication for the problem behavior or related conditions, or a psychologist who is conducting diagnostic assessments. They will also share data with family members and caregivers and seek consultation form other professional when needed.

• Some behavioral consultants will have a private practice, but others may work for private or public programs or services. They may provide services in schools, adult programs, community settings, or homes.

• Some aspects of consultation will vary depending upon whether it is provided as a continuing part of a school or adult service, as an intensive treatment service, or as a service provided through a hospital, private or university group practice.

You should feel free to ask the consultant how they will help and what processes they will use. If the consultant does not say they will use the methods listed above, ask them why not. If they do not have the training to use the procedures, that means you should find a different consultant who has this training, experience and skills (even if they have a license to practice psychology or an impressive title)

We suggest that you do not use a consultant who focuses mainly on reacting to “problem behavior” unless a crisis or other particular circumstances warrant this focus. Focusing mainly on reacting to “problem behavior” will not help prevent it from happening in the future and does not represent current best practice. In crisis situations or in the case of an escalating behavior problem that requires immediate action, treatment should address both immediate concerns and preventive strategies such as changing environment ands and teaching appropriate alternative skills. In most other cases, the main focus of the behavioral consultation should be on skill development.

California Association of Behavior Analysts