Supervision for Certification in the Field of Applied Behaviour Analysis: Characteristics and Relationship with Job Satisfaction, Burnout, Work Demands, and Support

Katerina Dounavi, Brian Fennell and Erin Early

Among Board Certified Behavior Analysts® (BCBA®) and Board Certified assistant Behavior Analysts® (BCaBA®) high rates of burnout have been found. Burnout has been described as a situation in which professionals experience high levels of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, lack of accomplishment and job satisfaction (Plantiveau et al., 2018). Burnout is a common risk across care professions such as physicians, nurses, social workers, care workers, teachers, medical doctors and surgeons.

Former research has confirmed the positive effects of support systems built around professionals. More in concrete, social support from colleagues and supervisors has shown to produce a lower rate of burnout and increase job satisfaction (Plantiveau et al., 2018). The role of personality traits has also been explored as a factor that elevates the risk of suffering burnout. In the field of applied behavior analysis, research around the role of personality traits has indicated that the predisposition of burnout can be predicted from personality traits and that social and supervisor support could be factors in the mitigation of burnout (Hurt et al., 2013; Deling, 2014).

In order for supervisor support to be an effective factor in the mitigation of burnout among behavior analysts, supervisors should possess sufficient formal training and experience supervising others (Parsons, Rollyson, & Reid, 2012). Once the function of supervision has been defined, supervisors can decide on the form that will best suit this function.  For example, supervisors who aim to establish strong support networks for future BCBA® who will be working independently can achieve this through group supervision, while the aim of upskilling supervisees in the use of specific teaching procedures can be best achieved through the provision of feedback during one-to-one supervision sessions.

The present study was contacted through an online survey distributed to 92 professionals aged 18-74 working internationally in the field of ABA and holding one of the following credentials: (Registered Behavior Technicians™/RBT®, BCaBA®, BCBA®, and BCBA-D®). The largest percentage of respondents (n=46; 50%) resided in North America, while BCBAs were the largest group (n=64; 70%).


Participants completed an online survey. The first section included a survey with demographic characteristics, followed by information on pre-credentialing/pre-certification supervision for BCaBA, BCBA and BCBA-D. The second section measured job satisfaction, excessive work demands and burnout.


The findings on pre-certification or pre-credentialing supervision indicated a high level of satisfaction on the supervision experience. The majority of respondents had only worked with one or two clients before being certified.

Job satisfaction was high, with respondents aged between 35-44 and those having collegial support reporting the highest level and those aged 45 or older reporting the lowest level of job satisfaction. Additionally, findings indicated that as the rate of excessive work demands increased and collegial support decreased, the level of job satisfaction also decreased. An unexpected finding was that those receiving no supervisor support appeared to be more satisfied with their job than those receiving supervisor support, although this correlation was not statistically significant.

Regarding burnout, data showed that those aged between 35-44 years presented the highest levels of emotional exhaustion burnout, while those aged 45 years or older presented the lowest, with excessive work demands being the main factor contributing to burnout. Interestingly, enjoying collegial support also seemed to correlate with the absence of emotional exhaustion burnout and a higher job satisfaction, although these relations were not statistically significant.

In summary, as excessive work demands increased, the rate of burnout also increased, while job satisfaction decreased, except for personal accomplishment. Collegial and supervisor support correlated with high rates of job satisfaction and low rates of burnout, although these relations were in general not statistically significant.


Although working in the field of ABA can present several challenges, it also offers deep satisfaction as professionals feel that they contribute to improving other people’s lives, a fact that explains the overall high job satisfaction.

Clearly, excessive work demands, supervisor and collegial support are all important factors influencing job satisfaction and the likelihood to suffer burnout. Age has been revealed as a protective factor against job dissatisfaction or burnout, most likely indicating that with age “comes the experience” and the skills to protect oneself.

These findings highlight the importance of building support networks according to the needs of supervisees. The risk factor of excessive work demands can be mitigated by supervisors training supervisees on organizational skills such as time management. Additionally, supervisees should work with at least 2 clients throughout their pre-credentialing experience, a necessary condition that will allow them to build necessary skills and generalize these across clients with different needs. Supervisors should also ensure that the supervision procedures and contents comply with the standard requirements.


In sum, these findings highlight the ability of supervision to shape competent supervisees that are able to act in an ethical and professional manner safeguarding clients’ best interest and knowing how to protect themselves from the effect of excessive work demands and risk of burnout under challenging circumstances. These aims can be achieved through the use of evidence-based supervision practices that make use of technology to enable access to international support networks.


Deling, L. A. (2014). Burnout in Applied Behavior Analysis Tutors: The Role of Personality, Stress, and Affectivity. Ph.D. Thesis, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, USA.

Hurt, A. A., Grist, C. L., Malesky, L. A., McCord, D. M. (2013). Personality Traits Associated with Occupational ‘Burnout’ in ABA Therapists. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 26, 299–308.

Parsons, M. B., Rollyson, J. H., Reid, D. H. (2012). Evidence-Based Staff Training: A Guide for Practitioners. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 5, 2–11.

Plantiveau, C., Dounavi, K., Virués-Ortega, J. (2018). High levels of burnout among early-career board-certified behavior analysts with low collegial support in the work environment. European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 19, 195–207.

Read original article here.

Summary by Sophia Petrogiannaki and Katerina Dounavi