24 May Coaches’ Corner: Five Things I Wish I had Known as A New BCBA
A Self-Reflection Five Years’ Post-Certification
The first day of any career can be intimidating. As a brand new BCBA, I remember feeling extremely excited, but also overwhelmed. I had spent the last several years of my life working up to this moment: becoming a BCBA. I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve finally made it!” All the countless hours spent in classes and fieldwork had finally paid off and I was ready to make an impact in the autism community. As I think back over the last 5 years of my career, I have had many successes as a clinician, but also many mistakes or things I could have done better as a clinician, supervisor, mentor, and colleague. I often think about what advice I would go back to give to myself as a brand new BCBA. If I could go back five years, I would tell myself that:
1. Everyone experiences imposter syndrome.
As both a brand new BCBA as well as someone who has been certified for five years, imposter syndrome is something that I experience often. Early in my career, I struggled if a client was not making progress on goals and wondered if I was the right person to serve the client. I also stressed if a caregiver or staff member asked me a question that I did not know the answer to, concerned they may think less of me if I indicated I would need to ask my supervisor before I answered. I was nervous to bring my imposter syndrome feelings to my mentor. Once I did, I soon learned that I was not the only one who felt this way. My mentor coached me to know that it is okay to not know everything there is to know about behavior analysis. Raising your hand as a clinician and asking for help is something that will be admired.
2. Taking time for yourself is just as important as spending time with your clients and staff.
For the first year of being certified as a BCBA, I struggled to take PTO. I caught myself working long hours to ensure I was consistently available to my teams, even if that meant responding to emails, texts, and phone calls outside of business hours. I wanted to support my clients and teams as much as possible. I quickly began to experience symptoms of burnout and exhaustion. I slowly became less productive with my work and felt my passion for my job dwindling. I finally took a week of PTO, and that time was life changing. I came back refreshed and ready to hit the ground running to make an impact with my teams. This week of PTO taught me that the saying, “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” was true. To best serve our clients, we must take care of ourselves. After that week, I began to set stronger boundaries for myself to not overwork myself.
3. Developing a community of like-minded BCBAs for support is needed to grow.
There is a saying that it “takes a village” and that saying is as applicable to work as a BCBA as it is to any other setting. One of my favorite things about my job is the people that I have the opportunity to work with. The BCBAs that I work with constantly challenge me to become a better version of myself. However, they are also there to support me in times of distress. I have a community of like-minded BCBAs that I know I could call at any time for help, whether it would be to vent about a challenging day or to get another perspective on a situation I have no idea how to handle. All BCBAs have different training experiences and learning histories, which enables them to have a unique perspective from me as a clinician. There have been countless times when I thought I had tried every option to make progress with a client, and another BCBA always has an idea I have not thought of yet. As a brand new BCBA, it is important to find this strong community to help support your growth as a clinician.
4. ABA will constantly change and so must we as clinicians.
ABA is a science. The field is consistently developing added resources, articles, and continuing education events, so it can often be overwhelming to keep up with the science. There will always be new discoveries or different ways to teach clients. What was best practice five years ago is no longer best practice. The key is to keep up with current literature and leverage your mentors to build upon your strengths and weaknesses as a clinician. Additionally, it is important to prioritize areas of growth as a clinician. Just like with a client, a BCBA should work to self-evaluate their own strengths as well as deficit areas as a clinician. Rather than seeking to tackle every single deficit in a clinical repertoire, a BCBA should work to strategically select continuing education opportunities to best support their development. Schedule time during the workweek to attend conferences, CE presentations, or read a journal article. It is pertinent to stay up to date on the latest and greatest practices to best serve our clients.
5. Treatment planning with the end in mind is essential for the success of our clients.
When taking on a new case, it is important for a BCBA to quickly learn the priorities of the client to develop long-term treatment goals for the client. ABA is not meant to be forever, meaning that ABA was not intended to be a long-term treatment for individuals diagnosed with autism. The original study done with the autism population to evaluate the effects of ABA had participants remain in treatment from ages 3 up to the age of 7. By developing long-term treatment goals, a BCBA can use these as a guidepost to make ongoing treatment decisions and to determine when a client will no longer need services. Our job as a BCBA is to work ourselves out of a job and to get a client to where they do not need intensive ABA services to learn new skills for the rest of their life. Additionally, it is important to heavily involve client families throughout treatment, to put caregivers in a space where they can continue to teach the client utilizing ABA strategies once they are no longer in services. At the onset of treatment, a BCBA should work to identify a client’s long-term goals and priorities, then use these to work towards eventual discharge to a client’s least restrictive environment.
By: Lauren Broadwell, M.S., BCBA