Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hiring ABA Therapists: The Other Side of the Interview

After my post about How to Interview ABA Therapists, I started receiving questions from ABA professionals about what they should be asking during an interview.
For both parents and the therapists the interview process is a time to discuss details of the position, pay and benefits, expectations, qualifications and background, etc. Just as parents are responsible for making expectations clear during the interview process, therapists are responsible for evaluating these expectations and determining if they can meet them. This post is specifically for ABA professionals who work in the home with clients.

There are basically two different roles an ABA therapist can inhabit: an Employee or an Independent Contractor. If you have a supervisor or work for a company you are an employee. If you work for yourself, you are independent.

 (You can work for a company or agency and be considered an independent contractor. To reduce confusion, in this post the term "independent contractor" refers only to people who work directly for families)

When I started in this field I was an independent. I worked directly for families and I didn’t have a direct supervisor. That means I was responsible for finding work, setting pay criteria, marketing myself, and creating my own employment contract.
There are pros and cons to either role; it just depends on what works for you. Some therapists prefer working for themselves, and others like the advantages of being under a company. It’s a personal decision.

The interview/hiring process looks a little different depending on if you are an employee or an independent. Employees typically are given policies to adhere to; they don’t get to create them. So I will move straight to talking about independents. 
For independents, your role and the responsibilities of your position should be clear before you ever begin working with the family. I talk to many therapists who work in the home and are dissatisfied with pay, hours, communication, etc. If these issues are discussed before you ever begin work, it is much easier to find areas of compromise. For example, if you are going on vacation for 2 weeks who will cover your sessions? Have you discussed that with the family? The day before your vacation starts is not the ideal time to have that discussion. Some families are not used to having employees working for them in their home, so they may not know how to interview you. They may not know what issues need to be discussed, or what needs to be put in writing. As an ABA professional it is your responsibility to inform and educate the family during this process. You are not just the more knowledgeable one when it comes to behavior and ABA, you are probably the more knowledgeable one about the hiring process. Below are some hiring/interview tips for both employees and independents:


  • The most important part of the interview is finding out from the family exactly what the position entails. What are the hours, what is the pay rate, what are the job responsibilities, what expectations does the family have of you, what programs does the child have, how many therapists are on the team, is there a Lead therapist, who writes/creates the programs, who writes/creates the behavior interventions, what ABA methodology is the family using, how is training provided to you (if it is provided at all), etc. I suggest arriving to the interview with a list of questions to ask the family about the position.
  • Directly after discussing the position, it is important to talk about policies. Think of policies as “The Rules”. You and the family together need to create policies that are satisfactory to both of you. Examples of important policies to discuss include: Sick days, vacation pay (if either you or the family go on vacation), cancelling sessions, pay raises, benefits, audio/video recording of sessions, mileage reimbursement, can you administer medications, etc. As awkward as it may be to discuss these issues with a family you may have just met, imagine how much more awkward it is to talk about overtime pay after you stay an extra 2 hours at the home one night. Take any anxiety or nervousness out of it and make sure to discuss these issues before you accept the position. I also suggest you get these policies in writing.
  • The next area of importance includes several things which can all be lumped together under “Boundaries”. It is important, from day one, to establish clear boundaries with the family. It is unfair to work with a family for several months and then suddenly inform them you aren’t comfortable with something. If you know there are duties you are not willing to do make that clear from the beginning. That is what creating boundaries is all about. It tells the parents when something is outside of your comfort zone. If you are a new therapist you may not know what your boundaries are yet. Even if you don’t know what they are you can inform families during the hiring process that if something makes you feel uncomfortable/ is outside of your job description, you wont do it. A boundary of mine is I don’t babysit siblings while I am working with my client. I have had negative experiences in the past where a parent has left me home alone with all their children, and was it awkward to ask them not to do that? Yes! However, it isnt fair for my client to receive 10-15% of my attention and focus because I'm busy babysitting their siblings.


  • If you are an employee, there isn’t really an interview process with your clients. You are assigned a caseload and you go out and start seeing clients.  It can still be helpful to discuss with your company or supervisor what the policies are, get a full job description in writing, and discuss how clients are declined. Declining a client is basically when you decide for whatever reason that you no longer want to work with a family. Usually if you make the decision before you ever meet the family, it’s a very easy process to decline a client. However once you start working on the case some companies make it very difficult for you to be removed from it. The emphasis can be on what works best for the company, and not for you, the actual therapist. Changing a caseload is typically a decision made by your supervisor(s), not you. In addition to asking about these issues you should also find out how conflicts are handled. Conflict can come in the form of therapist/therapist, supervisor/therapist, or family/therapist. Whichever type of relationship the conflict occurs in, it can seriously affect your ability to do your job and decrease your job satisfaction. As a professional it is always your responsibility to try and repair any difficult relationships and resolve conflict on your own first. Sometimes that isn’t enough to defuse a negative situation, especially if your conflict is with a parent or therapist you see regularly. At that point, what is the protocol for handling conflict? Can you ask to be removed from a case, and if so, will you receive a replacement case? Can you request a different supervisor without being penalized? These are all important questions you need to ask.

Whether you work independently for 1 family, or for a large company with a caseload of 10 clients, it is your responsibility to know the specific duties of your position, and all policies and regulations. The client-therapist relationship is only improved by open and ongoing communication from day one.


  1. Wow... I truly think that was something that I needed. Me being new to this field I am learning a whole lot about what I should of done in order to satisfy not only the family and the child, but also myself.
    I thank you so much for the information.
    Now my question is what can I do to become independent? What educational and experiences is needed?

  2. You are so welcome, Im glad you found the information helpful! You are correct that when working as an ABA professional it is your responsibility to establish guidelines and policy with all the clients you serve. Many new therapists have to learn that the hard way.

    There is much variability about what is needed to work independently. If you are independent then you work directly for a family, and they hire you directly. So really its up to the family to state what your qualifications should be. I can tell you that (on average) education and experience will directly impact your salary. So if you have minimal experience and no college degree, a family probably would pay you less than the going rate in your area. Also you have to think about your ABA knowledge and expertise. If you work directly for a family, there probably isnt a supervisor over you. So the family may expect you to already know how to write programs, manage behaviors, train school staff, etc. If you dont feel qualified to do these things, then the family would have to hire a BCBA to train you. In which case that reduces how much they can afford to pay you (in most situations).
    There are lots of pros to being independent, but there are cons too.

  3. Is it possible to obtain a sustainable caseload (several clients a week vs. 1 client) from the parent company as an IC? As an IC I have to purchase insurance, cards, business license, and a live scan before I can see any of their cases. What guarantee do I have in their provision of actual clients after this large monetary expense? I need them to provide a supervisor over my work. How many clients can a therapist realistically see in a week? Thanks.

    1. Hi there,

      It is definitely possible. Before I was certified I worked for many companies as an IC direct therapist. You have to be very upfront about your financial needs from Day 1, and make it clear what caseload you would need in order to stay in the position. Companies typically will not guarantee hours. As an IC you should make a higher salary than employee status--its designed to compensate a bit for all the out of pocket expenses you will have. Also, just FYI: companies may require IC's sign contracts and/or no compete clauses. A no compete clause may prohibit you from working anywhere else, and a contract may state a minimum length of employment (such as 1 year). You do not want to get in a situation where you are stuck with a company who isn't giving you enough hours.
      If you are a direct staff, you absolutely should have a supervisor over you. I wouldn't sign on with a company who thinks its ethical to put direct staff in the field with no supervision.

      Realistically, most companies give direct staff a few clients (2-3) that you see late afternoon/early evening. This is because most ABA clients are school age, so the parents all want the "prime time" hours (4-7). However, when I was a direct therapist working independently I sometimes had caseloads of 10-12 clients. That meant days that started at 7 am, ended at 8 pm, and included weekends. Due to kiddos being in school all day, younger kiddos napping 3-4 hours a day, and travel time between clients, you really have to make a jam-packed schedule in order to see that many clients....but it is possible.

  4. Were you able to find BCBA supervision as an independent contractor without using a "parent" company?

    1. Hi there,

      Initially, I was working independently when I began BCBA supervision. I was doing remote supervision, and that didnt work out because the individual was engaging in some unethical behavior so I terminated our contract.

      After that, I began working for a local company as an IC and I was able to get supervision at that company because the owner was a BCBA.

      More and more companies now are moving to either charging for BCBA supervision (even if its someone who works there), or requiring a person work for them for x amount of time (for example, 6 months) before they will supervise you. So its a bit different now than it was for me a few years back.
      This also will depend on your local area and how prevalent BCBA's are....I have heard that in areas with minimal BCBA's the supervision fees can get very exorbitant (high demand).

    2. Can BCBA's provide supervision over a lead therapist remotely? Or do they need to do some in person? Not for accumulating hours but for overseeing cases.

    3. Yes, this can definitely occur. I have worked privately with therapists in international locations to provide BCBA oversight or training remotely, as these individuals did not have access to supervision in their local area. For some people, this is their best option to be able to access a BCBA.

  5. If you have experience as an ABA Professional, can you work directly with parents/client as an independent contractor without a state License?

    1. Licensure is usually required at the BCBA level (not direct staff level), and not all states have laws requiring licensure. So that depends upon what state you live in.

  6. How did you market yourself when you were an independent? Are there any websites that assist with marketing yourself/helping families find a reputable BCBA?

    1. If you are a sole provider (do not employ staff), then its less about marketing yourself and more about letting people know about your services.
      If you think about it, if you marketed yourself as a solo provider you would get a tidal wave of calls/emails from families that you could not meet. After a solo provider has a handful of clients, they are basically full. So your best bet is to credential with insurance providers (which sends clients to you) and have a presence in the local community. Attend local conferences, Autism walks, fundraisers, etc, and have information to give out to families so they know what services you provide.

      Also consider a website/blog, or online presence so people outside of your local area can connect with you. The majority of my consultation work is done with clients outside the US, who find me through my blog. If it wasn't for that, they would have no way of knowing who I am.

      Good luck,