Signs of a Bad ABA Therapist

Part of what makes ABA Therapy so cool and fun is that it isn't a typical job. Its definitely not a standard 9-5 and is a very unique and exciting job to have.

But it is a real job, and ABA Therapy has responsibilities and duties that are serious. I have seen new therapists start working with a family and then very quickly those therapists are no longer around. If you show a family that you are an ethical professional who takes your job seriously then you will likely be with that family a long time. If you don't, you will likely be replaced.

Based on what I have seen, here are some tips on what NOT to do as a new ABA therapist. This information will also be helpful for parents who want to know when its time to fire a current therapist.

Signs of a bad ABA Therapist: 
  •  Consistently cancels therapy sessions, arrives late to sessions, or pulls a "no show"- This one is pretty straightforward. You were hired as an ABA Therapist and you and the family/agency set up a schedule together.  Be on time, arrive for work when you are supposed to, and if something comes up call the family and let them know. Simply not showing up or being consistently late sends a message that you are not reliable and that you don't take your job seriously. Especially if you are working with a family with multiple therapists or multiple children, they probably have a very busy schedule. If you miss a therapy session that throws their whole day off.
  • Talks to friends or family about their clients, giving details and private information- As an ABA Therapist what you do for a living is far more exciting than most jobs. It may be tempting to complain to your friends, spouse, or family members about the children you work with. However, you never know what words you say might get back to the family or someone who knows the family. Confidentiality is important as a therapist because it shows the family you can be trusted and that you are an ethical professional.  Even something as simple as speaking to the child's teacher about behavior issues at home can be a confidentiality breach unless the family has told you this is allowed.
  • Gets too close to the family, crosses boundaries- For someone new to the field, you probably aren't used to a job  that takes you into someones home. It can be very easy to make friends with the family and parents of the child you are working with, to laugh and talk, and start sharing details of your private life. It is important to remember you are a professional and you are not there to make friends. Don't share any information about your life that will make it difficult or uncomfortable for you to do your job. Do NOT friend clients on social media, this is extremely unprofessional. Sometimes a family will see you more as a friend and less as a therapist unless you keep clear professional boundaries.
  • Has a distant or poor relationship with the family of their client- On the flip side of getting too close to a family is being too distant from a family. Sometimes therapists will forget to do simple things like greeting the family when they arrive to the home, or asking the parents how they are doing. You shouldn't just arrive at the home and go straight to work with the child. You are still a guest in someones home and you should take a few minutes to greet everyone with a smile and a few words.
  • Vague about salary expectations- Sometimes as a new therapist you will be working for a family who is also new to ABA. They may have never hired an employee before, especially one who will be coming into their home. Salary conflicts are common and a way to prevent this is to be clear and upfront about what you expect to make before you are hired. Ask about salary raises, supplies/materials reimbursement, sick pay, holidays, etc. These are all questions you should get answered before you start work. If you stay late after a session, is that overtime? If you get ill and miss a session, are you expected to make that session up? If the family cancels a session at the last minute, do you still get paid for the session? Does the family offer mileage reimbursement at all? These questions are best asked in advance, rather than when these situations occur. No family wants to feel as if they are being held hostage by an ABA therapist who keeps demanding more money!
  • Overly negative or critical- Yes, we all have bad days. There will be days where you didn't get much sleep the night before and you arrive for a therapy session and the child is coughing all over you. You are allowed to have a bad day or be in a bad mood, however you should leave all of that "at the door" when you arrive for a session. You are there to work, no matter what your emotional state is. Telling a parent "Wow, your daughter is so annoying today", or "I just broke up with my boyfriend, and I'm not in the mood for your son's tantrums" are inappropriate and negative comments. They are also unprofessional. You want to share with the family how the session went without being overly critical or emotional. Instead of "Your son just kept hitting me!" you can say "He had 7 instances of aggression today. Are you seeing that much aggression too?" The second example is more respectful, and also is seeking clarification about the behavior. No parent wants to hear overly negative comments about their child.
  • Messy or disorganized - It is common courtesy to clean up the therapy room when the session is over and put things back the way you found them before you leave. Sometimes you will arrive to a home where the therapy room is messy, disorganized, toys are all over the place, etc. It is okay to ask the family if you can create order in the therapy room using boxes, shelves, labels, etc. If you give the child a snack before the session, clean up the snack when the child is done eating. Take neat and easy to read session notes, and clean up any toys the child was playing with before you leave. The parents shouldn't have to clean up after you once you are done with a therapy session, and you shouldn't leave toys or materials strewn all over their home.
  • Therapist brings children to work- Believe it or not, this isn't an unusual problem. It is one thing to bring your baby or child to a therapy session if the family has told you this is okay. It's a completely different issue if, without consent from the family, you show up at their house with your baby or children. You are basically requiring that they babysit your child. You cant run a session and watch your own child at the same time. Sometimes therapists think that because they work in a home and children are already there, that it is okay to bring their child to work with them. When you arrive for a therapy session you are beginning a work shift. If the family has not given consent for you to bring your children and you cant find a babysitter, then you need to cancel the session for that day.


  1. I struggle with number6 a lot. I just started 3 weeks ago and I feel like quitting. I do like kids but I do not have much experience with them - i don't understand them nor know how to play with them. And I am very critical of myself and whether do I really want to do this job. The idea of going to sessions gives me a panic attack. Is this just a phase? Will I get over it?

    1. Hi there,

      If you have not already, I recommend reaching out to your closest adviser/mentor at your place of employment, or speaking with the BCBA supervisor about your concerns. It could be you need more training or support....or possibly you are being placed on cases without a goodness-of-fit and that's why you feel so lost.

      I also do want to let you know, sometimes feeling at a loss is a sign that you are working for a low quality agency. I recommend reading the post below to assess the quality of your employer. Good luck to you


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