Signs of a Low-Quality ABA Therapist

Not all ABA Therapists work in center or school based settings, with a full-time schedule. Many work inside of client homes, in the community, or very part-time hours. Heading out to work for the day could mean seeing 2 clients for 2 hours each, and then being done with the work day. 

But regardless of how unconventional the work setting and work hours might be, being an ABA provider has very significant and impactful responsibilities and duties. I've seen new therapists start working with a family/client and then very quickly those therapists are no longer around. If you demonstrate that you are an ethical professional who takes your job seriously then you will likely work in this field for a long time. If you do not, you could have a very short career.

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 interesting than what most people do every day. You may want to talk to your friends, spouse, or family members about the clients you work with. However, this is highly inappropriate and unethical behavior. Confidentiality is extremely important as a therapist-provider.  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- It can be hard to maintain boundaries when you see so much of people's personal lives, but it's important to remember you are not there to socialize. Don't disclose any personal information about your life that will make it difficult or uncomfortable for you to do your job. Do NOT "like/friend" clients on social media, disclose details of your family or spouse, hang out together outside of therapy sessions, share pictures of your recent trip to Cancun, etc. 

  • Has a distant or poor relationship with the family of their client- On the flip side of getting too close to a client's 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 client. You are still a guest in someone's home and should take a few minutes to greet everyone with a sincere smile and a few words.

  • Vague about salary expectations- Not all providers work for companies, some work directly for families. This can make salary talk difficult, especially if the family is new to hiring therapists. Salary conflicts can be prevented by being clear and upfront about what you expect to make before you are hired. Discuss 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? It should be clear what is paid time, and what is not paid time.

  • Overly negative or critical- Yes, we all have bad days. We are people first. There will be days where you didn't get much sleep the night before, or maybe you had a terrible fight with your spouse. You are allowed to have bad moods, however upon starting a work shift you must leave all of that "at the door" when you arrive for work. 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 wildly inappropriate and negative comments.  You can 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.

  • Messy or disorganized therapist - 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. 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, I have seen this happen! You can't run a session and watch your own child at the same time. When you arrive for a therapy session you are beginning a work shift. If you can't find a babysitter, then you need to cancel the therapy 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

  2. I read this list a lot!!! I am a BCBA who wants the best for all involved. It’s when a company, case manager, parent or other tells you or doesn’t tell you are not doing a good job then slams you with a ton of negative criticism, you ask “am I a bad therapist “ I read your list and none of this has been the issues pointed out but I feel like I am failing and I just want to walk away from this field.

    1. Glad it was helpful! Whatever manager/employer is giving you feedback, it needs to be specific and constructive enough that you know what to correct. If it is not, that's not feedback. Think about like this: would you tell a client, "That sucked. Do better"? Nope. Not only is that awful and negative, they wouldn't know what to change. It may be that the issue isn't you, it's the "leadership " over you.


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