APAPO affirms psychology’s role in behavior analysis for autism

Board adopts statement on behavior analysis and behavior analysts

By Legal and Regulatory Affairs staff

March 8, 2012—The field of applied behavior analysis has grown substantially in the past decade, enabling more children with autism and their families to obtain needed services. This growth appears to be related to an increase in the number of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and to the recognition of the effectiveness of behavior analytic services.

There has also been a great deal of recent legislative activity in this area. At least 31 states already have laws or regulations related to autism treatment or behavior analysis. According to the advocacy group Autism Speaks, 14 additional states are pursuing autism legislation this year (see Autism Votes: State initiatives). Many state psychological associations are currently addressing legislative and regulatory developments in this area, with resources and policy guidance provided by the APA Practice Organization (APAPO). 

The expansion of the field of behavior analysis raises several policy and legal issues for professional psychology. The issues relate mainly to the qualifications needed to safely and effectively provide behavior analytic services in light of the scope of practice for various types of professionals.

Of particular concern, several state laws currently prohibit qualified licensed psychologists from providing behavior analysis unless they obtain additional certifications, despite the fact that behavior analysis is within the scope of practice of psychology and is based on psychological principles. Concerns have also been raised that some non-psychologist providers of behavior analysis may not have adequate education and training.

These and related issues have been addressed at recent meetings of the Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP) and the APAPO Board of Directors. Both of these governance groups supported the creation of a behavior analysis workgroup, which includes APAPO Board members, CAPP members, senior Practice Directorate staff and the Executive Officer of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. This workgroup has already begun to develop state legislative priorities and to enhance communication and collaboration with interested groups both inside and outside psychology, including several key APA divisions and external advocacy and professional groups.

The APAPO Board approved the following “Statement on Behavior Analysis and Behavior Analysts” at its February 2012 meeting:

Psychologists have a long history of developing and implementing effective services, including behavior analysis, for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Licensed psychologists with competence in behavior analysis are qualified to independently provide and to supervise the provision of behavior analytic services. Therefore, qualified licensed psychologists should be allowed to provide behavior analysis and to call the services they provide "behavior analysis" or "applied behavior analysis” without obtaining additional credentials or licensure. Other professionals who provide behavior analysis should be required by law or regulation to demonstrate education, training and supervision appropriate to a defined scope of practice and to the needs of the jurisdiction. The APAPO Board supports advocacy to ensure that any legislation or regulations regarding behavior analysts or the practice of behavior analysis contain provisions to protect consumers by ensuring that they receive services by appropriately qualified professionals. Further, the APAPO Board recommends that, to the extent that behavior analysts are regulated separately by state law, the benefits of regulation under the state board of psychology should be considered.

The APAPO Board position is supported by two APA policy documents, the APA Model Act for State Licensure (PDF, 111KB) and the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Specifically, section B.3 of the Model Act includes "behavior analysis and therapy" within the definition of the practice of psychology; and Ethics Code Standard 2 requires that "psychologists provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence.”

This APAPO Board statement provides support for state-level advocacy that promotes consumer safety and protects psychology’s scope of practice. This statement supplements other Practice Directorate resources, including legal research and analysis, already provided to state psychological associations that are dealing with legislative initiatives in their jurisdictions.

The Practice Directorate is continuing to monitor legislation in this area and to provide updated resources and consultation to state psychological associations.

For more information, contact the Legal and Regulatory Affairs department by email or at (202) 336-5886.