A Letter to My Younger Self: Five Things I Would Have Done Differently as a Young Behavior Analyst

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By Adam Ventura, M.S., BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

Dear Adam,

I am from the future, and I have traveled back in time to give you advice and some information about your future to help you make better decisions in your career as a behavior analyst.

Before we get started, let’s clear a few things up:

  • You still have all your hair, so don’t worry about that.
  • The Patriots will win their fourth Super Bowl; just be patient.
  • Purchase a trademark for the following phrase “Make America Great Again.” Someone with a lot of money will eventually want to buy it from you.

Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, here are some things you might want to consider doing differently to improve your career path:

  1. Graduate School: I know you had already been accepted into a clinical psychology graduate program before you learned about behavior analysis; however, it’s important for your development as a behavior analyst to attend a master’s program that specializes in behavior analysis. I understand this may cause you some logistical problems, but it will be better for you in the long run for a few reasons:
    1. It will be difficult for you to separate ideological differences between traditional psychology and behavior analysis.
    2. General psychology programs will force you to learn advanced concepts in statistics that won’t be directly applicable in behavior analysis.
    3. You will develop a better understanding of the complex concepts in behavior analysis because you will be inundated with behavior analysis daily vs. sharing time with concepts in psychology.
    4. You will be able to meet fellow students that will one day be your colleagues and will share your verve and passion for dissemination.
    5. You will develop a much better appreciation for research and will view it on an equal playing field instead of just sensationalizing the applied side.
  2. Working With Adults: I know you are receiving a lot of well-paying offers to work with adults in group homes and adult day training facilities, but before you take on such daunting tasks, it’s important for you to work with younger clients first. Here’s why:
    1. Younger clients have a shorter history of conditioning and will allow you to make progress with them a lot more easily. This is important for your development as a behavior analyst. You need to get wins early in your career so you don’t burn out from lack of success.
    2. Working with adults usually means working with government-run facilities and government funding sources. This means there are higher incidents of fraud and abuse (Matthews, 2012). You are young and it is important for you to learn how to do things the right way before being exposed to non-exemplars of ethical behavior.
    3. Turnover in these facilities is estimated to be around 53.6% (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006); getting consistent implementation of your programs will be difficult and will be demoralizing for a young behavior analyst.
  3. Medical Billing: One day, you are going to start your own business. You will hire some of the most talented people in behavior analysis and your business will grow larger than you can ever imagine. However, there will be some bumps along the way, so to help avoid some of those obstacles, you need to learn how medical billing through insurance companies works and train your staff accordingly. Here’s why:
    1. The Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) will eventually create uniform billing codes for use by behavior analysts when billing insurance companies (ABAI, 2014). However, that won’t be for a while, they will be temporary codes, and most funding sources won’t use them anyway. Learn the billing codes for each insurance company—trust me on this one.
    2. Medical billing codes dictate which services can be provided and which cannot, and although they won’t be clear, get someone at the insurance company to e-mail you the list with explanations for each code. This will help you come audit time.
  4. Organizational Behavior Management (OBM): I know it is difficult for you to find information about OBM at the moment, but making contacts in this area of behavior analysis and learning OBM skills will serve you well later in your career. Here’s why:
    1. As I mentioned, you will open your own behavior analysis organization, and having a firm grasp on leadership and performance management will allow you to run a much smoother operation.
    2. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a great starting point for young behavior analysts; however, burnout in therapy becomes common in the future, and having an option to which your staff can transition will be crucial for the success of your company. Take my word on this one: get ahead of the game and get into OBM!
  5. Mentorship: Seek out and find someone willing to mentor you, especially during the early parts of your career. Mentorship is important for a variety of reasons:
    1. This can be a long-term relationship with someone who can continue to provide you with wisdom as you embark on each new endeavor. You will be able to set the agenda for the meetings and really own the process and goals (Michael, 2008).
    2. Lastly, this letter would probably be a lot shorter if I had had a mentor. Food for thought.

I hope that you find this letter useful. You have a bright future in front of you. Good luck.

References

Association for Behavior Analysis International. (2016). CPT codes. Retrieved from https://www.abainternational.org/constituents/practitioners/resources/cptcodes.aspx

Matthews, M. (2012). Medicare and Medicaid fraud is costing taxpayers billions. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/merrillmatthews/2012/05/31/medicare-and-medicaid-fraud-is-costing-taxpayers-billions/#7eb42a5d3e29

Michael, A. (2008). Mentoring & coaching. Retrieved from http://www.cimaglobal.com/Documents/ImportedDocuments/cid_tg_mentoring_coaching_Aug08.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). The supply of direct support professionals serving individuals with intellectual disabilities and other developmental disabilities: Report to Congress. Retrieved from https://aspe.hhs.gov/basic-report/supply-direct-support-professionals-serving-individuals-intellectual-disabilities-and-other-developmental-disabilities-report-congress

AVV_MG_9885Adam Ventura, M.S., BCBA is a graduate of Florida International University and has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) since 2008. Adam is the founder and CEO of World Evolve, Inc., a behavioral organization located in south Florida. Adam has been working in the field of applied behavior analysis for over 10 years and has experience working with children and adults with varying disabilities. Adam was a member of the local review committee in Miami, Florida for over three years and is currently a member of the behavior analysis and practice committee (BAPC) for the state of Florida. Adam also currently serves an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Florida International University where he has been teaching undergraduate courses in behavior analysis since 2009. Adam is also the co-founder of two public benefit corporations, namely, The Code Of Ethics for Behavioral Organizations (COEBO) and the Miami Association for Behavior Analysis (MiABA). Adam’s experience has extended beyond the clinical realm and into the business world as he has been responsible for creating several new businesses with and without partners in various industries. Adam’s current focus is on business ethics and technological applications of Behavior Analysis.  You can contact him at adamvent@gmail.com.

5 Comments on "A Letter to My Younger Self: Five Things I Would Have Done Differently as a Young Behavior Analyst"

  1. Outstanding article Adam – thank you for sharing!

  2. Great points! As a young behavior analyst this advice couldn’t come at a better time.

  3. Adam I love this! Its so ironic that I find myself repeating some of these same exact messages to newer Behavior Analysts.

  4. Paulie Gavoni | March 11, 2017 at 9:36 am | Reply

    Wise words! I especially like 4 & 5

  5. Good article and fun exercise to do to look back at one’s career.

    However, I would give the exact opposite advice for number 1.

    I think that type of training leads to the problems we have in behavior analysis in being more widely accepted and our methods disseminated. It puts us into academic ghettos and gives a cult like mentality to the field.

    Especially for those of us who aspire to be scientist and science based practitioners, we shouldn’t pick our methods/education on a community of practice but on what best science shows us. The former breeds loyalty to a group (arbitrarily), the latter loyalty to science and best practices.

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