Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) play a critical role in the lives of people with autism; however, BCBA burnout is common without the proper support and resources. Being employed as a BCBA is incredibly gratifying and vastly improves lives, but it can also be highly emotional and professionally exhaustive.
ABA or BCBA burnout is an objective reality many Board Certified Behavior Analysts face in their careers. By addressing BCBA burnout and exploring why it happens, providers and agencies can ensure they have the resources needed to prevent and manage conditions that lead to BCBA burnout. This blog post will discuss BCBA burnout and steps that can be taken to protect professionals from this grueling experience.
What Is the Role of a BCBA?
As a BCBA, your job often entails assessing complex patterns, targeting challenging behaviors that interfere with client life goals, and designing programs that enhance development over time. A BCBA’s dedication, experience, and expertise help children with autism understand the world around them, communicate essential needs, and contribute to their communities in new ways. Through ABA services and techniques, BCBAs help children on the spectrum establish learning behavior that they will expand on for the rest of their lives.
What Is BCBA Burnout?
ABA or BCBA burnout is a phenomenon that occurs when Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) practitioners become overwhelmed after prolonged exposure to challenging caseloads and other high-pressure facets of their careers. With heightened amounts of stress and, in some cases, low levels of gratification and positive reinforcement, ABA or BCBA burnout can happen over time.
BCBAs experiencing burnout may feel disillusioned about their daily routine and may experience feelings like exhaustion, frustration, worry, empathy fatigue, and lack of motivation. This weariness may manifest into physical exhaustion or disconnection from what they love most about the job. In the worst cases, it can lead to decreased enthusiasm for client goals or Applied Behavior Analysis as an approach.
What Contributes to BCBA Burnout?
Despite ABA therapy being considered the gold standard for managing the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), BCBA burnout often arises due to the demanding nature of the field. ABA therapy is a physically and psychologically challenging type of work. A regular workday can sometimes include aggressive behavior toward the BCBA, like hitting or spitting. BCBAs may have to confront parents about complex behaviors that need addressing. After hours of focused work, they may find that the intervention designed for a child does not produce the expected results and must be reassessed. These experiences can be frustrating. Long days like these can lead to BCBA burnout and discontentment around work.
It can be challenging for ABA practitioners like BCBAs to consistently remain motivated and dedicated to helping others when they don’t feel supported or if they continually experience adversity with little acknowledgment. Many BCBAs fall in love with the career because of their compassion and expertise surrounding autism, but years of unsupported work can lead to burnout and poor work-life balance.
Is BCBA Burnout Common in the Autism Industry?
While being a BCBA is an esteemed and in-demand career choice, unfortunately, the ABA industry is known for its high and often fast turnover rate. Many professionals leave the industry after just a few years because of the pressure they experience. This experience is now labeled ABA or BCBA burnout and has become a trending topic in the field.
Why Does ABA Burnout Affect BCBAs Specifically?
Those holding the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification have spent many hours engaged in challenging fieldwork and difficult college coursework. Their dedication to serving the neurodiverse can often lead them to seek out complex cases and take on excessive hours. In many cases, BCBAs may work for behavioral agencies that overlook their needs and send them to families unprepared.
In some cases, BCBA schedules may be arranged in unusual patterns, resulting in long drive times or vast gaps between cases resulting in 14-hour workdays. Additionally, the mental and emotional toll of dealing with challenging circumstances can be overwhelming.
Another leading cause of BCBA burnout is an over-emphasis on outcomes rather than the process. When BCBAs are expected to measure and report on progress within a specific timeline, it can lead to increased stress levels and discouragement. It can be hard to feel successful when you overidentify with the outcome.
It is essential to understand that when working with neurodiversity, progress can be minor and even involve setbacks. But it’s still progress. Any improvement can be life-changing for a child on the spectrum and should be celebrated. By recognizing all progress, work can become joyful again.
What Are the Effects of BCBA Burnout?
The debilitating effects of BCBA burnout can manifest in symptoms of physical and emotional exhaustion, decreased satisfaction in professional contributions, withdrawal from work-related activities, cynicism, and pessimistic attitudes about work life. Although BCBA burnout is quite common, it can be managed through proactive self-care techniques like regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and more significant employer support. These include improved conditions like reasonable caseloads and other sources of professional satisfaction.
How Can BCBA Burnout Be Prevented?
There are steps that BCBAs and ABA agencies can take to prevent or manage burnout. These include simple adjustments and accommodations that can make work more gratifying and practical long-term.
1. Set Realistic Goals and Expectations.
As a BCBA, it is easy to get lost in the mission of wanting to help everyone. But for the quality of care clients receive, setting realistic goals and expectations is essential.
2. Take Breaks When Needed.
Make sure your schedule includes breaks! Breaks can make a huge difference, even if it means taking an extra five minutes each day! Also, consider taking full workdays off on the weekends to recover between cases.
3. Seek Support from Other Professionals.
Talk to other professionals in the field about how they manage their work-life balance to ensure you are taking steps to maintain wellness.
4. Ensure Self-Care Is a Priority.
Actively do things for your mental health, like yoga, psychotherapy, or meditation. Take time to enjoy the activities that make you feel nourished. Even if you must schedule time for walks or mindful minutes, do your best to prioritize well-being.
5. Recognize When Your Limits Have Been Exceeded.
Know when it may be time to step back from the job. Taking control of your well-being can help ensure that you can provide the best possible care for your clients.
6. Establish a Healthy Workflow and Stay Organized.
Remaining organized by creating document templates or digital folders can help streamline the ABA data so everyone can maximize their time.
7. Work for a Behavioral Agency That Supports Your Needs.
Before accepting a position, consider how the agency will support your goals and needs.
What Can ABA or Behavioral Agencies Do to Better Support Their BCBAs?
ABA agencies can help to prevent BCBAs from burnout by providing increased support. This support could come from frequent check-ins, scheduled breaks and time off, flexible schedules, considerate drive times, and resources for challenging cases. ABA agencies can also reward hard work through incentives like bonuses, free continuing education courses, or access to organizational subscriptions. Lastly, ABA agencies can make mental health a wellness priority for the BCBAs they employ.
How Does ABA Centers of America Address BCBA Burnout?
BCBA burnout is a common and evolving problem for those in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA Centers of America understands the value of high-quality BCBAs, and the damaging effects burnout can have on these essential professionals. BCBAs change lives within the autism community. Their passions reach children on their level in unique ways that cause ripple effects in society for generations to come.
ABA Centers of Americas prides itself on addressing BCBA burnout before it happens. By taking the time to understand the BCBA experience, we have set supportive reinforcement in place. Through valuable research, we offer our BCBAs incredible resources like continued education through its own ABA Academy of Excellence, flexible scheduling, considerate drive times, and continual recognition.
If you are a BCBA looking for a new chapter with a fast-growing, established ABA agency that values supportive resources for improved well-being, consider a career with ABA Centers of America. We set our BCBAs up for success so they can do their valuable work and continue to serve the neurodivergent community in incredible ways. Reach us at (844) 923-4222 or apply here.