Behavioral Therapy vs. ABA Care: Discover the Main Differences

Behavioral Therapy vs. ABA Care: Discover the Main Differences

Table of Contents

How does behavioral therapy differ from ABA?

The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been on the rise, drawing increased attention to early detection and diagnosis. Awareness campaigns have encouraged individuals to look for early signs of autism in their loved ones, facilitating timely interventions. Current data from the CDC indicates that about 1 in 36 children in the United States are diagnosed with autism. This surge has catalyzed the advancement of several therapeutic options, including behavioral therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. But how does behavioral therapy differ from ABA?

ABA is a specialized therapeutic strategy aimed at meeting the unique needs of individuals with autism. It employs a variety of techniques, such as positive reinforcement, discrete trial training, and instruction in natural settings, to teach vital skills. These methods are customized to align with the individual’s requirements, strengths, and therapeutic goals. ABA therapy is crafted and implemented by professionals skilled in behavioral science and ABA techniques.

In contrast, behavioral therapy targets mental health issues that can affect behavior, potentially leading to harmful or self-destructive actions. Mental health conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder frequently co-occur with autism, as noted by Autism Speaks. Behavioral therapists use strategies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, classical conditioning, and systematic desensitization to modify behaviors influenced by these disorders.

While not every behavioral therapist receives training in ABA therapy, all ABA practitioners are certified behavioral therapists with a specialization in behavior analysis.

At ABA Centers of America, we recognize the importance of selecting the appropriate therapy for a loved one with autism. It requires careful research and thoughtful consideration. Our goal is to clearly articulate the distinctions between behavioral and ABA therapy, empowering families to make well-informed decisions regarding their loved one’s treatment.

Why Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy stands as a cornerstone in the treatment landscape for autism, boasting over forty years of rigorous research and application. This therapy has demonstrated remarkable effectiveness in addressing the most complex traits of autism, such as communication barriers, social challenges, learning difficulties, and problematic behaviors.

The essence of ABA Therapy lies in its goal—not to alter an individual’s personality but to refine specific behaviors that may restrict their potential within their surroundings. This approach involves mitigating external factors that could provoke undesired behaviors and utilizing ABA techniques to teach critical skills, enhancing safety and fostering resilience.

One notable technique in ABA Therapy is positive reinforcement. This strategy employs a reward system to encourage the client to replicate positive behaviors until they integrate seamlessly into their routine.

Implementing ABA therapy requires the expertise of a professional behavioral therapist or specialist who devises customized treatment plans catering to each child’s unique needs. These plans are adaptable, ensuring they evolve with the child’s progress. Moreover, therapists can deliver ABA therapy across various settings, such as clinics, homes, and schools.

A pivotal component of ABA Therapy is the involvement of parents and caregivers. Their engagement is vital for reinforcing the therapy’s consistency, broadening the scope of learning, and securing significant outcomes.

Central to the ABA Therapy framework are two types of professionals: Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). BCBAs hold accreditation from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), affirming their profound knowledge in behavior analysis. This certification empowers them to evaluate, devise, and implement behavior intervention plans grounded in ABA principles for individuals on the autism spectrum.

RBTs, collaborating closely with BCBAs, adhere to the treatment plans’ directives. Before delivering ABA Therapy sessions independently, RBTs undergo comprehensive training and accrue a requisite number of practical hours working directly with clients diagnosed with ASD under the guidance of a BCBA.  

What Defines Behavioral Therapy?

Behavioral therapy stands as a multifaceted approach aimed at addressing a broad spectrum of behaviors through diverse therapeutic strategies. Its core mission is to transform misconceptions, beliefs, emotions regarding the future, self-perception, and relational dynamics that shape an individual’s actions. Within this broad framework, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) emerges as a particularly prevalent method.

What Defines Behavioral Therapy?

Endorsed by the American Psychological Association, CBT is a potent psychological intervention targeting a variety of mental health challenges, like major depressive disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and other significant conditions. Participants in CBT learn techniques to navigate their challenges more effectively, reducing symptoms and enhancing their overall well-being.

In addition to CBT, behavioral therapists who possess certification as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) may also incorporate ABA therapy into their practice. Nevertheless, they retain the autonomy to select from an array of therapeutic methods tailored to their client’s specific requirements. These methods may include systematic desensitization, exposure therapy, and behavior modification, among others.

Skilled professionals such as clinical psychologists, counselors, and social workers typically administer this spectrum of behavioral therapy techniques. These practitioners adopt a comprehensive approach, meticulously crafting ABA sessions to meet the needs of each client, thereby fostering a path toward healing and personal growth.

Behavioral Therapy vs ABA Care: Exploring the Differences

It’s crucial to contrast behavioral therapy with ABA care to grasp their distinct methodologies fully. While both aim to mitigate behavioral issues, they employ unique approaches and principles.

Defining Attributes: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)


  1. Structured Framework: Providers structure ABA therapy around behavior analysis principles, targeting specific behaviors. Therapists set clear objectives and meticulously chart progress, adjusting strategies as needed.
  2. Evidence-based Decisions: Data collection and analysis are central to ABA, allowing therapists to make informed, evidence-backed decisions throughout the treatment process.
  3. Customized Planning: ABA therapy focuses on approaching the needs and goals of each client and their family. It emphasizes personal strengths and addresses areas for improvement.
  4. Certified Professionals: ABA care is provided by certified behavioral therapists, ensuring expert and specialized intervention.
  5. Focused Engagement: ABA therapy involves intensive, one-on-one sessions, dedicating substantial time to personalized care.
  6. Family Participation: Involving parents and caregivers in the therapeutic process, ABA therapists equip them with strategies to handle challenging behaviors and support skill development.
  7. Future-Oriented: With an eye on the long term, ABA therapy outlines goals and a timeline to sustain progress over time.

Defining Attributes: Behavioral Therapy


  1. Behavior Management: Targets challenging behaviors such as self-harm, repetitive actions, and aggression.
  2. Broad Application: Suitable for treating a diverse array of mental health conditions, including ADHD, depression, and anxiety.
  3. Diverse Expertise: Behavioral therapists may not hold ABA certification and come from various educational backgrounds.
  4. Understanding Underlying Causes: This course focuses on uncovering the root causes of mental disorders to foster behavioral change and promote well-being.
  5. Varied Techniques: Utilizes a multitude of methods to alter client behavior.
Defining Attributes: Behavioral Therapy

In contrasting behavioral therapy with ABA care, their similarities and differences become apparent. ABA care is tailored explicitly to addressing autism-related behaviors, whereas behavioral therapy offers versatile solutions for a range of mental health issues.


Selecting between behavioral therapy and ABA isn’t a matter of right or wrong; rather, integrating both approaches can be highly effective, particularly for individuals with autism who also experience other conditions like anxiety or depression. This combined approach enables a holistic and effective strategy for tackling behavioral challenges.

Discovering the Benefits of ABA Therapy with ABA Centers of America

Selecting an appropriate therapeutic method for a family member with autism is vital to support their growth and well-being. Both behavioral therapy and ABA care can cater to the diverse requirements of individuals with autism.

Should you decide to embark on a path that fosters essential skills development and minimizes the challenges associated with autism, ABA Centers of America offers a premier solution. To start this transformative journey, call us at (844) 923-4222 or through our website. We are committed to assisting neurodiverse families in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, ensuring their loved ones on the autism spectrum can genuinely thrive.

Discover how our autism treatment services can help you.

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