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Applied Behavior Analysis vs. Clinical Psychology

Applied Behavior Analysis vs. Clinical Psychology

Finding the differences and similarities between Applied Behavior Analysis and Clinical Psychology is an important step in determining the necessary educational path for you to take as you pursue a career in the helping professions. Having a passion for helping others, along with a strong academic focus, is one aspect that may come up in either area of study.

Clinical psychologists tend to work in learning settings that include schools and other educational institutions. These settings can also be involuntary programs like juvenile justice activities that apply assessments and treatment in lieu of punishment.

According to the American Psychological Association, the essence of the professions is to apply research-based methods to improve the lives of children and families dealing with mental and emotional health issues. The professions apply different approaches but reach for similar results; they wish to identify problems, develop solutions, and apply needed resources from related or supportive fields.

Behavior analysts work in a much wider range of settings. They can work in health, education, and social services settings. Their services include interventions with clients, families, and broader groups. Behavior analysts tend to work with a myriad of client issues. These issues importantly include the autism spectrum disorder at the various levels of function. Furthermore, the versatility of ABA is one core aspect that sets it apart from school psychology. 

Comparing Jobs and Duties

The goals of a clinical psychologist and behavior analyst are similar, but their approaches and scopes are quite different. Both fields share a goal of helping children improve their ability to interact with others; both fields incorporate the process of consulting with clients, assessing social, emotional, and family situations.  

The treatments and analytical work of the school clinical psychologist and the behavior analyst can cover similar same areas. For example, both approaches may use a Positive Behavior Support, or PBS program, to improve communication abilities and create reinforcements for behavioral improvements. The two fields can collaborate to build systems that provide constructive contexts for school rules, role-models, and mediated interventions.  

The Clinical School Psychologist

 The Clinical School Psychologist practices primarily in school or educational settings. Clinical School Psychologists work as part of academic teams aimed at helping students succeed in academic activities. Their primary tools are providing analysis and constructive input into the educational process. They can work directly with administrative staff, students, and student families to create supportive and safe learning environments.

School psychologists work to master professional ethics and interventions, and they often collaborate with families, school staff, and community groups. School psychologists may develop skills in specific areas, such as, but not limited to:

  • Instructional support
  • Prevention and intervention services
  • Special education
  • Crisis preparedness and response

By applying learning standards approved by the National Association of School Psychologists, school psychologists get detailed training on promoting school-wide learning programs, diversity issues, and identifying early intervention priorities and student risk factors.

Educational necessities for clinical school psychologists range but typically include a master’s degree or greater level of education. The doctorate tends to requires 90 semester hours of graduate study and about 1,200 hours of supervised internship. School psychologists must earn credentials from a state board, and a national credential from the National School Psychology Certification Board.

Some major destinations after graduation include traditional schools, juvenile reform projects, and juvenile justice programs. There are strong levels of demand from school district administration offices, and school-based health programs, and public mental health centers.

The Behavior Analyst 

A board-certified behavior analyst has a greater range of locations for treatment and services. The behavior analyst is a qualified professional who uses evidence-based research to assess and treat mental health issues. They work with emotional issues, social problems, and disabilities in autism spectrum disorder. Analysts can work with frequent comorbid conditions like dyslexia, depression, and bipolar disorder.

The behavior analyst works with the client on a deep level of connection. The behavior analyst can diagnose and provide treatment for mental disorders including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They may plan interventions and work with the client and his or her family. The behavior analyst must assess learning difficulties, cognitive behavior, and emotional issues. 

The educational requirements for applied behavior analysis are extensive. The field requires a master’s degree in Behavior Analysis or related field and courses that qualify graduates for the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) examination. You can read in great detail about the requirements for BCBAs here.

Common Goals

Both lines of work and study require people that can be empathetic, friendly, and reliable. The tasks of assessing and treating mental health issues in children requires deep personal commitment. These jobs require dedication, excellent listening abilities, and strong communication skills. While much of these jobs involve interaction, the essence of professional work is detailed record keeping. These jobs often require teams, collaboration, and multi-disciplinary approaches.

In the clinical aspect, these jobs need extensive data collection, analytic skills, and the ability to report unbiased observations and findings. School psychologists and behavior analysts must have a firm commitment and deep desire to help other people.

The analyst and psychologist have a common goal of providing professional care and improving the lives of their clients and families. Mental health is essential to future success.

Choosing a career 

Many people drawn to working with mental health issues in children will consider both psychology and applied behavioral analysis. The educational requirements are significantly different, and the types of treatments vary as well.

When considering these fields, prospective students should carefully analyze the importance of their commitment to working with children on a deep personal level. Some students may prefer to focus on assisting academic achievement and growth, while others may focus on the psychology behind childhood behavior.

 Both fields offer excellent paths to serve the needs of children and their families.


In conclusion


The lifelong journey of children’s mental health requires a foundation that will support their later development and maturity. School psychologists and behavior analysts play vital roles in aiding children with mental health and social adjustment issues. The training and education requirements can be extensive, but  strong desire to help people and work diligently to improve their lives.