Ethical Behavior in Applied Behavior Analysis

Behavior Analysis is a scientific study of principles that apply to learning and behavior. The studies are based on well-respected bodies of research and literature as to how behavior is learned, as well as how behavior changes over time. A Behavior Analyst is someone who uses a systematic approach to analyze and influence the social and learning variables in order to use behavior change techniques.

When working with clients, ethical behavior is of the utmost concern. Failure to act in an ethical manner can result in a variety of disciplinary measures, including the permanent loss of one’s license or certification.  While positive results are the goal of any treatment, an ethical approach must be followed to achieve them. Therefore, it is essential that those involved with applied behavior analysis understand the importance of ethical behavior within the profession.

Why Ensure Ethical Treatment?

There are common sense reasons why every organization and Behavior Analyst should treat patients in an ethical manner, but things go even deeper than obvious surface concerns. To assist with more difficult issues, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) have created a professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts. In order to further bolster the need for ethical treatment, inspect these important reasons.

  • Avoid Negative Client Reactions
    • When a client is being treated in an ethical manner, the chances of that person or someone responsible for their care acting out in a negative manner against the Behavior Analyst are much smaller as there will be greater satisfaction that the client is being treated with dignity, care, and compassion through the most effective treatment grounded in science.
  • Litigation
    • Whether on an organizational or individual level, litigation is something that very few are interested in dealing with. In order to avoid litigation, every Behavior Analyst needs to act at the height of ethics codes presented to them.
  • Reputation Damage
    • Word of mouth is powerful advertisement for any company or organization, and while it can be very beneficial, it can also be very damaging. If someone feels they are treated in an unethical manner, it could damage the reputation of the Behavior Analyst, as well as the company or organization.
  • Client Loss
    • If a Behavior Analyst is not acting in an ethical manner, she or he could put themselves or their organization in danger of losing clients. This could lead to new potential clients avoiding care, as well as the exit of long-term clients.

How Ethical Behavior is Ensured

There are a number of checks and balances in place for most Behavior Analysts to ensure ethical behavior is occurring at all times. These items are a few of the ways therapists are kept on the right ethical path.

  • Employer Monitoring
    • Behavior Analysts often work for organizations who have a system in place to check in on the services provided by the therapist. They might observe a session with a client, talk to those receiving treatment and monitor overall results in order to ensure that ethical behavior is taking place. If there are any questions at any time on the client side, the employer can step in and research the items in question.
    • Companies with enough employees often have an ethics coordinator that is in charge of overseeing and monitoring all of the individuals that deal with ethics. The behavior can be monitored on a one on one basis, but it can also be developed in a group setting in the form of training, ethical skills and reports, and overviews.
  • Employee Training
    • Organizations often benefit from providing training to their Behavior Analysts so they are all on the same page in regards to overall ethics and patient treatment policies. There are many different management systems in place and while most follow the same set of guidelines, it is always good to put expectations in place in an obvious manner through training.
    • Training is often something that occurs upfront before the Behavior Analysts begins seeing clients. But it is also an ongoing process. Certain parts of ethics will never change, but there are items that shift from time to time. All therapists need to stay up with the current ethics chain and the ongoing training is helpful in that area.
  • Individual Supervision
    • Behavior Analysts should have a way of checking and balancing their own behavior as well so if anything comes up, they are able to check in on themselves. They need to take reasonable steps in order to see that they are performing in a responsible, competent, ethical manner with every patient.
    • Therapists often meet with supervisors and during those meetings, they should be able to discuss their personal ethics on the job and give insight into things that they did in order to remain ethical as a Behavior Analyst.

There is no question that ethical behavior is important to behavior analysts. Studies continue to evaluate the effectiveness of ethics on the overall outcomes from patients, but no study has shown that unethical practices bode well for the clients or the therapists. Like society, ethics are evolving, thus making checks and balances necessary in order to ensure that every Behavior Analyst is acting ethically with every client.


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