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Advice for new BCBAs

You’ve worked hard, studied hard, and finally received that elusive e-mail from the BACB telling you that “YOU PASSED!”. After the first euphoric minutes, days, or even months, it may dawn on you that not much has changed since you sat for the exam. While you’ve learned a lot through your experience, supervision, and studying, you’re still the same person, with the same knowledge base that you were before those 4 capital letters were added to your signature. While this is an exciting time, it can also be a very daunting time. People may expect more from you, now that you’re a BCBA. Below, Becca and Kate reflect on their first years as BCBAs and BCaBAs as well as offer up some advice for new BCBAs!

Becca: Looking back at your first job as a BCBA, thinking back to 20-something year old Kate, what advice would you give that person based on your experience up until now?

Kate: Ahh that's so long ago, haha! I'd tell myself that it's okay to say,

"Let me get back to you on that."

I observed my supervisor doing this when I was working on my supervision hours, but I didn't actually start using this phrase until I had been a BCBA myself for a little while. This phrase is SO liberating and can be used across so many different requests.

"Can you take on this client?"

“Let me get back to you on that” (while I take a look at my schedule and see if I actually have the time).

"What do I do about the scripting it's happening all of the time?"

“Let me look at some of my research and get back to you on that"

"What do I do when he pulls down his pants in the middle of the library?"

"Umm, that's a good question - let me get back to you on that." (AH!)

"Let me get back to you," is not saying "I don't know," it's not saying "no," and it's not saying, "I'm not a good enough BCBA." It's saying "I am an ethical BCBA and I want to make sure I've really thought about this before I open my mouth and offer a response"

What about you, what would you tell Becca back then?

B: I started out as a BCaBA first, and I felt like it was a disadvantage, like I had something to prove to families because I wasn't a full certified BCBA. Even when I became a BCBA, I was a new BCBA and still felt like I needed to prove myself. I wish I had realized what an advantage it was to be new to the field. I should have asked for help from supervisors more often, rather than trying to figure it all out on my own. I also was a little cocky with the new letters next to my name. Looking back,

I should have been humbler and still eager to learn.

K: Yes! I was actually torn between two things when you asked me that question - I'd also say,

"Ask for advice!!"

I'd also tell this to myself, you, and all BCBAs no matter how long they've been in the field. I am so grateful for my mentors of the past, because I honestly still reach out to people I worked with 10 years ago. While I did ask for advice (because I needed it), I always felt so bothersome. Whereas now that I have people who are coming to ME for advice, I realize that it's a wonderful thing to have people who look up to you.

B: One of the women in the Balanced BCBA group recommended finding a mentor. Was that something you did?

K: I did have a mentor - I had several actually, and still do. I may not reach out as often as I used to, but I feel comfortable doing so when I need advice. I am grateful for you too, you've been a mentor of mine all along the way too! And the thing about my mentors, including you, is that we have a different style of doing things, which I really love because I have been able to really grow and expand in my own skillset because of the various skillsets of people I look up to.

B: I was going to say you're my mentor too! I've found that peer mentors are easier to talk to about issues and are often experiencing similar issues. I've also had some amazing supervisors that I rarely go to now but should probably reach out to! They all played a large role in teaching me that ABA is not the end all be all.

I think the best mentors are a mix of clinical and personal mentors. Being able to teach new clinicians about procedures and interventions, but also teaching them about balance and not taking it all too seriously. A couple of people mentioned being humble. I love this and would definitely give this advice to 2010 Becca. Do you feel like new BCBAs sometimes overcompensate because they're new?

K: Absolutely. I think I did. I also think this comes full circle to my original advice for past-Kate. If you don't know it - don't pretend like you do!! Just answer honestly: "Hmm, that's a good question. Let me think about it," and actually go research, talk to mentors, and think about it!

B: I've seen some new BCBAs work with supervisees almost immediately and feel like the letters automatically earn you respect. I think it's important to remember that

Respect is earned through actions and over time - not just for passing the exam.

K: Right - as excited as you are about finally earning your letters - take care of your RBTs! Show them respect, teach them, and tell them you're not sure when you're not sure! You now have people looking up to you - be an example to shape the field into an amazing group of people. And don't belittle anyone, which can happen even when you're not intending too. Keep yourself in check. We were therapists and RBTs too and having condescending supervisors was the absolute worst. Be kind, patient, and respectful.

B: Yes!

K: I think balance is the toughest part, but one of the most necessary skills of a BCBA. I don't think I recognized that this was something I needed to actually work at when I first became a BCBA - I was just so excited and eager I was willing to do whatever. I've gone through stages where I've had better balance than others, and I've seen what it has done to my personally and professionally. I'm always at my best when I have a balanced grasp on everything in my life and hope we can offer a toolbox to allow people to do this more deliberately.

It's fun looking back to our past BCBA and pre-BCBA selves. We've come a long way but have so much space to grow. I'm so looking forward to learning new strategies from our fellow Balanced BCBAs

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