What Makes a Great Therapist?

How do you know if an ABA therapist is good, terrible or great at their job? Whether you are new to finding a provider, switching providers or concerned about a current therapist, this can be a challenging task! You want to find someone who you can trust with your child and who will help your child achieve their goals, but it can be hard to know what to look for as you set up consultations and tours.  Thankfully there are some key qualities you can look out for to help you in your search!

Personality Traits

Though each therapist has a variation in their approach, there are some traits that can indicate you have found a great therapist!

·        He/she is passionate about their work! They are happy to talk about ABA and the strategies they are using with their clients.

·        He/she is genuinely enjoys being around your child. A great therapist will laugh and play with your child. You may notice little signs as well, such as greeting your child or making sure to say goodbye to them as well, not just the parent.

·        He/she is open to communication. Once services start this may be demonstrated in the way he/she updates you on sessions, goals, and challenges.  Prior to the start of services, you may notice an openness to share how the intake and assessment works in depth.

·        He/she is timely and consistent. Timely responses to phone calls, prompt starts to appointments and minimal cancellations are great indicators that you have found a great match!

·        He/she is open to input. A quality provider will want to listen to you and take suggestions on potential goals and strategies. They will also be willing to collaborate with other types of therapists. Even if they may not be able to ethically support a practice, they should be willing to listen and discuss these methods professionally.

·        He/she is emotionally invested in your child. Your child’s victories make them excited! When your child is struggling to meet a goal, a great therapist will seek help and resources.

·        He/she may not be a perfect but continues to make progress. If you are working with a therapist and there are some weak areas they are struggling with, provide that feedback. They may have not been aware. If they begin working on these areas immediately, you have a great provider! As they improve, you can see if this therapist is still going to be a good fit for your family.

Questions to Ask Therapy Providers

Along with checking that the therapist has those key traits, you should also ask questions about how an ABA program is run. There are some important questions that can help you determine the effectiveness of a program and if it is a good fit for your family.

·        Is the program overseen by a BCBA?  The person making decisions regarding your child’s therapy should have the expertise and credentials to do so. At minimum, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will have a Master’s degree and must meet the requirements of the Behavior Analysis Certification Board. A BCBA should be the one assessing your child and writing the reports that indicate the treatment and intervention plans. A behavior technician may be the one working with your child directly, but a BCBA should be supervising them at least 10-20% of their sessions to ensure the programs are being implemented correctly and to make changes. It is okay to ask a provider how often their technicians receive supervision. If a provider does not seem comfortable answering or says that the behavior technician makes all of the programming decisions, this is an indicator that you should look into other therapists.

·        What type of experience do the BCBAs have? If your child has a unique need, you may want to check that there is a BCBA who has experience working in that area. Though often ABA providers can assist with a variety of needs, it is best practice that they only work with populations that they have received training on. If your child has intense physical aggression, a BCBA who has only worked with verbal behavior may not be a great fit.

o   Also, an organization may have hired newly certified BCBAs that will be working with your child.  This doesn’t mean this person isn’t qualified! However, you may want to ask if there are more senior BCBAs on staff who can provide continued guidance as the BCBA gains experience.

·        How is a child’s progress monitored? If data isn’t being collected on your child, it isn’t ABA. A provider should be able to show you objectively the progress your child is making on all goal areas.

·        What is the staff training process? New staff should be given a chance to learn and practice the therapeutic strategies prior to being introduced to a client. A great indicator that behavior technicians are thoroughly trained are if they are Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). The Behavior Analysis Certification Board requires a 40-hour training, competency with implementation, and a passing examination to become a RBT. Though many behavior technicians are trained very well, the RBT certification can be a confirmation that thorough training did occur.

·        How much collaboration occurs? It’s important to make sure caregivers are provided training opportunities throughout services. A minimum of monthly training should be available to parents. If a child is in school or other therapies, an ABA provider should be willing to communicate (with your consent) with these individuals to make sure everyone is on the same page.

·        Is the approach individualized? Each child’s program should be different. Prior to an assessment, a provider shouldn’t be able to tell you much on how they will approach your child. In order to make sure a child’s unique needs are met, a provider will assess a child’s needs then develop a treatment plan. they will look at the programs throughout services (a minimum of every other week) and determine if a teaching technique isn’t working. If a provider says they only use a certain teaching style, they may not be able to meet every child’s need.

·        Is the program in-home or center based? There are benefits to both settings. Prior to selecting a provider, you may want to think about which works best for your family. Center based ABA may provide an option for those who work during typical business hours and can’t commit to having someone stay in the home long hours. This setting also assists with social skills. However, if you are looking for assistance with only select skills that occur in the home and want to be present for your child’s session 100% of the time, perhaps in-home is best for you. In-home may also allow for more flexibility in hours, with available sessions in the evenings and weekends. Some centers may provide a combination of in-home and center-based sessions.

 As you are searching for your ABA provider, these traits and questions can guide you in making sure you have found a great fit for your child and family! Of course, you know your child best and it’s important to make sure you are comfortable with the therapist as well. As you start services, you may look back at these indicators to make sure the services are quality. If you ever feel a therapist or provider isn’t a good fit for your family, communicate with the provider to work on solutions. Your family and child deserve a great provider and with these tips, you are closer to getting the most out of services possible!