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The Ethics of ABA Supervision

Practicing Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs) often provide supervision for newer professionals who are pursuing behavior analyst certification. The importance of ethical supervision in ABA therapy cannot be understated, as it is critical to the supervisor’s continued growth and the supervisee’s development, and it creates a better outcome for their clients.

Ethical codes in ABA supervision also maintain the integrity and quality of current ABA best practices whilst improving the overall development of the field. This article will look at how practitioners can implement and maintain ethical ABA supervision requirements, as well as the important updates to the BACB Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts regarding supervision.

2022 changes to the BACB Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts

The 2014 version of the BACB Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts was updated at the beginning of 2022, with significant changes to Section 4 – Responsibilities to Supervisee and Trainee.

The changes for this section include the addition of the following:

4.02 Supervisory competence

The Board recognized that trainees should only learn from supervisors with adequate skill, experience, and training in their field. This includes those who had continued evaluation and professional development.

4.03 Supervisory volume

It’s important for BCABs to consider their client demands and current supervisor caseload, as well as time and logistic constraints, before agreeing to take on additional trainees. If they feel that they are at their trainee threshold volume, then it can be documented and discussed with management.

4.04 Accountability in supervision

This change puts responsibility on the supervisor to prepare their trainees to be a BCBA or BCaBA. Accountability when taking on new trainees is essential so trainees get the best version of their supervisor for the time spent under their wing.

How ABA practitioners can maintain ethical supervisory practices

The changes made in the Code of Ethics are critical to help supervisors maintain ethical supervisory practices. However, the best practices around supervision in ABA training are 

continually evolving. While it’s essential to keep up to date with the Code of Ethics, there are other components that supervisors can implement ethically into supervisory practices.

Direct observation sessions

Theoretical expertise is important, but using direct observation is one of the most effective ways to assess a trainee’s improvements, strengths, and weaknesses. Supervisors can gauge whether trainees are having trouble in a particular area/s and provide live feedback on how to improve. Supervisors can tell trainees what they expect, model it themselves, and then watch them perform the skill. They can then give direct feedback while it’s fresh and relevant. This is a practical way to show trainees how to build on a particular skill and motivates them to keep improving.

Delegating appropriate tasks

Supervisors must ensure that their trainees can perform a given task or acquire a particular skill. Delegating tasks that trainees are not ready for is detrimental to their confidence and motivation and will certainly not have a good outcome for the client. As important as competence and readiness is ensuring that trainees also comply with applicable legal requirements to do the task.


An ABA supervisor must strive to improve their skills continually. They should ask trainees about their experience under their supervision and take feedback from clients and others. This is the best way to continually evaluate their own supervisory practices and adjust them as necessary.

Keeping trainees motivated and focused

Direct therapy can be exhausting for both parties, particularly those still learning. Motivation and focus are key for a successful outcome, so it is critical that supervisors are able to praise trainees’ successes and not only focus on corrective feedback.

Providing the right kind of feedback

If trainees are going to succeed and grow, supervisors need to employ the use of the most effective form of feedback according to the individual. Supervisors must take the time to assess the trainee’s strengths and weaknesses and formulate a plan for improvement involving feedback that will most likely motivate and direct the trainee successfully. One person might respond to being told how to improve, while others might need to be more involved in a conversation, asked a question about it, or given a practical example of where there is space for growth.

Maintain documentation

Although it sounds dull, maintaining documentation throughout the supervision process is critical for both supervisors and supervisees. Supervisors must create, manage, and store documentation appropriately. This allows for an effective transition to a new supervisor or will assist in the case of an oversight or issue. 

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The field of ABA is continually evolving, but ethics play a huge role in maintaining the current quality and developing the field further. Supervisors are an integral part of the caliber of future ABA practitioners, and the ABA code of ethics ensures that they are able to lead the way effectively.
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