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The Vital Role of Self-Care for ABA Professionals

Self-Care for ABA Professionals

When it comes to understanding the importance of self-care for professionals in the field of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapy, let’s first explain what ABA is and what ABA professionals do.

What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)?

ABA Therapy aims to teach individuals with autism pivotal skills like communication, social and life skills that can improve their quality of life. It also works to decrease interfering behaviors such as self-harm and aggression. 

What Do ABA Professionals Do?

Many Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) professionals dedicate their lives to supporting individuals with autism and other developmental needs. ABA professionals typically fall into one of two roles: Behavior Technician (also known as BT or RBT if they are a Registered Behavior Technician) or Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). 

The primary difference between an RBT and a BCBA is with their education and certifications. Additionally, an RBT works under the supervision of a BCBA. The BCBA creates client learning goals based on the needs and priorities of each client and their family. The technician implements and teaches these programs to the client. One must typically be an RBT first as part of the educational training to become a BCBA. It is also important to note that there are BCBAs that don’t work with children with autism, but in this blog we will focus on the professionals that do.

Why Self-Care Matters

An ABA professional’s work is deeply rewarding, but it can also come with noticeable challenges. The intensity of the job can lead to stress, burnout, and even compassion fatigue if not properly managed. Self-care is not just a luxury, but a necessity for ABA professionals to maintain their well-being and continue to provide the best care for their clients. We spoke with our own Healing Haven leadership team to gather practical strategies for incorporating self-care into the lives of ABA professionals!

1. Prevention of Burnout

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. ABA professionals are particularly susceptible due to the demanding nature of their work. A 2021 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that 72 percent of 826 ABA practitioners “reported medium to high levels of burnout.” Fortunately, self-care practices can help mitigate the risks of burnout by providing regular opportunities for rest and rejuvenation.

2. Enhanced Professional Performance

When ABA professionals take care of themselves, they are better equipped to take care of others. Self-care enhances focus, creativity, and problem-solving abilities, which are critical in developing effective behavior intervention plans. A well-rested and mentally sharp professional can provide higher quality services and make more significant strides in their clients’ progress.

3. Emotional Resilience

Working with individuals who have complex needs can be emotionally taxing. Self-care helps build emotional resilience, allowing ABA professionals to manage their emotions better and stay empathetic and compassionate. This resilience is crucial for maintaining a positive therapeutic relationship with clients and their families.

4. Modeling Healthy Behaviors

At Healing Haven, ABA professionals teach all clients coping and calming strategies to help work through emotions. By practicing self-care, they model these behaviors, demonstrating their importance and effectiveness. This can indirectly encourage clients and their families, as well as the ABA professionals themselves, to prioritize their own self-care.

Practical Self-Care Strategies for ABA Professionals

1. The Basics

Let’s start with the foundational self-care strategies for ABA professionals: exercise, good nutrition habits, and adequate sleep and rest. While these aspects are essential for anyone’s self-care, the importance of them is magnified in the physically and mentally taxing field of ABA. 

Exercise is a powerful stress reliever and mood booster. Whether it’s a daily walk, yoga, or a more intensive workout, incorporating physical activity into your routine can significantly improve your physical and mental health.

Good nutrition and eating habits can be easily overlooked in the realm of self-care. But for ABA professionals, who are required to have increased energy levels daily, it’s a must. Consuming nourishing food creates energy: think energy bars, fruit, vegetables, and plenty of water. Try reducing your intake of packaged, processed foods and maybe even throw some meal-prepping in there occasionally.

Lastly, being sleep-deprived simply won’t cut it for the energy needed to do ABA work. Therefore, it’s important to prioritize adequate sleep and rest schedules. Aim to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night and listen to your body when it needs to rest and recharge.

2. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Mindfulness, in short, is the ability to live in the moment. According to Youmatter, it means “being (intentionally) more aware and awake to each moment and being fully engaged in what is happening in one’s surroundings – with acceptance and without judgement.” Healing Haven’s Director of Clinical Standards and expert on the topic of mindfulness, Dr. Jennifer Thomas, suggests trying to identify what type of technician or BCBA you want to be at work and then “live in the moment” with those attributes in mind. 

Practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can also help reduce stress and increase mindfulness. Dr. Thomas recommends practicing breath exercises, such as this one, or engaging in guided meditation sessions like this one. Even a few minutes of dedicated mindfulness or relaxation time a day can make a big difference in managing stress levels.

At Healing Haven, we emphasize self-care and mental well-being for our employees by hosting special events such as our Employee Wellness Week. Our Employee Engagement Committee hosted a daily wellness activity including guided meditation, healthy eating, a prayer group, and a mindfulness seminar, available to all employees to attend each day. It was a wonderful opportunity to incorporate these skills in an intentional way together as a team. 

3. Professional Support

In the ABA Therapy workplace, it’s extremely important to seek support through supervision and peer networks when needed. Unfortunately, not all providers offer multiple layers of support for their BCBAs or behavior technicians. This is an essential element to consider when interviewing for these positions. Looking for a position that provides a supportive work environment is crucial. Connecting with colleagues who understand your experiences can be incredibly validating and helpful.

Our President & Founder, Jamie McGillivary, spoke about the importance of integrating stress management techniques and resources into BCBA training programs. “It’s a hard job – it’s a super rewarding job – but right out of the gate, you should be learning about these techniques,” McGillivary said. At Healing Haven, we prioritize and highlight mindfulness and stress management information within our practicum program for students studying to become BCBAs.

4. Setting Boundaries

When you’re invested in the work you do, it’s easy to allow it to take over and encroach on your time outside of work. Many careers entail long hours and times of stress. So it’s important to find an organization that sets realistic expectations for your work load and hours. Having open communication with your supervisors is key to ensure a balanced caseload or schedule. Additionally, staying organized, as well as knowing when to unplug can help mitigate stress and preserve your mental health. 

5. Pursuing Hobbies and Interests

Engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment outside of work is crucial. Whether it’s reading, gardening, golfing or other sports, having hobbies allows for a mental break and provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Jamie suggests being cognizant of “how we can keep our buckets full so that we can pour into others’.” Everyone’s “bucket” looks different, but identifying what’s needed to fill your bucket and then working to prioritize those things is essential.

6. Seeking Professional Help

If feelings of stress or burnout become overwhelming, seeking support from a mental health professional is a proactive step that should not be overlooked. Therapy or counseling can provide strategies and support to manage stress effectively. This article lists some resources, support groups, and mental health advocacy organizations specific to ABA professionals seeking mental health support. 

Important Reminders

Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it requires intentionality and a commitment to finding what works best for you. For ABA professionals, the practice of self-care is fundamental to sustaining a long, fulfilling career. By prioritizing their own well-being, ABA professionals can continue to make a profound impact on the lives of those they serve while maintaining their own health and happiness. Remember, taking care of yourself is taking care of your clients. If you’re an ABA professional, let us know what you do to practice self-care!