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Behavior Analyst vs. Counselor: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

A career in mental health can be both rewarding and challenging. If you’re interested in helping people overcome difficulties and improve their lives, you may be wondering if a career as a behavior analyst or counselor is right for you. Both of these professions require a deep understanding of human behavior, but they differ in their focus and approach. In this article, we compare behavior analysts and counselors, discussing the similarities and differences between the two.

What is a Behavior Analyst?

Behavior Analysts work with individuals who have developmental disabilities or other social, emotional or behavioral issues. They use the principles of behaviorism to identify problematic behaviors and teach new, more appropriate behaviors. Behavior Analysts typically work in clinics, schools, hospitals or private practices. They conduct assessments to determine the function of a client’s problematic behaviors and develop treatment plans accordingly. Treatment plans may include individual or group therapy, as well as behavior modification techniques. Behavior Analysts also train parents, teachers and other caregivers on how to effectively manage and respond to the client’s behaviors.

What is a Counselor?

Counselors provide guidance and support to individuals, families and groups who are struggling with personal or interpersonal issues. They use active listening skills to help people identify their goals and work through their challenges. Counselors may specialize in areas such as marriage and family counseling, substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling or career counseling. They often work in private practices, but they can also be found in schools, hospitals, government agencies or community organizations. Counselors typically have a master’s degree in counseling, psychology or a related field.

Behavior Analyst vs. Counselor

Here are the main differences between a behavior analyst and a counselor.

Job Duties

Counselors and behavior analysts share some job duties, such as evaluating a client’s needs and creating treatment plans. However, behavior analysts focus solely on implementing behavioral changes through therapy and techniques like positive reinforcement. Counselors may also implement these methods, but they additionally provide emotional support to clients by offering counseling services.

Another key difference is that behavior analysts work with children and adults, while counselors typically only provide services to adolescents ages 12 to 18. This is because the American Psychological Association (APA) states that adolescent counseling is necessary for developmental stages related to emotions, socialization and identity.

Job Requirements

Behavior analysts often need a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, although some entry-level positions may only require an associate degree. To become a BCBA therapist, you must have a graduate degree, usually in behavioral analysis or education. ABAs only need to hold an undergraduate degree to enter the field. Additionally, a BCBA therapist must pass the Behavior Analyst Certification (BCBA) exam from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) with a 65% or higher. They can typically maintain their certification by updating their status every two years and paying board fees.

Counselors typically need at least a master’s degree in counseling, although some states may require a doctorate degree. In addition, counselors must complete a supervised clinical experience, which could include an internship, before they can be licensed. Some states also require counselors to pass a national exam, such as the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE).

Work Environment

Behavior analysts and counselors typically work in different environments. Behavior analysts often work in schools, hospitals or other institutions that provide care for people with mental health issues. They may also work as consultants who travel to different locations to help improve the behavior of individuals with disabilities. Counselors usually work in private practices where they meet with clients one-on-one to discuss their concerns and develop a plan for improvement.

Both professions can be stressful because they involve working closely with people who have emotional needs. However, behavior analysts may experience more stress than counselors because they are responsible for creating programs that address specific behavioral issues.


Both behavior analysts and counselors work with people to help them overcome challenges in their lives. Behavior analysts tend to work with individuals who have developmental disabilities or mental health conditions, while counselors can work with people from all walks of life who are struggling with a variety of issues.

Both behavior analysts and counselors need to be able to build rapport with their clients and earn their trust. They also both need to be excellent listeners and have the ability to empathize with their clients. However, behavior analysts also need to be able to apply behavior change principles when working with their clients, while counselors may use a variety of techniques, depending on their theoretical orientation. For example, some counselors may use cognitive-behavioral therapy, while others may use humanistic approaches.


The average salary for a behavior analyst is $71,614 per year, while the average salary for a counselor is $54,551 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the type of work you do, your location and your level of experience.


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