Why Is Applied Behavior Analysis Such a Useful Therapy?

Learn about Applied Behavior Analysis, a therapy used to increase helpful behaviors and decrease undesirable ones. Details on HealthyPlace.

Applied behavior analysis is a method of therapy used to understand and change specific behaviors. It is commonly practiced among therapists who treat autism as it helps to improve social skills and maintain positive skills. The goal of ABA is to increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease ones that are harmful. Applied behavior therapy helps people identify problematic behaviors and learn new ways to change them, and the process of change is regularly monitored by a specialized professional.

What Is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a scientific approach to therapy that focuses on improving specific behaviors and skills. It is a wide-reaching approach that can be applied to the improvement of communication, social skills and adaptive learning. It can also be used in academic settings, as well as for the development of fine motor skills, personal hygiene, job competence and punctuality.

In basic terms, ABA involves using the science of behavior towards meaningful change. This change can mean anything from assisting a child with autism to become more socialized, to helping someone quit smoking or become more productive at work. ABA is effective because it helps us to identify how behavior works, how the environment influences our actions, and how learning takes place to assist change.

The success of ABA relies heavily on data and the targeting of specific skills.

How Does Applied Behavior Analysis Work?

Applied behavior analysis takes place in a variety of settings. It may be practiced in a private, clinical environment, or at schools, homes and community centers depending on the needs of the patient. ABA can involve one-to-one teaching or be offered in a group environment.

Before you decide whether applied behavior analysis is right for you, it's helpful to know what the practice entails. Of course, all therapists will work slightly differently, but like most therapeutic approaches, ABA has a basic framework.

The steps of applied behavior analysis include:

  1. Identifying which behaviors are problematic and require change
  2. Setting goals and expected outcomes
  3. Establishing ways to measure improvements and record change
  4. Evaluating your current situation and behavior
  5. Learning new skills to avoid “negative” behavior
  6. Reviewing your progress on an ongoing basis
  7. Deciding whether or not to implement further behavior modification to achieve your goal

ABA should be flexible to the needs of the individual, and there are many techniques that fall under the umbrella of this treatment approach.

What Makes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) So Effective?

Applied behavior analysis is effective because it helps patients transfer skills and behavior from one situation to another. It is grounded in scientific theories of learning and behavior. ABA also requires ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure patient outcomes are met.  

Positive reinforcement

ABA often uses positive reinforcement to motivate behavioral change, which has been found to be highly effective in patients of all ages. Positive reinforcement happens when a behavior is followed by a reward, which over time helps to instill positive change.

ABC – antecedents, behavior, consequence

Applied Behavior Analysis also uses the ABC model. This is comprised of three steps which help us understand behavior:

  1. The antecedent is what occurs right before the “target behavior” takes place. This might be a verbal cue, command or request, or it can be a sound or something else entirely. An antecedent can be internal (a thought or feeling) or external (from the environment).
  2. Your behavior is the response to the antecedent. This can be verbal, physical or something else entirely. Examples might include retreating from a social situation or relationship, drinking alcohol or smoking a cigarette. It can also be a positive behavior.
  3. A consequence is what happens directly after the behavior. If the behavior is positive, this might include reward or reinforcement. If the behavior is negative, then the consequence will be, too.

Does ABA Always Work?

ABA is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment by the U.S. Surgeon General and by the American Psychological Association. 

Like all modes of therapy, however, Applied Behavior Analysis is not a “one size fits all” approach. To be effective, it must meet the needs of the individual learner and be taught and monitored by a specialized professional.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, August 18). Why Is Applied Behavior Analysis Such a Useful Therapy?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, August 28 from

Last Updated: October 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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