I get this question all the time. “Well, if you have so much criticism and think there is so much wrong with ABA, why are you still a BCBA?”
I have several reactions to that question.
First, that gives me very much “If you don’t like this country, then why don’t you leave?” and as an immigrant myself, I’ve had this said to me more times that I can count. Imagine being told you should leave your own country because you don’t agree with every law and every politician. Imagine being told to go somewhere else (or go back somewhere else) because you want and expect more out of your own country. The country you grew up in, invested in, pay taxes for, etc. I get to have my own thoughts and opinions about said country, and not everyone needs to agree with me, and I don’t have to agree with everyone. Do you follow the metaphor?
Second, I have criticism towards this field, because it’s MY field. I’m sure every other field has problems as well, some of which we hear about all the time, or even watch on TV (e.g., Grey’s Anatomy and the medical system??). But that’s the thing – unless I’m in that field or somehow deeply involved with it, I can only be aware of the surface level issues, or those that personally impact me. With ABA, I know the issues go below that surface. I’ve seen them, heard of them, and experienced them firsthand. I have every right to talk about those experiences – as much as the next BCBA does. The “country” metaphor fits here, as well.
And finally, why have I stayed until now? How do I wake up each morning and continue calling myself a BCBA? There isn’t a simple answer to that. I do face internal battles. I do feel defeated at times. Trying to do a job where your only intent is to help, but reading about people who view it as “torture.” But then, I remember specific moments in my career where my positive impact was evident. Where I helped a client write their name for the first time, after the school system failed to teach him even that. When I collaborated with parents and teachers in a toilet training protocol, and the client began using the bathroom independently. It’s the moments where a client started to dress themselves, or stopped relying on liquefied foods after expanding their food palate. And yes, there are also stories of realizing my procedures, or even my services, were not being helpful. But even then, the small wins are so reinforcing. They give me strength and reassurance that what I do, when done right and compassionately, does make a difference. And that’s the thing about being a BCBA who cares: When all the other systems have failed that child and when everyone else has given up, the ABA team has not.
Now – full disclaimer: This “hero” complex, when overused, can cause harm. Because I wholeheartedly believe ABA is not the answer to everything and every problem – (perhaps, that’s a blog for another day). But there is still something beautiful and powerful about the way some of us believe in not only the science, but in our clients.
I have learned to accept that I can only do the best I can do. That as long as I wake up every morning with pure intentions in my heart – to be a good human, a supportive supervisor, a listener to my clients and their caregivers, then I am good enough. I do not have all the answers, and I probably never will. But I won’t give up on the learning process. On the doing and re-doing, and re-doing one more time of my therapist personality. I accept that, like all things, I am an evolving person and professional.
I can’t convince anti-ABA people that ABA is the best thing to exist, or that it’s different now, and that the field is changing, etc. I have fully accepted and come to terms with the idea that some people will never like and approve of ABA. To some people, the fact that I am a BCBA is already a red flag. And quite frankly, it’s not my job to convince them otherwise with just my words. Hell, sometimes the smoke comes from inside the house. What I will do, though, for as long as I am a part of this field, is to model what compassion and love can do to “treatment.” What “pure intentions” look like, operationally defined or whatever. What I will do is NOT a half-ass job. What I will NOT do is treat a child in a way I would never allow my own children, or even my dog for that matter, to be treated. What I will NOT do is sit there quiet in the face of bullshit. What I will do is to talk through my actions a little bit more, and with my words, a little bit less.
Ironic as hell, since I just wrote a whole blog. But somehow somewhere, it makes some sense.