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 Ethics Update from ABAI Conference - May 2011

- Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Every year at ABAI there are a few areas that are heavily focused on. This year ethics was one of those areas. The main point was that unethical behavior is starting to increase in our field and it is due to a combination of reasons: not knowing the expectations, not learning about the code of conduct, money, etc. Being a student of Dr. Bailey at FSU, Ethics is a very important area to me.  I don't want our field to return to where it came from.
The other main point in the presentations was that we as a field need to start putting a check on unethical behavior. It is part of the code of ethics that when we directly encounter BCBAs violating the code of conduct, we talk to the person about this and try to help them correct their behavior. I encourage all of you to read over these notes and promote ethical behavior in our field. If you ever have any questions please feel free to contact Dr. Bailey, use the red phone on the ABAI website, or you can talk to me too. I put together a summary of my notes from the ethics presentations that I attended at the conference. If you would like to receive the summary please email me at

I am going to briefly summarize a few of the main points that were brought up during these talks as I think it is important to educate the public about these issues. 

During an ethics panel, the issue of Facebook was brought up. This issue has already been addressed in some behavior analytic publications but I thought it was worth sharing some of the suggestions made by the panel:

*Facebook Friends: I am pretty sure a whole panel could have been done about Facebook/social media. The whole panel advised against being friends with clients on Facebook as this is technically a dual relationship and conflict of interest. 

*Facebook Pictures: Do not post pictures of you with your clients on your personal face book page. Again, if you want to post pictures on your business page that is ok but you need to have a release signed by the families and you should also still protect confidentiality: don’t put names

*Facebook Status Updates: Do not post status updates about your job. Examples were given of people (not behavior analysts just people) who have lost jobs and/or been sued over face book status updates. It is ok to say positive things such as “I love my job” or “what a great day” but be careful about making comments about work that are negative. It would be better to say “rough day” or “I am stressed”. NEVER post anything directly about your clients such as “my client did…..” even if you don’t use the client’s name people might figure out who you are talking about. 

Dr. Bailey's Discussion on Capitalism and ABA

This was probably one of my favorite presentations during the conference. The main point of this presentation was that people use to join the field of behavior analysis out of a motivation for understanding human behavior, a motivation for becoming better teachers, and a love for the science of behavior. Unfortunately, the rise in  demand because of the recognition that this science can be applied and used to successfully develop skills for children with autism has changed the motivation for some people to join the field. Some people are starting to join the field out of a motivation to make money. This is important for providers and parents to understand. Ethical behavior analysts are concerned about affecting socially significant behavior change and are not concerned about how much money they will be making. We should first be concerned about assisting our clients and secondly be concerned about pay. Some of the take home points in this presentation were:

* Behavior analysis is a science so marketing tactics are not appropriate. It should be about effective treatment not profit.  We likely need an 8th dimension (from Baer, Wolf, Risley’s 7 dimensions of behavior analysis) to examine the business side of ABA

*It is important to remember our Values:

Values of ABA

-respect science

-search truth

-experimental control

-reliability of findings

-effective outcomes


Personal Values




-passionate about ABA

*Recommendation Start asking businesses who employ behavior analysts to sign onto the commitment to ethical business practices. This is Draft #1:

Code of Ethics for Behavioral Organizations

-enforce BACB guidelines for responsible conduct and conduct training on ethics

-will only hire qualified personnel for positions that involve the delivery of behavioral services

-will not ask any BCBAs to violate the BCBA guidelines for Responsible Conduct

-We will not advance any other contingencies (money) that will influence behavior to violate guidelines

-will support any BCBA who comes forward with any claim of undue pressure to violate the BACB guideline

**person being hired should ask the company if they adhere to this code of ethics

*We Have to have integrity. We need to be ethical entrepreneurs:

-protect client

-do good work

-make reasonable profit

-respect profession

*BOTTOM LINE: Uphold science of behavior - wrangle in aba for profit (by promoting ethical business practices as listed above) - need to have quality of treatment

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