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A Master's program in Applied Behavior Analysis: contingencies for initiation and maintenance.

We describe a Master's program in Applied Behavior Analysis that involves collaboration between an academic graduate program in psychology and the departments of an institution dedicated to the delivery of behavioral services: in this instance, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The launching of a new program and its subsequent maintenance involves a variety of contingencies, both academic and professional. This paper discusses a few of them, and demonstrates how quickly and effectively progress can be made when compatible and reciprocal contingencies of support are identified for all of the various participants in a program. As we enter the Decade of Behavior, we hope this program will provide a source of more practitioners of applied behavior analysis, so sorely needed to meet the growing demand for our demonstrably successful interventions.


One hallmark of behavior analysis and one source of its success in interventions is its recognition of multiple causation in the determination of complex behavior. Multiple causation operates, for example, in verbal behavior, as when the order that someone places at a fast food restaurant is simultaneously determined by many different variables: the person behind the counter as an audience, the menu as an occasion for textual behavior, the food visible in pictures and on the trays of other customers as an occasion for tacting, the overheard orders of other customers as an occasion for echoic behavior, the factors that make the food to be ordered reinforcing as establishing operations, and so on. When many variables that each occasion the same verbal response come together at one time, the verbal behavior that follows may be virtually inevitable. It is no surprise that many causes also enter into institutional behavior, and because much of our own activity as behavior analysts occurs in institutional settings, it may be useful to explore the multiple causation that may be involved in the creation and maintenance of behavior analytic programs.


It is difficult to pinpoint just when discussions began about a possible collaborative program involving the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the Kennedy Krieger Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (KKI); they may go back two decades or more. Some of the more recent and key administrative discussions (within the past five years) involved A. Charles Catania at UMBC, the chair of the Department of Behavioral Psychology at KKI, Michael F. Cataldo, and the chair of the UMBC Department of Psychology, Carlo DiClemente. Once agreement had been reached about the desirability and feasibility of the program and the nature of its administration, Wayne W. Fisher and A. Charles Catania undertook the implementation of the program, with special attention to design of courses and professional training. The mutual interests of all participants quickly became evident. They included but were not limited to the following: The growing field of applied behavior analysis called for more well-trained practitioners; the UMBC administration wanted to expand the enrollment of graduate students, especially at the Master's level; and, the behavior analysts at KKI needed more qualified people to staff inpatient treatment units and wanted more opportunities to interact with students of behavior analysis.

The collaborative program was approved by the UMBC Department of Psychology during the 1997-1998 academic year, and the call for applications went out late in Spring 1998 with a July 1 deadline. Under those circumstances, the numbers were of course too small to really constitute a class, and a couple of students who were unable to complete applications in time were provisionally admitted to course work as special students. More standardized application procedures brought in four more students in the 1999-2000 academic year (including one student from Iceland) and six more in the current (2000-2001) academic year. The first graduates of the program, including most or all of the 1999-2000 entering class and probably one or two students from the first year, are expected to receive their degrees in Spring 2001. Many requests, both domestic and international, have already arrived for application packets for Fall 2001 admission. Applications are due March 1 for those needing notification of the admissions decision by April 15, or May 1 for June notification.

Before considering the contingencies of selection that operated at departmental, institutional and professional levels to shape the program, we must examine its aims and its structure, including course requirements and descriptions.

The Program

It is probably most straight-forward to describe the program with excerpts from its announcements. The following has been sent out as a poster to most undergraduate institutions in the mid- Atlantic region and to many other institutions around the country:

Applied behavior analysis applies psychology as a science to significant problems of human behavior. The UMBC program for training applied behavior analysts is designed to be responsive to the increasing call for services in areas such as developmental disabilities, behavioral medicine, education, and workplace safety. The UMBC Psychology Department, in collaboration with the Behavioral Psychology Department at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, is uniquely suited to developing and maintaining such a program, which has been designed to meet the accreditation requirements of the Association for Behavior Analysis. The demand for qualified professionals in this area is expected to increase dramatically in the first decade of the 21st century, which Congress is likely to designate officially as the Decade of Behavior.

The preparation of posters and announcements must take multiple audiences into account. Such materials are not just for students. They will be seen by colleagues and administrators within the host institutions, by faculty members at other institutions interested in placing their students in graduate programs, and perhaps even by some members of the general public (especially those interested in or wanting access to behavior analytic services). Thus, the materials may not merely attract students; they may enhance the name recognition, image and visibility of behavior analysis.

The following material is included in a more complete brochure that is sent out in response to inquiries about the program. It begins with some variations on the poster information:

Mastery of applied behavior analysis calls for competence in basic psychology, in the detailed knowledge base of behavior analysis, in statistical and measurement techniques for evaluating existing behavior and for designing treatment programs for individuals, and in the various skills essential to delivering services and maintaining their effectiveness. The UMBC program for training applied behavior analysts is a response to the increasing call for behavior analytic services and fills a gap in the availability of such programs in the mid- Atlantic region....

THE PROGRAM: Students complete course work in the core curriculum of the Psychology Department graduate programs, plus courses in basic and applied analysis of behavior, behavioral treatment design and data evaluation, the ethics of behavioral interventions, and practicum placement for hands-on experience with relevant behavioral procedures. In place of a masters thesis students complete a full behavioral intervention using the skills acquired in the program.

The requirements total 36 credits consisting of the courses listed below. Courses are offered both by UMBC and by KKI faculty.

I. Applied Behavior Analysis Core Courses (3 credits each = 12 credits)

Seminar in Learning (also serves as departmental core).

Seminar: Methods in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Seminar: Measurement in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Advanced Topics in Applied Behavior Analysis.

II. Departmental Core Courses (3 credits each = 12 credits)

Biological Basis of Behavior Development or equivalent.

Applied Social Psychology or equivalent.

Ethical and Professional Issues.

Elective (preferably an intervention course: e.g., Developmental Psychopathology).

III. On-site Training in Applied Behavior Analysis at KKI (12 credits)

Practicum (6 credits).

Intervention sequence (6 credits).

The Practicum gives students hands-on experience with applied behavior analysis evaluation and intervention. The Intervention sequence serves as a capstone course in which students carry through and write up a full treatment program from incoming evaluation through development of treatment protocols and intervention to evaluation of outcome.

Students accepted into the program will have good opportunities for employment at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Full-time positions there include, along with other fringe benefits, tuition payments applicable to UMBC courses. Students who work full-time at Kennedy Krieger while taking graduate course work probably should plan to take no more than 6 credits per semester. Such students would therefore need 3 years to complete the program, though they could accelerate the pace by taking some credits during summer sessions.

The new courses specifically designed for the program are those for which catalog descriptions are given below. The previously existing Seminar in Learning, PSYC 605, is currently taught by A. Charles Catania, the Program Director. The practica and the intervention sequence involve a number of participants at both KKI and UMBC, though predominantly at the former. The faculty members who teach the ABA core courses (currently Iser G. DeLeon, SungWoo Kahng, and Louis Hagopian), at KKI with adjunct faculty appointments at UMBC, have all been current or former members of the editorial boards of JEAB or JABA.

PSYC 615. Methods in Applied Behavior Analysis (3 credits)

Prerequisite or Corequisite: PSYC 605

Treats behavioral interventions for establishing, strengthening and maintaining functional behavior (e.g., communication skills) and reducing aberrant behavior (e.g., self-injury), and examines the experimental foundations of assessment and intervention methods, including research on multiple sources of behavior. By integrating clinical research and practice, it also prepares students for the Practicum and Intervention sequences in the Applied Behavior Analysis program.

PSYC 616. Measurement and Design in Applied Behavior Analysis (3 credits)

Prerequisite: PSYC 615

Provides a basic understanding of systematic data collection and analysis methods used in applied behavior analysis to make informed (data-driven) clinical decisions. The course covers behavioral assessment strategies and topics, including sampling and observation methods, interobserver agreement, and behavioral interviewing. It also covers data-analysis methods for systematically answering clinical questions with individual clients, including functional analysis, graphical data analysis, and reversal, multiple-baseline and multi-element designs.

PSYC 655. Advanced Topics in Applied Behavior Analysis (3 credits)

Prerequisite: PSYC 616

Offers advanced coverage of special topics, such as interventions concerned with communication skills in the developmentally disabled, management of self-injury and other dangerous behavior problems, feeding disorders, autism, and so on. Students will demonstrate skills in literature search and integration of the literature by writing reviews and giving presentations on specific topics.

PSYC 693-694. Practicum in Applied Behavior Analysis Interventions (two 3 credit courses, P/F)

Prerequisite or Corequisite: PSYC 615

This sequence provides students with basic competencies relevant to increasing functional behavior (e.g., communication skills) and decreasing maladaptive behavior (e.g., self-injury). Experience with basic behavioral interventions will include procedures such as shaping and chaining, arranging differential consequences of behavior, and manipulating antecedent stimuli.

PSYC 793-794. Interventions in Applied Behavior Analysis (two 3 credit courses, P/F)

Prerequisites: PSYC 616, PSYC 693-694; Prerequisite or corequisite: PSYC 655

This capstone field placement teaches independent intervention skills essential to applied behavior analysis. Under supervision, the student is assigned a client and conducts all stages of an intervention with the client from assessment to design of a treatment program through treatment delivery and its evaluation. The sequence is completed with a presentation and written report of the treatment and its outcome. (In the Applied Behavior Analysis program, this sequence serves in place of a Master's Thesis.)

Students enrolled in the Practicum course explicitly engage in a range of activities that we considered minimally necessary for the training of competent practitioners of behavior analysis. These include but are not limited to: interviewing parents and caregivers; defining behavior operationally and developing accurate observation and measurement systems; conducting functional analyses; developing task analyses; developing hypotheses based on functional analysis data; developing and evaluating treatments and facilitating their generalization; and training staff and caregivers. Thus far, the practicum experiences have been limited to pediatric behavior problems (although plans are underway for making a wider range of experiences available, as in applications to behavioral medicine or education, they will become practical only when the program becomes larger). Skills learned during these activities are directly put to use during the Intervention sequences as the students collaborate with faculty in selecting specific target behavior upon which to intervene, assessing that behavior, developing and evaluating treatments, writing up the intervention in journal format, and presenting results to an audience of faculty members, supervisors, and peers. The intervention is evaluated by a committee consisting of the intervention supervisor, one faculty member from UMBC and one from KKI.

Departmental course requirements are discussed briefly below. Students in the program select courses in the biological and social areas from several relevant courses, depending on availability, student interests and constraints in each student's schedule. They enroll in these and the Ethics course along with students (mostly doctoral) from other departmental programs. Upon completion of the program requirements, they receive Master of Arts degrees in Human Services Psychology with specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Academic and Professional Contingencies

Mutually supporting contingencies for maintaining the behavior of the academic and professional participants may be necessary but they are not sufficient conditions for the success of a collaborative program. It is also essential to deal with response effort and other potential impediments. Furthermore, contingencies operate on the behavior of the students who enter into the program as well as on the behavior of the faculty, not only at all of the stages from application and admission through course work and practica to completion of the degree, but even subsequently in wider professional arenas as influenced by the reputation of the program and its accreditation status. We can illustrate these complex and interacting contingencies by sampling just a few for discussion here.

Faculty commitment and response effort. The Department of Psychology at UMBC is a large one, with many undergraduate majors and with graduate students in other, primarily doctoral, programs. While the UMBC administration welcomed the prospect of larger enrollments at the Master's level, the departmental faculty was rightfully wary about increased course loads and the burden of thesis committees. In this instance, however, the availability of adjunct faculty from KKI allayed concerns about increased course loads. Moreover, teaching and otherwise interacting with graduate students enhanced the professional opportunities for KKI faculty. Although the faculty at KKI hold appointments at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the opportunities to provide training (not unlike those at other teaching hospitals) had generally been limited to the supervision of advanced students, including predoctoral interns and postdoctoral fellows. By providing classroom teaching opportunities through the UMBC program, the behavior analysts at KKI felt that they could attract talented faculty members who would be interested in playing a role in the early development of practicing professionals.

Meanwhile, the substitution of the Intervention sequence as a nonthesis alternative allayed concerns regarding the burden of thesis committees at the same time that it provided a master's requirement that was more appropriate for our program than a thesis would have been. It is important for practitioners to have some guided research experience, and some is included within the course work of the program, but the intervention sequence guarantees that all students will have conducted interventions and assessments similar to those that will be needed in their later professional environments and will have presented their results to audiences that include both their peers and established professionals. Furthermore, the sequence is compatible with existing ABA criteria for program accreditation.

Even the nonthesis option did not guarantee approval of the program by the UMBC faculty. Another consideration was the consistency of the program requirements with more general departmental requirements, which included core subject areas relating to the psychobiosocial perspectives within the Human Services Psychology program. The seminar in learning, already identified as necessary to the applied behavior analysis sequence, satisfied the first of these perspectives. Adding biological and social courses satisfied the second and third perspectives while increasing the breadth of training of our students, for whom course work in these areas would probably prove useful (e.g., students working with feeding disorders should be familiar with relevant physiological approaches).

Professional responsibilities, staffing, and student benefits. The faculty members at KKI deliver services. To do so effectively, they must recruit competent staff for both inpatient and outpatient units. Qualified staff can be hard to come by, especially during times of low unemployment. Aside from any professional perquisites, such as titles or remuneration for teaching (in any case typically modest under most circumstances), one factor in the participation of KKI faculty members in the UMBC program is that students in the program can provide a useful pool for filling staff positions. Historically, because of the uniqueness of its mission, high-level employees at KKI have been internally cultivated. Recent college graduates typically begin at entry level positions and only through a extensive sequence of training and professional experiences (often requiring two years or more) do they become sufficiently adept at behavioral intervention to be considered for positions of greater responsibility.

By contrast, because of the nature of their classroom and practical experiences, KKI has been able to place UMBC program students in these positions within a few months. From the students' perspective, those who work full time at KKI may need a longer time to finish the program, but those students have two advantages. First, by working at KKI, the students are already onsite for satisfying the practicum and intervention requirements and may even be able to complete some of it during working hours. Second, a fringe benefit available to KKI employees is tuition reimbursement. Given that research or teaching assistantships are only rarely available at the Master's level at UMBC, this fringe benefit becomes an important source of support for students in the program. At the same time, the tuition income provides an important basis for support of the program by the UMBC administration, and for the KKI faculty the students in the program not only fill positions that need to be filled but can also work as informed participants on collaborative projects. We expected that students in the program would occasionally become coauthors on publications with KKI faculty, and already two of the intervention projects conducted by the first-year students have been deemed sufficiently novel that they have been submitted as presentations for the 2001 meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis.

Another benefit for students is that they are well placed to learn about employment opportunities, because many inquiries from prospective employers come both to UMBC and to KKI. Furthermore, given that their coursework is guided by objectives provided by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board, our students are well prepared to take the certification exam. (Currently, there is no licensing of applied behavior analysts in Maryland, but if such licensing is established, the program will take steps to insure that our students are eligible for licensure.) When compatible contingencies interlock in so many ways, their cumulative effects can become quite powerful indeed.


We have, of course, been fortunate in these many compatibilities, and especially in geography. Our collaboration would have been impossible were it not for the proximity of UMBC and KKI in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Different problems will have to be surmounted by those behavior analysts in academic institutions who aspire to programs in applied behavior analysis but who do not have service institutions close at hand, as well as by those behavior analysts with similar aspirations but in service institutions that are distant from relevant academic institutions (a Department of Psychology or one in some related area is not enough, because few departments include adequate numbers of behavior analysts in their faculties).

But as the demand for behavior analytic services grows, we must work toward increasing the numbers of well-trained students. If we do not do so, others without appropriate training may claim our expertise. Their failures will not only ill-serve their clients but, to the extent that consumers cannot distinguish between those claimants and our well-trained students, our reputations and our effectiveness may suffer. We can be optimistic, because our advantage is that our very subject matter alerts us to the multiple contingencies, both proximal and remote, that operate on our own behavior and on the behavior of our colleagues and students at both individual and institutional levels.

Behavior analysts have the necessary and sufficient tools to effect institutional change. When many variables that support each other come together at one time, the institutional responses that follow may be virtually inevitable. How well behavior analysts do in creating new programs will depend on analyses of institutional contingencies, assessments of the barriers that might block their establishment, and plans of action for addressing and removing those barriers, so that the product is mutually beneficial and sufficiently "reinforcing," as far as the "behavior" of the collaborating institutions is concerned, to maintain the programs once they are created.


We thank the many staff members and colleagues at both institutions, literally too numerous to mention, who have contributed to the founding and progress of the program.

Application materials for the ABA MA program at UMBC can be requested by sending an email message to (Paula Todd-Cherelstein); email questions about the program can be addressed to the Program Director (A. Charles Catania) at

A. Charles Catania

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Iser G. DeLeon and Michael F. Cataldo

The Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
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Author:Catania, A. Charles; DeLeon, Iser G.; Cataldo, Michael F.
Publication:The Behavior Analyst Today
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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