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Issues for the consulting behavior analyst: the portable life.


Recently, while on a consulting trip with my friend Joe Cautilli to New Orleans I was encouraged to write down some observations I had made about being a distance consulting behavior analyst. The following is my attempt to do so and in doing so elucidate on the lifestyle of the distance consulting behavior analyst. One of the biggest issues people in our field usually have with the distance consulting behavior analyst is the rate they charge to consult.

I remember working in direct care years ago and from time to time a consultant would come to assist us in setting up some technical programs or to offer intensive staff training. Word would quickly spread about the rates the agency was paying this consultant to offer their pearls of wisdom. Some distance consultants charged as little as four hundred a day while others received three and four thousand a day. All this plus expenses and of course you know they flew in stayed at a nice hotel and flew out to some other exotic place to conduct another consult. Of course they never had to stay and carry out the programs or conduct the one to one work they just dictate and fly. Oh, from the direct care workers perspective making a bump or two above minimum wage these distance consultants were raking it in and doing nothing for it.

When I first decided to take Joe up on the challenge of writing this article I tried to decide first what I would write about to kick things off. I suppose that with this article I might try to explain why rates tend to be so high and simultaneously give readers a good look at the glamorous world of distance consulting as a full time job.

Full Time Distance Consulting

When I speak of full time distance consulting I am not talking about those folks that spend three for four weeks a year consulting with a school district, private provider, some industry or insurance company. I am also not speaking of those who are independent contractors who live in one place and may suffer the hour drive occasionally to work with a young child or adult.

So what is the full time distance consultant, how do you know if you are a full time distance consultant? I offer the following as a list of criterion:

1. You are chronically on the road, flying from one place to the next, being away from home for as much as a month at a time or you routinely spend eighteen hours of travel time for six to eight hours of work.

2. You have a variety of suitcases that you have designated for the length of a given trip.

3. You carry a suitcase that contains a printer, file folders, postage, envelopes, and other office supplies, separate from your clothes.

4. You get excited when you find office items (printers, staplers, computers) or personal hygiene items that are very tiny.

5. If air miles were dollars you would be wealthier then Bill Gates.

6. You know where dry cleaners are located in nine or more cities across the United States or in two or more foreign countries.

7. You have purchased toiletries and clothing on two or more occasions because although you made the connection at the airport, clearly that was not the case for your luggage.

8. You routinely turn down work located in or near popular vacation spots.

9. You have a natural immunity to Montezuma.

10. You are initially confused when asked the question; where do you live and find you generally respond that you have been told where you live is nice.

If eight or more of these apply to you then you could consider yourself a full time distance consultant.

Why So High?

Having defined the distance consultant, let's try and tackle that issue of cost and in doing so I believe that we can shed some light on that fable about the glamorous lifestyle.

The consultant who leaves for a business trip almost knows leaving that if thy are not on a flight at 6:30 AM they should not expect to do anything but travel that day. Although, flight times are always listed on tickets and airline itineraries the consultant knows that it should read [Boarding Time 6:30 AM "that's our guess"] if it were to be truthful. This is mainly because if the airline personnel are available for your flight and not delayed on another flight themselves, then there is always at least five people on your flight who will attempt to stick a Volkswagen beetle in the overhead compartment. Finally after an hour or two of trying this they will lament loudly as they check the car at the gate.

Then of course the eternal struggle of the connection, usually the airlines have overbooked the flights. It is my theory that they plan to overcome this problem by having connections at the opposite end of the airport planning of course that only about 90% of the people scheduled on the flight will possibly have the physical stamina to make the run. Distance consultants in the first two or three years of their chosen profession miss about 70% of these flights, but as they engage in airport aerobics over the years these percentages drastically decrease. So, depending on where you are traveling you can generally plan to spend all day either in an airport or on a plane, except for the occasional four or five hour trip.

Of course on these days, when you feel like things are really going well, you usually find that someone misplaced the luggage, lost the rental car reservation, or the hotel has an under-abundance of available clean rooms. So, with one day shot traveling you quickly learn to plan to begin working on the day following travel. This is mainly because even if things go rather well and you make it to the destination with your luggage you find the process has placed such a physical drain on you that you won't be useful for much besides some paperwork and an early bedtime anyway.

Essentially the distance consulting behavior analyst can expect to travel at least one day for every day of work. This often leads to the need for high consulting fees, since it is impossible to have a three day work week, although, I am willing to try if anyone has a plan to do this that they feel is viable.

The distance consultant is an ambassador of behavior analysis, not a glamorous movie star jet setting from place to place. There is ultimately nothing glamorous about living out of a suitcase, checking in and out of temporary housing, or running through airports trying to make connections. It is my belief that you have to love behavior analysis and the people you work with to have any longevity on the road. You certainly cannot find enough in the travel to keep you on the road since the novelty of traveling wears off quicker then the varnish on the tables of those overpriced airport bars and cafe's.

I have been working as a distance consulting behavior analyst since 1994, I find I love the job, but look forward to the time, when people will be able to find the assistance they need in a nearby city and the need for my portable life fades away like a good prompt.

Perhaps these are the real issues driving the high cost of distance consulting. The fact is there just aren't enough behavior analysts to go around. Just look around the United States, while we certainly have the east and west coast fairly covered, the middle of this country is starving for behavior analysis. Additionally, overseas has a large demand for services and there are few behavior analysts available to meet these growing needs. Perhaps the number one issue facing the ever rising costs of distance consulting behavior analysts is just the fact that there is a high demand and low supply.

It certainly seems with all the attention that behavior analysis has received over the past few years that more people will enter this profession, but until they do and choose to live in the areas where there is no real choice, then I will be living the portable life.

Future Issues for the Consulting Behavior Analyst

It is our hope that we can make this a regular feature in The Behavior Analyst Today and in future volumes tackle issues facing the consulting behavior analyst. Please feel free to send ideas for discussion to me at as I look forward to future features and future issues.

C. A. Thomas Board Certified Behavior Analyst
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Author:Thomas, C. A.
Publication:The Behavior Analyst Today
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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