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I cannot speak for the other therapists at Trumpet for how they found themselves a part of the herd, but I can tell my own story on how I wound up knocking nervously on my first client’s front door. A few months before that knock, I had started my last year as an undergraduate student studying psychology. I had always found learning about people and the differences between them interesting, and I also knew that I wanted a career where I was working directly with people to help them in some way. My university taught me plenty about people and how they think, but never gave me the opportunity to get experience working with or helping them. While looking at job and internship opportunities, I stumbled upon a little something called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)..
Here was everything I knew about ABA prior to my searching: it is some kind of therapy used to teach individuals with autism new skills. A developmental psychology class briefly mentioned that ABA was a thing that exists, but that was it. I loved studying psychology, but there was always a part of me that was a bit hesitant to pursue therapy in those contexts. A professor of mine summarized my concerns well when sharing some of his own, “I was halfway through my degree in marriage and family therapy when I realized I was single with no kids and that I probably wouldn’t be good at offering advice on things I haven’t experienced”. I am sure there are many excellent marriage and family therapists that are similarly single and childless, but that quote brought home the point of how subjective traditional forms of therapy can be.
The main selling point of ABA for me was the emphasis on data driven, evidenced based practices. Data based decision-making eliminates the subjectivity by clearly showing what is and what isn’t working. With ABA, I wouldn’t be giving advice with what I think will work or what I thought worked with other clients, I would have data showing that the treatments were or were not effective for the client. Of course, I am not making clinical decisions as a therapist, as this is done by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), but the logic was sound enough for me to reach out to several service providers and ultimately chose Trumpet.
Fast forward several months through the interviewing, hiring, and training process and there I was in my first session. I was trained and ready to be a therapist, but I still found myself feeling anxious. I was entering a stranger’s home where I would be interacting with a new person for hours at a time. The idea alone left me with plenty of intrusive thoughts. What if the client doesn’t want to work with me? What if the family doesn’t like me? What if I’m in a situation I wasn’t prepared for? These thoughts and many more were constantly on my mind.
Fortunately, there was really no need for them. The clinician was there and was extremely helpful in getting the client, his family, and me situated and comfortable. It still took a while for my worries to completely fade, but they did with time. I ended up working with this client for around 3 years until he graduated from our services.
As you may have guessed, I have fallen in love with ABA. So much so that I am finishing up my coursework to get an M.S. in Behavior Analysis. It has been immensely satisfying to see the positive effects ABA has had on our clients and their families. I was surprised to find that the positive effects were not limited just to my work with clients. The techniques and concepts of behavior analysis do not end when the session does. They stick with me and influence how I view the world and how I live. The same strategies used to teach a child to communicate or to reduce dangerous behaviors are used to shape me into the person I want to be. ABA techniques such as changing the environment has helped me eat healthier, consequence control has increased my productivity, and shaping has improved my artwork.
While not every therapist goes as far down the ABA rabbit hole as I have, all of the therapists I have talked to have shared how ABA and our work has had a positive impact on them personally. It seems fitting that the client, their families, and the therapist begin their journeys with fear and anxiety but all finish with them feeling nothing but the positives.