How ABA principles and effective goal setting can help reduce burnout

As an RBT (Registered Behavior Therapist) we get to implement ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) in coordination with a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) with our clients in the school and home settings. 

Often, RBTs tend to experience burnout and withdrawal due to the highly stressful situations they experience and due to the very demanding environment in which we operate. In our field of work, burnout can be caused by many different factors. According to Fong - Factors including unrealistic expectations and demands (Adera & Bullock, 2010), student-challenging behavior (Hastings & Brown, 2002), and lack of administrative support (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2007), (Fong et al., 2017).

According to Brunsting et al. (2014) - mentorship, staff training, and continued professional development programs have also been identified as protective factors in the special education sector. In the ABA sector, services are often delivered in the home environment in a one-to-one format. First-line workers may not have the opportunity to interact with coworkers or supervisors and are often left alone to cope with challenging behaviors. The lack of support from coworkers and supervisors is a potential risk factor leading to low job satisfaction, high turnover rates, and burnout for those providing behavioral services (Gibson, Grey, & Hastings, 2009; Griffith, Barbakou, & Hastings, 2014) (Fong et al., 2017).

I propose the S.M.A.R.T strategy with an ABA twist (Positive reinforcement) as a way to mitigate burnout. What is a S.M.A.R.T. goal? S.M.A.R.T. goal is a strategy used to help individuals or organizations set effective goal setting. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. What is Positive reinforcement? Positive reinforcement occurs when a response is followed immediately by the presentation of a stimulus change that increases the future occurrence of similar responses

In ABA, positive reinforcement is the holy grail. As RBTs creating a plan and a strategy to help ourselves is very important. Using S.M.A.R.T in conjunction with positive reinforcement as a way to create a goal (ex-self-care Saturday) will create a positive feedback loop that will help in sustaining a work-life balance that is healthy and productive.


Author: Robel Brook, Registered Behavior Therapist



Corporate Finance Institute. (2020, June 16). SMART Goals. Corporate Finance Institute; Corporate Finance Institute.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied Behavior Analysis. Pearson.

Fong, E. H., Ficklin, S., & Lee, H. Y. (2017). Increasing cultural understanding and diversity in applied behavior analysis. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 17(2), 103–113.

Back to Blog

Related Articles

Acceptable Behavior in the Classroom
Acceptable behavior in the classroom should be in a learning-centered environment in which...
Circle of Friends: A Peer Program for Including Students with Autism
Students with Autistic Spectrum Disorder are characterized by deficits in social interactions,...
Tips for establishing mutual respect between student and teacher
One of the most common questions I have been asked in my nearly ten years of working with children...