New degree aimed at filling demand for jobs in behavior analysis 

  Monday, October 12, 2020 4:00 PM
  Academics, News

Pittsburg, KS

Behavior analysis

Nationally, there’s been a significant rise in issues involving behavioral health, including substance abuse, suicide, and mental illness, with one in five adults in the U.S. having been diagnosed with a disorder. 

A shortage of providers means a lack of help for those individuals, but a new graduate program in the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Pittsburg State University is aimed at filling a demand for those qualified to work in behavior analysis. 

“Every agency we partner with says they want more students for interns, they want more behavior analysts,” said Assistant Professor Ryan Speelman, who directs the program. 

The degree, which can be earned in 17 months, will enable graduates to train staff in mental health centers in methods of reducing problematic behaviors; to consult with schools to improve classroom management and increase the success of students diagnosed with ADHD and other disorders; to design interventions for those with autism and traumatic brain injury; to work in businesses and organizations to improve employee performance and happiness; and to provide behavior therapy for adults suffering from addiction, depression, anxiety, or emotional disorders. 

It’s a relatively new credential; in 2015, there were just 20,000 behavior analysts, as compared to 100,000 speech and language pathologists and 150,000 licensed psychologists. 

“Within a 100-mile radius of Pittsburg, there are only a handful,” Speelman said. “Our students have a 100 percent pass rate on national exam certifications — the national average is 61 percent — and they’re in high demand when they graduate.” 

Among the first to enroll in the programBrittany Worthington, who earned a bachelor’s in psychology from PSU in 2018 and a bachelor’s in therapeutic recreation from PSU in 2019, will graduate in December. She said it's a career she didn’t know existed a few years ago. 

“As soon as I learned about it, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “I love that the program is so hands on.” 

Worthington is completing an internship at the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism in Joplin, Missouri, and said she plans to work in a clinical or school-based setting that serves children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. 

Erykah McClendon, who also will graduate in December and is completing her internship at the Leffen Center, hopes to specialize in training parents with children who are on the spectrum.  

“Hearing Dr. Speelman speak about his experiences in the field and the multiple applications intrigued me and finally made me feel ‘this is it,’ this was what I had been looking for in a career,” she said. 

She was drawn to the opportunity to use her degree in diverse ways, from substance abuse to at-risk youth to leadership to those with developmental disabilities. 

Speelman said the ideal candidate for the program would be an individual who already has earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, or in education. But it's open to anyone, he added. 

“One of our students was a police officer for many years,” he said. “They come from many walks of life.” 

Speelman helps to coordinate internship placements for his students across the region, which he described as an underserved area, getting them a leg in the door for future employment. 

"This program allows me to apply what I learn in the classroom to the real world immediately,” Worthington said. 

Behavior analysts can expect to make about $60,000 a year, starting out, in this area. 

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Cutline: Erykah McClendon, who will graduate in December as one of the first students to earn a master's in behavior analysis at PSU, celebrates an accomplishment with a student she's mentoring in reading. McClendon hopes to soon work with parents with children who are on the spectrum.