Enhancing Collaboration among BCBAs, SLPs, OTs, and Psychologists

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Danielle LaFrance and others recently published an article titled Multidisciplinary Teaming: Enhancing collaboration through increased understanding, in Behavior Analysis and Practice. The authors sought to “provide clarity about the unique contributions of several professions within the context of multidisciplinary treatment.” Specifically, the authors examined the scientific philosophies, training requirements, and scopes of practice for behavior analysis, psychology, speech-language pathology, and occupational therapy.  Finally, they provide suggestions for effective collaboration across disciplines with the intent to enhance the quality of services received by clinical populations commonly served by multidisciplinary teams, such as children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Philosophical Underpinnings 

As we have mentioned elsewhere, our scientific philosophy or worldview is enacted in our own behavior whether we know it or not.  It forms the basis for how we see the world and divide it into parts with our language, how we act upon it with techniques and principles, and how we determine our scientific goals in the first place.

For behavior analysts, most subscribe to Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism.  From that comes a greater emphasis on the individual, rather than group averages, and single-case designs coupled with visual analysis rather than inferential statistics.  Behavior analysts focus on the functions of behavior, to be found in relations between behavior and the environment.

However, psychologists appear not to have a single unifying philosophy, according to LaFrance.  Rather, “psychology” is more of a catch-all term for various perspectives that deal with the human condition, including cognitive, behavioral, humanistic, psychodynamic, and more.  LaFrance characterizes psychology as opposed to behavior analysis in its focus on group designs and hypothesis testing.  However, they also suggest that clinical psychologists are more in line with behavior analysts in their goals and procedures, and both have complimentary skillsets.

Similarly, LaFrance suggests that speech-language pathologists have a similarly eclectic perspective, paired with a history of explicitly rejecting Skinner’s himself.  The authors mentioned parallel distributed processing theory, bootstrapping theory, and others as part of the mix.

Lastly, the authors describe occupational therapists as adhering to a collection of perspectives which includes sensory integration, the work of Piaget, and neurodevelopmental perspectives. However, they note that Piaget’s Model of Human Occupation (MOHO) has many similarities to behavior analysis in its focus of improving performance in different life domains.

Scopes of Practice

Scopes of practice may be thought of as boundaries for professional work.  The boundaries may be procedurally based, or population based, but help define the identify of a practice area.  It should be noted, however, that practice is only a subset of a field distinct from research that pushes the boundaries of a science into new areas.

For the authors’ purposes, however, they specifically focused on practice, and based their analysis on several documents: The BACB’s Model Act for Licensing/Regulating Behavior Analysts, the APA’s Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology, the Council for Clinical Certification in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology’s Standards and Implementation Procedures for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology, the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy’s Professional Practice Standards for OTR – Occupational Therapist and Candidates Seeking the OTR Designation, and the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Standards of Practice for Occupational Therapy.

For behavior analysts, their scope is on behavior writ large, according to LaFrance.  However, their scope of practice excludes certain procedures such as hypnotherapy, psychological testing and diagnostics, and others.  The overarching purpose is to avoid the pitfalls of an eclectic approach, according to the authors.  However, such an approach can also present challenges to interdisciplinary teams.

Psychology is extremely broad in its scope, including nearly everything related to the human condition.  This makes psychology difficult to define as a cohesive field.  However, the authors stress that such breadth can be an advantage when working with teams from different professional backgrounds.

Speech-Language Pathology has a focus on language and its development.  This includes the content of language, its proper use, mechanical speech production, and more.

Finally, Occupational Therapy has overarching similarities to behavior analysis in its focused on skill development across life domains, such as school, work, the community, and more.  The right to participate in meaningful life activities is a core value, according to the authors.

Enhanced Collaboration

Finally, the authors noted that Autism Spectrum Disorder is complex an inherently interdisciplinary.  As such, it is in the best interest of those receiving services for everyone on the team to work together.  The latter can be facilitated by understanding how each profession fits into the bigger picture.  This includes how each profession views the world and the areas of expertise outlined in their respective scopes of practice.

As we have mentioned elsewhere, the authors recommend that you pay attention to your language.  Though each professional is trained in their own technical jargon, that jargon was meant for a very specific audience – other professionals in the field.  As such, we can adjust our language based on how it is functioning for the listener.  After all, we aren’t as concerned with our words as we are the function of those words on the audience to which we are speaking.

To read more on this, including more recommendations the authors detailed analysis of training requirements across fields, be sure to check out the full article at Behavior Analysis in Practice.  What has been your experience on interdisciplinary teams?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!



Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at [email protected]

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