Mentoring in Behavior Analysis: How Mentoring Has Changed and the Value It Brings to Both the Mentor and the Protégé

By Adam Ventura

bSci21 Contributing Writer

Protégé:  Hey, Professor. It’s good to see you. Long time no talk. How have you been? 

Mentor:  Hi there. It’s good to see you as well.  And I am doing great—another day in paradise.  What about you?  What brings you by my office?

Protégé:  Not much. Just thought I would drop by and say hello.

Mentor:  As your mentor, I have gotten to know you very well over the years, and I can tell when something is wrong. C’mon, what’s going on?

Protégé:  [Sighs] you do know me pretty well. Well, it’s been almost a decade now since I graduated from your program, got my BCBA certification, and began supervising others.  And, well, I feel like I am struggling a little bit with some of the younger therapists and analysts that I am working with.

Mentor:  Okay. Can you elaborate a little bit?

Protégé:  Sure.  Well, I’ve tried to establish a mentoring program at the agency I’m working with, but I’m having difficulties with the mentees I’m instructing.

Mentor:  Hmm. Interesting. Can you give me an example of the type of issue you are running into?

Protégé:  Sure. Well, I have set up a mentoring program using a BACB supervision model, and the individuals I am mentoring are complaining that I am not available to them as much as they would like me to be. They have also said that they want to dictate the goals and direction of our meetings instead of me, and on top of that they are seeking out other mentors to work with.

Mentor:  Hmm, well, the first thing I would say is that mentoring is very different from supervising.  Mentoring requires a very long commitment from the mentor and can even be indefinite in its time period (Bailey & Burch, 2010) unlike BACB supervision, which is usually constrained to the minimum number of experience hours required to obtain a credential.  Secondly, mentoring, unlike supervision, allows for the mentee to set goals that they would like to achieve—not goals that the mentor considers appropriate.  Also, supervision tends to focus on performance improvement, where mentoring tends more to focus on developing insight (Michael, 2008). 

Protégé:  Really?  I just assumed that it would be similar to supervision.  I guess I’m starting to have second thoughts about this endeavor.  I just thought I would be able to give young practitioners advice and instructions on the best path for them professionally.   

Mentor:  Well that’s definitely part of it.  I think the best way to explain it is by defining what mentoring is.  Mentoring relates primarily to the identification and nurturing of potential for the whole person. It can be a long-term relationship, where the goals may change but are always set by the learner. The learner owns both the goals and the process (Michael, 2008). And the process can develop organically. It doesn’t have to be arranged in an official capacity.

Protégé:  Okay, well that makes sense, and I think I understand a little better now.  Are there specific behaviors that should be part of the prospective mentee’s repertoire that I should identify before starting to work with them?

Mentor:  Great question, and yes there are.  Protégés should be qualified, hungry for knowledge, and eager to learn (Bailey & Burch, 2010).

Protégé:  Okay, that makes sense. What are some of the characteristics of this relationship?

Mentor:  Well, the mentor and mentee relationship should be symbiotic and collaborative in nature.  And there are typically no agendas set up by the mentor. They are typically designed by the mentee.  And both parties should benefit from the interaction, as it should be bi-directional in nature.

Protégé:  Okay, what about other mentors?  Some of my protégés mentioned that they wanted to explore the possibility of having multiple mentors.  Is that even possible? Or ethical?

Mentor:  Absolutely!  I have been mentoring for a long time now and have noticed a shift in mentoring methodology where mentees are no longer just working with one mentor, but they are establishing what’s called “developmental networks” instead.  Now thinking about it, someone really smart once said “Always two there are, no more, no less.  A master and an apprentice” (Yoda, 1999). Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, as the concept of multiple mentors has grown in popularity. 

Protégé:  Huh?  What’s a developmental network and how could Yoda be wrong?

Mentor:  Well, although he was very wise, he did live in a galaxy long ago and far, far away—and he probably did not have the Internet or a connected world.  And developmental networks are groups or sub-groups of people generally around five to six people large that make up a protégé’s own personal group of advisors (Kram & Higgins, 2009).  This developmental network usually consists of experts in different areas or specialties.  So when the mentee feels like they need to get help from an expert in a specific area of behavior analysis, they can reach out to them.   

Protégé:   Is that really needed?  I got by fine and you were my only mentor!

Mentor:  That’s true, but things have changed dramatically in the past five to ten years.  In today’s society, technology is changing from minute to minute, and workplaces are becoming more and more connected on a global scale, increasing the use of culturally diverse teams to solve problems and create solutions (Kram & Higgins, 2009).  Honestly, it would be very difficult for any one mentor to help guide a mentee through that obstacle-laden terrain.  Nowadays, people crowd source information instead of just going through one authority.  Even BACB supervision is designed to support that, as they have sections for multiple supervisors on the experience forms.  Just think about it from an ethical standpoint, as a behavior analyst. If you aren’t competent in a particular area, our ethical code stipulates that we should seek out outside consultation.  Wouldn’t it be great if all behavior analysts, including yourself, had a network of colleagues and experts to glean information and wisdom from whenever they needed to?

Protégé:  Wow, things have really changed since you were my mentor.  When I was younger, you were my only mentor, and I felt like I needed to get all of my information from you and only you.  And it almost sounds like the mentee takes control of the relationship and directs their interactions throughout the course of their relationship.

Mentor:  Great observation, and you are absolutely correct!  This process is actually called managing up, where the mentee takes ownership of the relationship and sets the agenda for meetings, outlines goals, and specifically describes to the mentor the manner in which they would like to be mentored (Zerzan, et al., 2009).

Protégé:  Wow that sounds great for the mentee, but what about the mentor?

Mentor:  Well, managing up actually helps the mentor in that they don’t have to identify an appropriate direction for the mentee or select specific tasks or activities for the mentee to work on. Instead, the mentee really directs the entire process, and the mentor is there for expert support. In essence, it is supported autonomy.

Protégé:  Interesting. You also said something earlier about a bi-directional benefit to mentorship. What did you mean by that?

Mentor:  Well, just like all relationships, the mentoring relationship is bi-directional. Behavior from both parties is reinforced by the continued interaction.  For example, mentees receive critical information in specific areas of behavior analysis, and mentors sometimes receive advice on technical matters (like how to use social media correctly), modern social constructs, and nuances in team-oriented collaboration that the mentor may not be familiar with.  This creates a co-learning environment where mentors and mentees alike are developing new skills and learning from issues brought up in the developmental network. 

Protégé:  Wow, this is a lot to take in.

Mentor:  Don’t feel overwhelmed. Just take some time and start instructing your mentees on how to begin the mentor and mentee relationship.  And to be honest with you, mentoring has been one of the most rewarding activities of my professional career, and when I see some of my protégés out there in the world doing well like Dennis Uriarte., Stephanie Ortega., Jennifer Lenderman., or Ashley Tudor., it is very rewarding for me.  I am very proud of them and everything they have achieved. 

Protégé:  That sounds awesome, I want to have that impact on the people I work with.  As always, thank you for the advice. 

Mentor:  Anytime.


Bailey, J., & Burch, M. (2010). 25 essential skills and strategies for the professional behavior analyst: Expert tips for maximizing consulting effectiveness. New York: Routledge.

Kram, K. E., & Higgins, M. C. (2009, April 15). A new mindset on mentoring: Creating developmental networks at work. Retrieved April 19, 2016 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Michael, A. (2008, August). Mentoring & coaching. Retrieved April 18, 2016 from

Zerzan, J. T., Hess, R., Schur, E., Phillips, R. S., & Rigotti, N., 2009 (2009, January). Making the most of mentors: A guide For mentees. Retrieved April 18, 2016 from file:///C:/Users/Adam/Desktop/Making the Most of Mentors.pdf

AVV_MG_9885Adam Ventura, M.S., BCBA is a graduate of Florida International University and has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) since 2008. Adam is the founder and CEO of World Evolve, Inc., a behavioral organization located in south Florida. Adam has been working in the field of applied behavior analysis for over 10 years and has experience working with children and adults with varying disabilities. Adam was a member of the local review committee in Miami, Florida for over three years and is currently a member of the behavior analysis and practice committee (BAPC) for the state of Florida. Adam also currently serves an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Florida International University where he has been teaching undergraduate courses in behavior analysis since 2009. Adam is also the co-founder of two public benefit corporations, namely, The Code Of Ethics for Behavioral Organizations (COEBO) and the Miami Association for Behavior Analysis (MiABA). Adam’s experience has extended beyond the clinical realm and into the business world as he has been responsible for creating several new businesses with and without partners in various industries. Adam’s current focus is on business ethics and technological applications of Behavior Analysis.  You can contact him at [email protected].

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1 Comment on "Mentoring in Behavior Analysis: How Mentoring Has Changed and the Value It Brings to Both the Mentor and the Protégé"

  1. how to decide in which situations should we do mentoring and in which situations, only supervision is considered? is mentoring always considered voluntary work?

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