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How To Apply the RBT Code of Ethics to Your Work

In the realm of applied behavior analysis (ABA), the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) code of ethics serves as a guiding compass for professionals in their practice, ensuring the highest standards of conduct and care. The updated RBT Ethics Code 2.0 reinforces the commitment to ethical behavior, transparency, and client well-being.

This updated ethics code applies to all Registered Behavior Technicians, emphasizing the importance of ethical conduct across diverse settings. Whether working in schools, homes, or clinics, RBTs are expected to adhere to these ethical guidelines, fostering trust and professionalism within the field.

By upholding the following principles, RBTs contribute to the integrity and advancement of applied behavior analysis.

RBT Ethics Code 2.0

As you may know, the RBT Ethics Code 2.0 is divided into three sections:

  • General responsibilities
  • Responsibilities in providing behavior technician services
  • Responsibilities to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and BACB-required supervisor.

The full, delineated list of RBT Ethics can be found here, on the BACB website.

Rather than reiterate what the BACB has already created, let’s review the major themes contained within the RBT Ethics Code and how they apply to the work as an RBT.

Client safety and rights

If you’re a credentialed RBT, you know that maintaining the safety and upholding the rights of clients is the most important ethical consideration for RBTs. If clients’ safety and rights are not upheld, then any progress clients make will not last.

Specific standards related to safety are found in the second section of the ethics code. They are:

  • Standard 2.01: RBTs do no harm and support the best interest of their clients. They understand and comply with mandated-reporting requirements.
  • Standard 2.04: RBTs do not use interventions they do not know how to use. They cannot provide services to unfamiliar client populations. They must have training and experience before doing so.
  • Standard 2.05: RBTs only implement restrictive or punishment-based procedures when they are included in a behavior-change plan and after their supervisor has ensured competence.

Rights are also specifically addressed in the second section of the RBT Ethics Code. These rights-specific requirements are:

  • Standard 2.07: RBTs act to protect clients when they become aware that their legal rights are violated or there is risk of harm. They must report the violation to their supervisor, follow organization policies, and document. In some cases, RBTs may need to contact relevant authorities, such as law enforcement or the BACB.
  • Standard 2.08: RBTs protect the confidentiality and privacy of their clients, stakeholders, and others in the workplace. They follow all requirements established by the BACB, employers, and the law. RBTs also maintain confidentiality when interacting with client information and records.
  • Standard 2.09: RBTs do not share identifying information such as photos, videos, and written information about clients on social media or websites.
  • Standard 2.10: RBTs only discuss confidential client information under the direction of their supervisor unless it is for a valid reason such as following a request from law enforcement to protect a client. RBTs only share necessary client information in emails and other documentation.

Honesty and Integrity

As you know, the foundation of the RBT Ethics Code lies in its adherence to key principles. Integrity and honesty are paramount and appear throughout the RBT code of ethics. These ethical standards mean that RBTs must:

  • Work to support honest behavior in others.
  • Avoid making false or misleading claims about their credentials.
  • Be truthful in all communication with the BACB and their supervisor.
  • Act professionally by following through on commitments and taking accountability for their actions.

RBTs are expected to act in the best interests of their clients, preserving their dignity and rights. The code emphasizes the significance of professional competence, urging practitioners to provide services within their scope of expertise and seek supervision when necessary.

Confidentiality and privacy

The RBT Code of Ethics underscores the confidentiality of client information. RBTs are bound to protect sensitive data and ensure that discussions and interventions remain private.

According to the RBT Ethics Code:

“RBTs protect the confidentiality and privacy of their clients, stakeholders, and others in the workplace by following all related requirements established by the BACB, employers, and the law (e.g., privacy laws, licensure requirements). RBTs maintain confidentiality when interacting with client information and records.”

This commitment extends beyond the ABA setting, promoting a secure environment for clients and their families.

Continuous improvement

A key feature of the RBT code of ethics is its emphasis on ongoing professional development. RBTs are encouraged to engage in activities that enhance their skills, staying abreast of advancements in the field.

According to the Ethics Code:

“RBTs conduct themselves in a professional manner during all work activities (e.g., delivering services, receiving training or supervision). They take action to improve their performance following feedback from supervisors.”

This commitment to continuous improvement ensures that RBTs provide the highest quality of care to their clients.

Cultural responsibility

RBTs interact with people from many different backgrounds and experiences. It is important that when they interact with others at work, they try to understand their clients’ cultural norms and individual experiences.

To practice proper cultural responsibility, keep the following three points in mind:

  • Cultural competence: Cultural competence is a process of learning to act in a way that creates conditions to help clients succeed. RBTs who are trying to be culturally competent are aware that their own beliefs might be different from others.
  • Cultural humility: Cultural humility is a process of self-reflection. The purpose of this self-reflection is to look for ways to reduce the power imbalance between the client and the clinician. It requires a respect for and lack of superiority toward another person’s background. Cultural humility is a lifelong process.
  • Cultural responsiveness: A person’s culture impacts their routines, how they communicate, and how they respond to different experiences. RBTs must realize that when they work with clients and their families, culture plays a role in how they accept program targets, reinforcers, and their interactions.

Common ethical issues for RBTs

RBTs often encounter a spectrum of ethical challenges that demand careful consideration and adept resolution. A robust understanding of these common ethical issues and how to apply the RBT code of ethics to them is essential for RBTs to provide optimal care while upholding the integrity of their profession.

Questions of confidentiality

Maintaining client confidentiality is a cornerstone of the RBT code of ethics. RBTs may grapple with balancing the need to share information with relevant team members while safeguarding their clients’ privacy.

Ethics training equips RBTs with the skills to navigate this delicate balance, ensuring that sensitive information is shared only on a need-to-know basis, preserving the trust between the practitioner and the client.

Multiple relationships and boundaries

Establishing clear professional boundaries is crucial for RBTs. Ethical issues may arise when practitioners find themselves in multiple relationships, such as having a personal connection with a client or their family.

In order to adhere to the RBT code of ethics, multiple relationships should be avoided. While this can be difficult at times, one suggestion is to simply inform your clients and their family of your ethics code. When handled professionally, this can be a tactful way of maintaining client-provider relationships without encouraging multiple relationships.

Cultural competence and diversity

In a diverse world, RBTs must be attuned to the cultural nuances and individual differences among their clients.

Ethical challenges may emerge when cultural or personal biases inadvertently affect a client’s ability to receive care. When this occurs, you must act with cultural sensitivity and compassion. To do so, remember the action items discussed above.

Ethical training encourages RBTs to continually educate themselves on diverse perspectives, fostering cultural competence and ensuring equitable and inclusive practices.

Supervision and professional development

As entry-level practitioners, RBTs always work under the supervision of Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) or BCaBAs. Ethical issues may arise if there are challenges in the supervision process or if RBTs feel ill-equipped to handle certain cases.

Make sure you seek guidance when needed, promoting a culture of continuous learning and professional development.

Need for robust ethics training

Ethical considerations lie at the heart of responsible and effective practice, making comprehensive ethics training an indispensable component of an RBT’s professional development.

One of the primary objectives of ethics training for RBTs is to instill a profound understanding of the impact their actions can have on clients. Robust training empowers practitioners to navigate the complexities of client relationships, emphasizing the importance of dignity, respect, and cultural competence in their interactions. By fostering a client-centered approach, ethics training ensures that RBTs provide services that are not only effective but also compassionate and culturally sensitive.

Ethical lapses can jeopardize the integrity of the ABA field and the RBT profession. Robust ethics training equips RBTs with the tools to uphold the highest standards of professional conduct, reinforcing the importance of honesty, transparency, and accountability. By instilling a sense of professional responsibility, ethics training ensures that RBTs act as ambassadors of the profession, building trust with clients, families, and the broader community. Additionally, ethics training provides practitioners with a framework for approaching and resolving ethical challenges.

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