The Evidence-Based Practice of Applied Behavior Analysis

Behav Anal. 2014 Apr 29;37(1):41-56. doi: 10.1007/s40614-014-0005-2. eCollection 2014 May.


Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a model of professional decision-making in which practitioners integrate the best available evidence with client values/context and clinical expertise in order to provide services for their clients. This framework provides behavior analysts with a structure for pervasive use of the best available evidence in the complex settings in which they work. This structure recognizes the need for clear and explicit understanding of the strength of evidence supporting intervention options, the important contextual factors including client values that contribute to decision making, and the key role of clinical expertise in the conceptualization, intervention, and evaluation of cases. Opening the discussion of EBP in this journal, Smith (The Behavior Analyst, 36, 7-33, 2013) raised several key issues related to EBP and applied behavior analysis (ABA). The purpose of this paper is to respond to Smith's arguments and extend the discussion of the relevant issues. Although we support many of Smith's (The Behavior Analyst, 36, 7-33, 2013) points, we contend that Smith's definition of EBP is significantly narrower than definitions that are used in professions with long histories of EBP and that this narrowness conflicts with the principles that drive applied behavior analytic practice. We offer a definition and framework for EBP that aligns with the foundations of ABA and is consistent with well-established definitions of EBP in medicine, psychology, and other professions. In addition to supporting the systematic use of research evidence in behavior analytic decision making, this definition can promote clear communication about treatment decisions across disciplines and with important outside institutions such as insurance companies and granting agencies.

Keywords: Client values; Clinical expertise; Decision making; Empirically supported treatments; Evidence-based practice; Professional judgment.