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Benefits of A Combined MA & ABA Degree Program: Kristofer Picano

Here at MSP, we’re proud to offer a combined degree program in which students can receive a Master of Arts in clinical psychology with a concentration in applied behavior analysis (ABA). Students of this program go on to pursue careers in a wide variety of fields. Kristofer Picano, a 2019 graduate of the program, blends his knowledge of ABA and clinical psychology in his role in developmental testing and diagnostic services. 

Photo of Kristofer PicanoName: Kristofer Picano, MA, TLLP, BCBA, LBA

MSP Program: MA with ABA concentration

Occupation: Developmental Testing and Diagnostic Services at Healing Haven

What led you to study psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis?

I became enamored by psychology early on when I was at community college taking a psychology class for my associate’s degree. At the time I was a transporter at a rehabilitation center for individuals with acquired brain injuries. Taking that psychology class and working directly with people with mental and physical injuries/difficulties really ignited my interest.

As for ABA, that path was a little different. When I got to MSP, I was going over my classes with Carrie [MSP’s Admissions Coordinator] who asked me, “would you be interested in our new ABA certificate program?” Honestly, I just blindly said “yes”. I didn’t even know it was a thing, but I wanted to get the most out of my education and quickly saw that ABA would enhance my value and knowledge in the field. So it did not take much persuasion and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

What type of setting do you work in right now?

I work in a large private behavioral health and autism therapy center. My main role at the facility is to oversee and run our developmental evaluations and assessments department. I provide diagnostic developmental evaluations specializing in autism spectrum disorder along with administering and completing cumulative and normative assessments for all of the children at the center (as required by insurance for ABA services).

Additionally, while I am not currently doing this I have and can provide treatment for children receiving ABA services as a BCBA. This includes providing parent training services to families of children with developmental or behavioral difficulties, and psychotherapy.

What led you to this career path?

I’ve worked in a variety of settings within the medical field and field of psychology and one thing that always stuck out to me was the limited use of standardized tests and assessments to better guide professionals’ decision-making and recommendations. I saw a lot of professional opinions based on subjective information and it always bothered me. I knew I wanted to be in the field of psychology, but I wanted to make sure that I minimized the trial and error that is still used in many situations. That is what directed my aim within the field of psychology to testing and assessment. Once I completed my degrees and certifications, I found a way to blend the value of all of my education and experience into one position.

What have you found are the benefits of having a background in both ABA and clinical psychology as opposed to just one of the two areas?

It simply just makes you a better, more well-rounded professional in both fields. It also makes you significantly more marketable as a professional. Specializing in ABA and psychology provides the competence and flexibility within either of the fields to provide a higher quality of service to all of your client’s needs.

Does your work allow you to blend your ABA and your clinical training?

My work is entirely a blend of ABA and psychology. When providing evaluations, I have to take in all the information and environmental factors that may influence behavior. Additionally, as I talk to families, I recognize the stress and other psychological factors that may be impacting them. I utilize therapeutic techniques to create a comfortable and nurturing environment and provide relief at a time when families are concerned that their child or loved one may have disabilities.

I think regardless of your pursuit whether it is testing, therapy, or more traditional ABA once you obtain the understanding and professional knowledge of both these fields it is impossible to not blend and utilize all of it for every client you have.

How does your knowledge of ABA influence your work? Are there specific skills interventions, or principles that you use often?

In the field of psychological testing, ABA has significantly impacted the way I perform my job. Prior to my education in ABA, I administered neuropsychological evaluations at a private practice, and with several clients, especially children, I had difficulty fostering motivation and consistent effort. My understanding of ABA, reinforcement contingencies, and other principles have drastically changed my approach to testing and my effectiveness in always getting the best out of my clients.

What advice would you give someone considering applying to the MA/ABA or ABA certificate programs?

I think the way MSP has its program set up so that you can get a TLLP and a certificate in ABA to become a BCBA in just 2 years, is amazing and a no-brainer. 

If you are in the MA program debating if you should add on the ABA certificate, I think you just need to ask yourself; do you want to significantly increase your value in the field of psychology? Do you want to create versatility in your degree so that you have options in what ways you use it? Three extra classes and one additional practicum for a lifetime of additional opportunity and value, I think the answer is obvious. 

For those looking into just the ABA program, ABA professionals are in high demand and once you complete the certificate and obtain your BCBA you will be fully licensed. It has to be one of the only fields available right now where in just 2 years you can be fully licensed, and you could practice independently if you wanted to.