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Applied Behaviour Analysis

Applied Behaviour Analysis is a specialised programme on offer to postgraduate students.

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Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a scientific approach to understanding and changing human behaviour. It has applications with a wide variety of client groups including those with intellectual and other disabilities, autism spectrum, childhood onset behavioural disorders, and people in brain injury rehabilitation and dementia care. Behaviour principles provide a strong basis for the analysis of complex human repertoires including language and social behaviour.

Successful completion of the programme will also make a graduate eligible to apply to the New Zealand Psychologists Board to be a registered psychologist and work as a practising psychologist in New Zealand.

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB administers the international professional certification process for behaviour analysts. Our programme is a BACB-approved course sequence that will equip you with the coursework and supervised hours needed to become board-certified. Graduates of our three-year programme are eligible to take the BACB examination for Board Certified Behavior Analysts. Our graduates have achieved a 100% pass rate at this examination over the programme’s history. 

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Specialisation structure

This specialisation satisfies the regulations for a number of degrees and diplomas and requires a student to enrol in a different degree each year. While committing full-time to our three-year programme is encouraged, students can undertake one, two or three years of full time or equivalent part-time study. Students not completing the three years of the programme will still acquire a new qualification each year. This structure offers the flexibility to accommodate students who have already completed other postgraduate degrees.


Qualification structure and application

Year 1 - Postgraduate Diploma in Science (PGDipSci)

Successful graduates of Year 1 will have earned a Postgraduate Diploma and be eligible to secure a place in Year 2 of the programme. Mandatory papers for Year one are listed below.

  • PSYCH 750 Applied Behaviour Analysis: Methods  (30 points)
  • PSYCH 751 Applied Behaviour Analysis: Behaviour Modification (30 points)
  • PSYCH 754 Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities    (15 points)
  • PSYCH 741 ABA: Behaviour Measurement (15 points) 


Important dates

  • Application dates: September to November
  • Completed forms should be lodged with the School of Psychology before December 1.

Entry requirements

  • BSc/BA with a major in psycholoy or equivalent.
  • Most ABA courses are limited to 16 students, make sure to enrol in 105 points to gain preferential entry to those courses.


Please refer to the postgraduate programme in Applied Behaviour Analysis information sheet for applicants for further details

Information for applicants can be found on the Forms and Guides page.

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Year 2 - Master of Science or Master of Arts in Psychology (MSc/MA)


Important dates

  • Contact a potential supervisor half-way through Year 1
  • Once you have a supervisor, ensure to start your ethics application before the end of Year 1

Entry requirements

  • Completing Year 1 courses is highly recommended


For more information about the Master of Arts in Psychology please see here.

Year 3 - Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Psychology (PGDipAppPsych)

This includes an internship that will involve 1,500 hours over 12 months of supervised practical work in settings where applied behaviour analysis is valued. The actual settings in which students work will be negotiated with each student individually, but all students will conduct practical work for at least 32 hours per week. Usually students work with both children and adults who need behaviour analytic services. Generally, students will be hired by the organization providing services as frontline carers (e.g., teacher aides, support workers, carers, behaviour therapists) and will earn a salary. Some of our internship placements are indicated below. Students are also welcome to identify their own placement setting. In this case arrangements will need to be done well in advance.

The following papers are required during Year 3 as per BACB and NZPB requirements:

  • PSYCH 651 Internship in ABA (60 points)
  • PSYCH 728 Portfolio in ABA (60 points)
  • PSYCH 749 Ethics in ABA (15 points)
  • PSYCH 757  Advanced Applied Behaviour Analysis  (15 points)

Graduates of Year 3 will have satisfied the degree, coursework and experiential requirements to sit the examination for the BCBA credential. They will also be eligible to apply to the New Zealand Psychologists Board for registration under the general scope of practice.


Important dates

  • Applications should be lodged with the School of Psychology before 1 November.
  • Formal interviews to candidates will take place during the month of November.

Entry requirements

  • Candiates should have either an MSc or MA in Psychology, or equivalent.
  • Candidates will also need to pass the selection interview.


For more information about the PGDipAppPsych please see here.


PhD studies

If you are interested in furthering your research repertoire, pursuing leading posts in service delivery and management, or becoming an academic, a PhD in behaviour analysis may be instrumental to bring your career plans to fruition.

If you are considering a PhD in applied behaviour analysis, make sure to contact prospective primary supervisors in advance of your application. Check the profile of our academic staff and ensure that your interest align with those of your supervisor. The main lines of research available at our programme include:

  • Assessment and treatment of problem behaviour among individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities
  • Reinforcement-based approaches to treatment in clients with dementia
  • Translational and multidisciplinary research: intersection between applied behaviour analysis and other fields
  • Assessment of technological aids and telehealth in applied behaviour analysis
  • Meta-analysis of treatment procedures based on applied behaviour analysis
  • Assessment and treatment of feeding disorders

PhD students may qualify for University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarships, or other funding - find out more here.  They may also receive some support from grants awarded to their supervisors.

Although it is recommended, depending on the topic, PhD students do not need to complete the requirements for the Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) and registered psychologist eligibility. PhD studies at the School of Psychology are open to students with a first class honours, a MSc/MA, and students that have completed the full three-year programme.

More information on the PhD admission process here

More information on scholarships


Individualised routes to specialisation

Enrolment in individual courses towards a Certificate of Proficiency (COP) is available for students who already have postgraduate qualifications, have passed some behaviour-analytic courses, but require further coursework for BCBA eligibility.

Similarly, a set of undergraduate courses in Psychology can be recommended for students who wish to enrol in the Year 1 courses who have a Bachelor’s degree but no major in Psychology. These courses are known as bridging courses, and a student enrolling in these courses will enrol in a Transitional Certificate (TransCert).

Please contact with our administrative staff for further details.


International Students

We welcome international students. Email the programme director to set up a Skype meeting to learn more about our programme and entry requirements for international students. Graduates of universities overseas and/or those without New Zealand citizenship or permanent resident status should also correspond with the International Office. You could also seek assistance from the University of Auckland overseas agents and representatives in your region.

International students should contact the University as soon as possible as the evaluation of their international credentials may delay the application process.


Faculty profiles

ABA Staff photo
Applied Behaviour Analysis staff

Director of the Behaviour Analysis programme and Senior Lecturer

Rebecca is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (Doctoral level) and New Zealand Registered Psychologist. Her research interests include behaviour-analytic approaches to working with people with dementia and traumatic brain injury, the translation of clinical and laboratory research to applied settings, applied animal behaviour, and teaching behaviour analysis. Rebecca is a theme lead for the Centre for Co-Created Ageing Research (Health and Wellbeing), has been a consultant for the Welsh Government’s Behavioural Science unit, and as a clinician, she has worked on multidisciplinary teams with recidivist youth offenders, with adults and children with brain injury, adults with dementia, and adults and children with intellectual disabilities.

Katrina Phillips, Senior Lecturer

Katrina Phillips is a Registered Psychologist, Board Certified Behaviour Analyst, and Professional Teaching Fellow in our Applied Behaviour Analysis Postgraduate Programme. She is a graduate of the University of Auckland’s Applied Behaviour Analysis Programme and is currently one of their PhD candidates.  She has over 10 years of experience working with adults and children with intellectual disabilities in residential, community, and educational settings in New Zealand. Her work has included “hands-on” care, training (client, staff, and parent), and behaviour analysis as well as research and teaching university graduate students.

Angela Arnold-Saritepe, Senior Lecturer

Dr Angela Arnold-Saritepe is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst and Registered Psychologist. She has worked part time in the Applied Behaviour Analysis Programme since 2006.  She has worked extensively in New Zealand and overseas providing behaviour analytic services primarily to children and adolescents, with developmental disorders and brain injury; including their families, schools and caregivers. Her research interests lie in language and social skill development, in addition to provision of services to ensure inclusion for young people whose challenging behaviour is such that it leads to their exclusion from the community.

Sarah Leadley, Professional Teaching Fellow

Sarah Leadley graduated from the Applied Behaviour Analysis programme in 2008, and have since worked as a Psychologist/Behaviour Analyst in both non-profit agencies in New Zealand and private practice in Vancouver, Canada (2010-2014). In Canada she provided home-based services to children with disabilities, and their families. During this time, she became interested in the treatment of severe feeding difficulties, involving close collaboration with other health professionals. Sarah’s PhD study is focused on behavioural intervention provided in the home to transition children from tube feeding to oral nutrition. The study is funded by a University of Auckland Senior Health Research Scholarship.

Svetlana Daly, Senior Lecturer

Svetlana Daly is a Registered Psychologist, Board Certified Behaviour Analyst, and a Professional Teaching Fellow in the Applied Behaviour Analysis Programme.  She graduated from the University of Auckland’s Applied Behaviour Analysis Programme in 2011. Since then Svetlana has worked in a variety of settings in New Zealand and Australia.  These have included supporting children, adults, and their families in the community and educational settings.  Working with young people with complex behaviour needs in residential settings. Currently alongside her Professional Teaching Fellow role at the University of Auckland, Svetlana is contracting to a private provider, supporting individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in the community and educational settings.  ​


Frequently asked questions

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis?

Applied behaviour analysis is sometimes shortened to ABA. It is a science which uses evidence-based methods, usually derived from the principles of behaviour, to improve socially important behaviours to a meaningful degree. It is used mainly to help children and adults who have difficulty with regular learning and/or complex problem behaviours

Where will I be able to gain employment?

Demand for psychologists is consistent across NZ locations and growing for those with behavioural skills.  Generally, you will be employed as a psychologist or a behaviour therapist. Some employers may specifically want training in ABA. 

Employers include areas such as: schools (including the Ministry of Education), child and adult disability services, youth with substance abuse disorders, youth with severe behaviours, early intervention autism programmes, dementia services, brain injury services.

Private contract work is also available at times, for those with appropriate experience.

Can I do the ABA programme part time or via distance learning?

Although it is possible to complete certain years of the programme part time, we recommend that you take certain papers together (e.g. PSYCH 750 and PSYCH 751). It is not possible to do the third year (PGDipAppPsych) part time. We currently do not offer e-learning/long-distance courses.

I have a Bachelor of Science/Arts, but its major is not Psychology. Can I still apply for the ABA programme?

Entry into any postgraduate study with the School of Psychology requires you to have four stage III courses (undergraduate level) in Psychology – if you want to go onto Masters you will also need the Research methods paper (PSYCH 306). As a student majoring in another discipline, you would need to complete these courses under a bridging programme. Please contact the bridging coordinators Michelle Burstall or Andrea Mead to discuss this pathway with them.  

Once you have completed these courses, then you will be eligible to apply for postgraduate study within the School of Psychology. Completing the bridging course does not guarantee entry to any of the Schools programmes including the ABA programme which is entry by application and selection process.

I have a masters degree in Psychology, can I apply to do the third year PGDip (AppPsy) course.

It is required that you have to complete the papers from the PGDip year: PSYCH 750, 751, 754, and 711 (or the equivalent from your university) to participate in the third year PGDipAppPsych. If you wish to have your papers assessed for crossed credits you should contact the director of the programme Dr Javier Virues-Ortega. If you already have a PGDip in Arts or Science, you can apply to do the papers as continuing competencies. You will not have to complete a second Masters.  If you are considering a PhD in behaviour analysis you should consult with a potential supervisor from the ABA area. 

I have completed all my course work hours, will you provide me supervision for my practicum?

The staff at the university only provide supervision to students completing their practicum as part of the third year of our course sequence. During this year they complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Psychology

If you have completed your course work and do not wish to enrol we recommend contacting one of the other people on the BACB website or emailing and asking her to send out a request to people on the New Zealand BACB mailing list.

However, you should know that although the recognition of the BACB qualification is growing in NZ, without other New Zealand recognized professional qualifications (e.g. psychologist), the BACB qualification alone is seldom enough to gain employment or private contracts.  Going through a university programme allows you to get the psychologist hours (1500) as well as BCBA hours. Visit the NZ Psychologist Board website for more information. 

I’m an international student, can I come to do the Auckland ABA programme?

You would need to make sure that your current qualifications are recognised by the University of Auckland, and that they correspond to the programmes prerequisites. You can email them on

Find out more about studying as an international student at the University of Auckland

Is there anything that I can do to prepare for applying for the ABA programme?

To get into the ABA programme you must be eligible for postgraduate studies, we also recommend that you do PSYCH 306 (the research paper) as this is needed for you to move onto masters.

In the application process we look at your grades, your experience (both with populations that are likely to benefit from ABA and actual ABA intervention experience), and the responses you make to the questions on the application. Although not a requirement, undergraduate papers in behaviour analysis (e.g. PSYCH 203, PSYCH 309) are helpful as they give a good grounding in the basic principles of behaviour analysis.

If you are looking for reading in the area, we would recommend a book called “How to think like a behavior analyst” by Bailey and Burch. It is an easy read and gives a general overview to what it means to be a behaviour analyst (and how this might be different to other areas). In the lectures we recommend readings from Cooper Heron and Heward’s book Applied Behavior Analysis.

How much are the fees?

Fees are set by the university and are dependent on if you are a domestic student or an international student. 

Find out more about fees.

Can I get a scholarship?

Scholarships are available for University study, although not ABA specifically.  


Recent publications

Bailey, J. S., & Virues-Ortega, J. (2019). Análisis de escenarios éticos prácticos planteados por analistas de conducta de habla hispana [Analysis of practical ethical scenarios suggested by Spanish-speaking behavior analysts], in J. Virues-Ortega (Ed. & Trans.), Ética para Analistas de Conducta, 3ra. ed. (pp. 322-338). doi:10.26741/abaspain/2019/Bailey21

Bailey, J. S., & Burch, M. R. (2019). Ética para analistas conductual [Ethics for behavior analysts 3rd ed.] (J. Virues-Ortega Ed. & Trans.). doi:10.26741/abaspain/2019/Bailey ISBN 978-84-09-07803-5

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2017). Análisis aplicado de conducta [Applied Behavior Analysis] (J. Virues-Ortega Ed. & Trans.). doi:10.26741/abaspain/2017.cooper

Cox, A. D., Virues-Ortega, J., Julio, F., & Martin., T. L. (2017). Establishing steadiness in children with autism and intellectual disability: Applications for anatomical and functional MRI. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 50, 8-26. doi:10.1002/jaba.351

Cox, A. D., & Virues-Ortega, J. (2016). A review of how psychotropic medication can affect the motivation of challenging behaviour. International Journal of Developmental Disabilities, 62, 192-199. doi:10.1080/20473869.2016.1175157

Cox, A. D., & Virues-Ortega, J. (2015). Interactions between behavior function and exposure to psychotropic drugs. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48, 1-20. doi:10.1002/jaba.247 

Garcia, M. T., Virues-Ortega, J., Smith, S., & Moussavi, Z. (2013). Effect of cognitive training targeting associative memory in the elderly: A small randomized trial and a longitudinal evaluation. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 61, 2252-2255. doi:10.1111/jgs.12574

Hurl, K., Wightman, J. K., Haynes, S. N., & Virues-Ortega, J. (2016). Does a pre-intervention functional assessment increase intervention effectiveness? A meta-analysis of within-subject interrupted time-series studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 47, 71-84. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2016.05.003

Keenan, M., Dillenburger, K., Röttgerset, H. R., Dounavi, K., Jónsdóttir, S. L., Moderato, P., Schenk, J. J. A. M., Virues-Ortega, J., Roll-Pettersson, L., & Martin, N. (2015). Autism and ABA: The gulf between North America and Europe. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2, 167-183. doi:10.1007/s40489-014-0045-2

McCormack, J., Elliffe, D., Virues-Ortega, J. (in press). Quantifying the effects of the differential outcomes procedure in humans. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Nogales-González, C., Virues-Ortega, J., & Marquez-Gonzalez, M. (2016). Psicoterapia Analítico Funcional. In M. Marquez-Gonzalez (Ed.), Tendencias Actuales en Intervención Psicológica (pp. 97-128). Madrid, Spain: Editorial Síntesis. ISBN 978-84-9077-284-3​

Pelaez, M., Virués-Ortega, J., Amir, Y., Schnerch, G., & Field, T. (2013). Acquisition of social referencing in infants of mothers with depressive symptoms. Infant Behavior and Development, 36, 548-556. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2013.05.003

Phillips, K. J., & Mudford, O. C. (2011). Effects of noncontingent reinforcement and choice of activity on aggressive behavior maintained by attention. Behavioral Interventions, 26, 147-160. doi:10.1002/bin.329

Phillips, K. J., Mudford, O. C., Zeleny, J. R., & Elliffe, D. E. (2014). Using Calibration and Interobserver agreement algorithms to assess the accuracy and precision of data from electronic and pen-and-paper continuous recording methods. Behavioral Interventions, 29, 315-330. doi:10.1002/bin.1395

Plantiveaou, C., Dounavi, K., Virues-Ortega, J. (2018). High levels of burnout among early-career Board-Certified Behavior Analysts with low collegial support. European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 19, 195-207. doi:1080/15021149.2018.1438339

Querim, A., Iwata, B., Roscoe, E., Schlichenmeyeer, K., Virués-Ortega, J., Hurl, K. (2013) Functional analysis screening for problem behavior maintained by automatic reinforcementJournal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 46, 47-60. doi:10.1002/jaba.26

Sharp, R. A., Phillips, K. J., & Mudford, O. C. (2012). Comparisons of interventions for rumination maintained by automatic reinforcement. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 1107-1112. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2012.03.002

Tam, G. M., Phillips, K. J., & Mudford, O. C. (2011). Teaching individuals with profound multiple disabilities to access preferred stimuli with multiple microswitches. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32, 2352-2361. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2011.07.027

Taylor, S. A., & Mudford, O. C. (2012). Improving behaviour in a residential service for youth in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Behavioral Interventions, 27, 109-128. 10.1002/bin.1342

Taylor, S. A., Anderson, K., & Mudford, O. C. (2010). Effects of textual response prompts for adolescents in a substance abuse treatment program. Behavioral Interventions, 25, 145-155. doi:10.1002/bin.303

Taylor, S. A., Mudford, O. C., & Phillips, K. J. (2011). Training employment acquisition skills for adolescents with a substance abuse history. Behavioral Interventions, 26, 282-308. doi:10.1002/bin.338

Taylor, S. L., Purdy, S., Jackson, B., Phillips, K., & Virues-Ortega, J. (2019). Evaluation of a home-based Behavioral treatment model for children with tube dependency. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jsz014

Virues-Ortega, J. Arnold-Saritepe, A., Hird, C., & Phillips, K. (2017). The TEACCH program for people with autism: Elements, outcomes, and comparison with competing models. In J. L. Matson (Ed.), Handbook of Treatments of Autism Spectrum Disorder. New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-61738-1

Virues-Ortega, J., Lehnert, K., Swan, B., Taylor, M.W., Southee, A., Dougan, D., Taylor, J., Hille, R., Snell, R.G., & Jacobsen, J.J. (2017). The New Zealand Minds for Minds Autism Spectrum Disorder Self-Reported Cohort. Accepted for publication at Research in Autism Spectrum Disorder, 36, 1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2016.12.003

Virues-Ortega, J., & Cox, A. D. (2016). Animal-assisted therapy for older adults, in S. K. Whitbourne (Ed)., The Encyclopedia of Adulthood and Aging (Vol. 1, pp. 69-73). New York: Wiley & Sons. doi: 10.1002/9781118521373.wbeaa139

Virues-Ortega, J., Pear, J. J., Boris, A. L., Cox, A. D., Hu, L., Julio, F. M., Michalyshyn, C. A., & Wightman, J. K. (2016). Single-subject research design. In H. L. Miller, The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Psychology (pp. 859-862). New York: Sage. doi:10.4135/9781483346274.n293

Virues-Ortega, J., & Frojan-Parga, M. X. (2015). A translational approach to the functional analysis of language in psychotherapy. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 15, 69-75. doi:10.1016/j.ijchp.2014.10.001

Virués-Ortega, J., & Pear, J. J. (2015). A history of “behavior” and “mind”: A systematic analysis of the use of behavioral and cognitive terms during the 20th Century. The Psychological Record, 65, 23-30. doi:10.1007/s40732-014-0079-y

Virues-Ortega, J., Martin, N., Schnerch, G., Miguel-Garcia, J. A., & Mellichamp, F. (2015). A general methodology for the translation of behavioral terms into vernacular languages. The Behavior Analyst, 38, 127-135. doi:10.1007/s40614-014-0025-y

Virues-Ortega, J., & Pear, J. J. (2015). A history of “behavior” and “mind”: A systematic analysis of the use of behavioral and cognitive terms during the 20th Century. The Psychological Record, 65, 23-30. doi:10.1007/s40732-014-0079-y

Virues-Ortega, J., Hurtado-Parrado, J., Cox, A. D., & Pear, J. J. (2014). A systematic analysis of the interaction between experimental and applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47, 1-24. doi:10.1002/jaba.124​

Virués-Ortega, J., Hurtado-Parrado, J., Cox, A. D., & Pear, J. J. (2014). A systematic analysis of the interaction between experimental and applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47, 1-24. doi:10.1002/jaba.124

Virués-Ortega, J., Iwata, B. A., Fahmie, T., Harper, J. (2013). Effects of alternative responses on behavior exposed to noncontingent reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 46, 603-612. doi:10.1002/jaba.61

Virues-Ortega, J., Julio, F., & Pastor, R. (2013). The TEACCH program for children and adults with autism: A meta-analysis of intervention studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 940-953. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2013.07.005

Virues-Ortega, J., Martin, N., Schnerch, G., Miguel-Garcia, J. A., & Mellichamp, F. A general methodology for the translation of behavioral terms into vernacular languages. The Behavior Analyst, 38, 127-135. doi:10.1007/s40614-014-0025-y

Virués-Ortega, J., Pritchard, K., Grant, R. L., North, S., Hurtado-Parrado, C., Lee, M., Temple, B., Julio, F. M., & Yu, C.T. (2014). Clinical decision-making and preference assessment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 119, 151-170. doi:10.1352/1944-7558-119.2.151

Virués-Ortega, J., Rodríguez, V., & Yu, C. T. (2013). Prediction of treatment outcomes and longitudinal analysis in children with autism undergoing intensive behavioral treatment. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 13, 91-100. doi:10.1016/S1697-2600(13)70012-7

Wightman, J., Julio, F., & Virués-Ortega, J. (2014). Advances in the functional analysis and treatment of problem behavior. Psicothema, 26, 186-192. doi:10.7334/psicothema2013.142


Further information

Further details on this programme are available from:

Dr Rebecca Sharp


Postal address:

School of Psychology
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Victoria Street West
Auckland 1142

General enquiries about postgraduate studies in Psychology and enrolment should be directed to