School of Psychology - Leading psychological science, scholarship and practice

Applied Behaviour Analysis

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

ABA logo

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. 

Specialisation structure

Woman and child sitting at dinner table

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 or Arts (PGDipSci/PGDipArts)

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 711 Advanced Topics in Learning and Behaviour (30 points)
  • PSYCH 741 ABA: Behaviour Measurement (15 points) 

Application and selection process:

Applications can be made from September to November for entry in the next academic year. Forms are available online year around. Completed forms should be lodged with the School before December 1. Programme staff will notify applicants of their decision by early January.

Applicants wishing to enrol in Year 1 courses must have a BSc (or BA) with a major in Psychology (or other equivalent qualifications). They should complete the form titled ‘Registration of Interest in Applied Behaviour Analysis” and apply via Student Services Online (the University’s online enrolment system previously known as nDeva) to enrol in either the PGDip in Science or Arts. Students wanting to enrol in either the BSc(Hons) or the BA(Hons) are advised to contact the ABA programme staff before applying formally.

Most of the first year programme courses are limited to 16 students. Those applying to enrol in 105 points of ABA courses will gain preferential entry to these courses provided that their enrolment has been formally completed by mid-January.

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

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

Students successfully completing first-year papers will be in a strong position to apply for the MSc/MA year. It is critical that you make contact with prospective supervisors as soon as possible. If you secure an supervisors early, let’s say half way through the first year, you will have plenty of time to identify a topic of interest and obtain ethics approval early, thereby getting ready for recruitment and data collection. Students working towards their Master’s will register in the paper below.

  • PSYCH 796 Masters by Thesis in Psychology (120 points)

Application and selection process:

Acceptance into the Year 1 courses does not guarantee any particular staff member as a thesis supervisor in Year 2. A limited number of places are available for students wanting thesis supervision by staff teaching ABA courses, and students will be selected by negotiation with these staff. Make sure to make preliminary contact with your prospective supervisor as soon as possible. The factors that are usually considered by staff include the similarity between his or her and the student’s research interests, how academically prepared a student is for that research and resources available in the school or via the student for the proposed research. The school’s affirmative action policy for Māori and Pacific Island students will also be applied.

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 654  Practicum (60 points)
  • PSYCH 720  Research Topic in Psychology (30 points)
  • PSYCH 730  Professional Psychology Practice in NZ (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.

Application and selection process:

Entry to the PGDipAppPsych and the associated courses in Year 3 will be limited depending on the availability of supervisors for the Practicum. Students wishing to enrol in the PGDipAppPsych and the Year 3 ABA courses must have either an MSc or MA in Psychology (or other equivalent qualifications) but neither degree will guarantee a place in these courses. Applicants should apply via Student Services Online and complete the Application form for PGDipAppPsych Specialising in Applied Behaviour Analysis.

Applications should be lodged with the School of Psychology before the 1st of November. Interviews will be conducted mid November with a selected number of the applicants. Applicants will be notified of the outcome before December. Students interested in the PGDipAppPsych are advised to contact the ABA programme staff for discussion before applying formally.

During the selection process, candidates will be invited to a formal interview in November. Programme staff will consider an applicant’s academic record, work experience, career aspirations, and personal qualities when selecting students. Preference will be given to those showing a commitment to obtaining employment as practicing behaviour analysts (BCBA certificants). The school’s affirmative action policy for Māori and Pacific Island students will also be applied.

Registration as Intern Psychologist

Students completing an internship are required to register with the New Zealand Psychologists Board. Clients cannot be seen and internship hours cannot be counted until registration has been approved.

Instructions for how to register are available on the Psychologists Board website.

An essential part of the registration process is the completion of a police vetting process in order to comply with the requirements of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 and the Vulnerable Children Act 2015. You are required to provide the Board with information and authority for them to apply to the Police for disclosure of your records.

Please make sure that you start this registration process at the time of acceptance in the third year of our programme (internship). The police vetting process may take several weeks to complete so late applications for registration with the Board could result in delays to starting your internship.

The application documents are indicated below. All documents should be sent to the NZPB. If you have questions you could contact the NZPB or us directly.

Applicants must provide a copy of:

1)                  Fully completed and witnessed three-page application form and certified colour passport sized photo.

2)                  The police vetting forms – do not complete page 2

3)                  A photocopy of your driver's licence

4)                  Your official university transcript

5)                  Your CV

6)                  References – must be originals

You need not pay the application fee until you commence your internship.

Upon request we can provide a reference letter.

Once you have secured your internship placements, provide the NZPB with a work address and email.



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 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.

Faculty profiles

ABA Staff photo
The Applied Behaviour Analysis Staff

Javier Virues-Ortega, Senior Lecturer

Dr. Virués-Ortega is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and a Registered Clinical Psychologist in New Zealand. He is the director of the Applied Behaviour Analysis programme. Before his appointment in Auckland, he has been assistant professor at the University of Manitoba (Canada), post-doctoral researcher at the Insitituto de Salud Carlos III (Spain). He completed pre- and post-doctoral scholarships at the University of Hawai’i and the University of Florida under the supervision of Dr. Stephen N. Haynes and Dr. Brian A. Iwata, both renowned scholars in the field of behavioural assessment. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and member of the editorial board of six of the top ABA journals. His research focuses on the neural, emotional, and behavioural factors of problem behaviour, particularly among individuals with developmental disability. He also has an interest in the extension of behaviour analysis applications to general clinical psychology and complex language processes. He is author of over eighty specialized publications.

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.

Katrina Phillips, 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.

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.

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.

How and when do I apply for the ABA programme?

Applications can be made from September until the deadlines for entry into the next academic year. Forms are available online or from the school's receptions at both the City and Tāmaki Campus. Completed forms should be lodged with the school before 1 December for Year 1 applicants or by 1 November for Year 3 applications in the preceding year. Programme staff will notify applicants of their decision by early January. You can find application forms under each year described above, or on the School of Psychology application webpage.

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 (please contact Sheryl Robertson for information). 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 If they can't help you, try emailing Sheryl Robertson in the School of Psychology, she may be able to direct you more specifically.

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. Information about the entry requirements can be found online.

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 and what is the cost of living like in Auckland?

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.

Find out about the cost of living in Auckland.

Can I get a scholarship?

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

Recent publications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 by contacting:

Dr Javier Virues-Ortega

Administration and Enrolment Enquires:

Sheryl Robertson


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