Practitioner Success Story: Laura Dudley

Practitioner Success Story: Laura Dudley

An Interview with Dr. Laura Dudley

Increasingly, behavior analysts are beginning to practice in the areas of health, sports, and fitness. Navigating the journey to careers in these areas may be difficult. To highlight those who have been successful and who want to help up and coming practitioners, we are launching a series where professionals practicing in health, sports, and/or fitness share their stories.

Our first success story highlights the path of Dr. Laura Dudley, who has expanded her behavior analytic work to instruction in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. Dr. Dudley graciously responded to our questions, in order to share her story so that it may help those looking for a similar practice.

Q: How did you begin your practice in behavior analysis?

LD: I completed Northeastern's MABA program in 1997 and went on to become a BCBA in 2001. In 2015, I completed my PhD in applied behavior analysis with Simmons University. I worked in the field of ABA for 20 years, receiving hands-on training at the New England Center for Children early in my career. I then went on to work for public school systems, helping them set up within-district ABA programs for children with autism and related disabilities. I am now the Program Director for the Applied Behavior Analysis programs at Northeastern University and Associate Clinical Professor and Associate Chair of the Applied Psychology Department.

Q: How did you begin your practice in health, sport, and fitness?

LD: I have practiced yoga and meditation for many years. My passion for yoga, meditation and mindfulness led me to pursue my certification as a meditation and yoga teacher. I am currently a registered yoga teacher (RYT® 200) and I teach mindfulness courses at Northeastern with a combined focus on the science and spirituality of mindfulness and meditation.

Q: What, if any, additional education and experience did you acquire? 

LD: I pursued my yoga teaching certification (RYT® 200) through Fluid Yoga in the summer of 2019.

Q: What barriers did you overcome when starting your practice?

LD: Beginning my work as a yoga teacher did not involve any significant barriers that I can recall. I taught at the yoga studio where I did my teacher training (Stil Studio), and I felt very welcomed by the community of teachers and students there. Prior to COVID-19, I was teaching classes at the studio about once per month as well as assisting a couple of times per month. Now I lead a live virtual yoga class 3 mornings per week and I lead a live virtual meditation session 2 afternoons per week. These sessions are open to faculty and staff across all of the colleges and departments at Northeastern University. I also led a live yoga class on Northeastern's facebook page that was attended by 3.4K people.

Q: What barriers have you had to overcome since beginning your practice?

LD: I often find myself translating mindfulness theory and practice into a behavior analytic framework. Traditional meditation practices involve bringing an awareness to our own private events. Behavior analysis has grappled with private events- specifically, how we might measure and manipulate private events in ways that will be both valid and socially significant. My experience within the field of behavior analysis is that we are beginning to move towards greater acceptance of mindfulness and meditative practices, particularly when we can explain these practices in ways that are conceptually systematic. ACT [Acceptance and Commitment Therapy] is one area in particular that bridges mindfulness practices with behavior analysis.

Q: What have been your three largest successes?

LD: I proposed a new Minor in Mindfulness Studies at Northeastern that was recently approved. There are only a handful of universities in the country that offer a similar minor. This degree has a combined focus on the science and spirituality of mindfulness and meditation. As part of that minor, I created two new courses, including (1) an introduction to mindfulness course, and (2) a self-management course that is behavior analytic in nature. In addition, along with my colleague Dr. Nicole Davis, I created a course called behavioral assessment and treatment of health problems that is now a required course as part of the Health Psychology Minor. I find it so exciting to expand our behavioral course offerings to students who are pursuing degrees in other disciplines, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Q: What advice would you give someone looking to begin or move into practicing within health, sport, and fitness? 

LD: What first drew me to the field of ABA was the idea that we could use the science of behavior to solve most any socially significant behavior. If you are a behavior analyst who also has an interest in health, sports and fitness, I think you will find that there are so many ways in which you can apply our science! One suggestion I have is to try to avoid over-use of jargon when advocating for how behavior analysis can contribute to this arena.

Disclaimer: This is a personal success story. Any views or opinions represented in this story are personal and belong solely to the professional interviewed and do not represent those of the Behavior Analysis in Health, Sport and Fitness Special Interest Group or its affiliates.  Any certifications listed were acquired by the professionals due to personal choices based on their career path and goals and do not represent requirements for pursuing a career in Health, Sport and Fitness.  All readers are encouraged to review credentialing requirements for their career path of choice.

Are you considering respecializing or expanding your scope of practice? While there isn't one set path or process for respecialization of one's scope of practice, the BACB website has a great webpage, About Behavior Analysis, with helpful resources. The webpage has videos and one-page fact sheets related to ABA in health and fitness & ABA in Sports, in addition to a guide for Recommendations for Respecialization.

Want to share your own story? The HSF Professional Development Committee has set up a form to collect stories from behavior analysts who have had success practicing in the areas of health, sport, and fitness. We look forward to hearing from you!

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