In the world of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy billing, understanding the nuances of each Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code is essential. Among the myriad of codes available, CPT Code 97154 holds a unique place, specifically addressing group ABA therapy sessions. This article aims to shed light on this particular code, offering insights into its application and importance in the ABA billing landscape.

What is CPT Code 97154?

CPT Code 97154 is defined as “Adaptive behavior treatment with protocol modification, administered by physician or other qualified healthcare professional, each 15 minutes.” Simply put, this code is used for billing group ABA therapy sessions, where multiple patients receive treatment simultaneously.

When to Use CPT Code 97154?

CPT Code 97154 is specifically designed for group adaptive behavior treatment sessions with protocol modifications. These sessions are structured and have clear therapeutic goals. Here are some detailed scenarios to illustrate when to use this code:

Group Sessions with Shared Goals: If you have multiple clients who share a common therapeutic goal, such as improving communication skills or enhancing peer interactions, a group setting can be beneficial.

Example: Imagine a group of children who struggle with initiating conversations. In a group session, they can practice greeting each other, asking open-ended questions, and taking turns speaking. The therapist can introduce role-playing exercises where each child gets a chance to initiate a conversation.

Sessions Addressing Group Dynamics: Some therapeutic goals revolve around group dynamics, such as teamwork, conflict resolution, or group problem-solving.

Example: A therapist might set up a game where children have to work together to solve a puzzle. This activity can help children learn about cooperation, patience, and the importance of listening to others.

Skill Generalization: Group sessions can be an excellent platform for clients to generalize skills they’ve learned in individual sessions.

Example: A child who has been working on recognizing emotions in individual therapy might join a group session to practice identifying emotions in peers, based on facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language.

Sessions Mimicking Real-Life Scenarios: Group settings can simulate real-life social scenarios, making them ideal for practicing and reinforcing adaptive behaviors.

Example: A session might be structured like a birthday party or a school recess, where children can practice skills like sharing, waiting their turn, or asking for permission.

Sessions for Specific Age Groups or Developmental Stages: Sometimes, group sessions are organized based on age or developmental milestones. This ensures that the activities and goals are age-appropriate and relevant to the participants.

Example: A group session for teenagers might focus on more advanced social skills, like understanding sarcasm, interpreting non-verbal cues, or navigating peer pressure.

Reinforcement through Peer Modeling: Group sessions allow for peer modeling, where clients can learn by observing and imitating their peers.

Example: In a group where one child excels at sharing, other children can observe this behavior, receive reinforcement for imitating it, and learn the value of sharing in a group context.

Key Features of CPT Code 97154:

Time-Bound Billing: One of the primary features of 97154 is its time-based billing structure. Each unit of this code represents a 15-minute increment of group therapy. This allows for flexibility in session lengths and ensures that therapists are compensated for the exact duration of their service.

Example: Let’s say an ABA therapist conducts a 45-minute group session focusing on cooperative play. This session would be billed as three units of 97154, representing each 15-minute block.

Multiple Clients, Singular Code: A standout feature of 97154 is its applicability to group sessions, regardless of the number of participants. Whether you’re working with two clients or five in a group setting, the billing for each 15-minute segment remains one unit of 97154. This emphasizes the collective nature of the session rather than individual attendance.

Example: Imagine a scenario where four children participate in a group session to practice group decision-making skills, like choosing a game to play or selecting a story to read. Even though multiple children are involved, the 15-minute billing block is consistent, using just one unit of 97154.

Protocol Modification: This code isn’t just about group interaction; it specifically denotes adaptive behavior treatment with protocol modifications. This means the session involves tailored strategies or interventions, adjusted based on the group’s dynamics and needs.

Example: In a group with mixed skill levels, a therapist might modify the session protocol to introduce peer mentoring, where children with advanced skills assist those still developing. This modification ensures all participants benefit, and the session remains productive.

Versatility Across Settings: CPT Code 97154 is versatile and can be used across various settings where ABA therapy is conducted. Whether it’s a dedicated therapy center, a school, or even a community setting, as long as the session meets the criteria, 97154 is applicable.

Example: A group of children might engage in a community-based outing, like a visit to a local park. Here, they practice social interactions and adaptive behaviors in a real-world setting. The therapist, while facilitating and guiding, might modify protocols based on the environment’s unpredictability. Such sessions, though outside a traditional therapy room, can still be billed using 97154.

Common Misconceptions about CPT Code 97154:

Group Size Matters: A prevalent misconception is that the size of the group dictates the billing. Some believe that larger groups should be billed differently than smaller ones. In reality, whether you’re working with two clients or ten, the billing for each 15-minute segment remains one unit of 97154.

Example: If a therapist conducts a group session with just two clients focusing on turn-taking, and another session with five clients on the same topic, both sessions are billed using 97154 for their respective durations, irrespective of the group size.

It’s Only for Social Skills: While group sessions often focus on social skills, 97154 isn’t limited to this. The code covers adaptive behavior treatments with protocol modifications, which can encompass a wide range of skills and behaviors, not just social interactions.

Example: A group session might focus on collective problem-solving, where children are presented with a challenge and must work together to find a solution. This isn’t strictly a “social” skill but still falls under 97154.

Only One Therapist Can Bill: Some believe that if multiple therapists are present, only one can bill for the session. However, the billing is tied to the service provided, not the number of therapists. If two therapists co-facilitate a group, they must determine the primary service provider for billing purposes.

Example: In a scenario where one therapist leads the session while another observes and takes notes for data collection, only the leading therapist would bill using 97154.

97154 is for Long-Term Group Therapy Only: Another misconception is that 97154 is reserved for long-term or ongoing group therapy sessions. In reality, even a single, standalone group session that meets the criteria can be billed using this code.

Example: A therapist might organize a one-time group session to address a specific community event or situation, like preparing children for a community fair. This session, even if not part of an ongoing series, is billable under 97154.

Any Group Activity is Billable: Just because an activity involves a group doesn’t automatically qualify it for 97154. The session must involve adaptive behavior treatment with protocol modifications. General group activities without therapeutic intent or structure aren’t billable under this code.

Example: A simple group playdate, without specific therapeutic goals or protocol modifications, wouldn’t qualify for 97154, even if facilitated by a therapist.

Why is CPT Code 97154 Important?

The introduction and utilization of CPT Code 97154 underscore the recognition of the value and efficacy of group adaptive behavior treatment sessions in the field of ABA therapy. Here’s a deeper dive into its significance:

Promotes Group Learning Dynamics: One of the primary advantages of group sessions is the dynamic of peer interaction. Children and adults alike can benefit from observing, interacting with, and learning from their peers.

Example: Consider a child who struggles with turn-taking. In a group setting, they can observe their peers practicing this skill, which can serve as a powerful motivator for them to emulate the behavior.

Cost-Effective Treatment Option: Group sessions can be a more affordable option for many families. By treating multiple clients simultaneously, therapists can distribute the cost, making therapy more accessible to a broader range of clients.

Example: A family might not be able to afford individual sessions multiple times a week but can opt for group sessions to ensure their child receives consistent therapeutic support.

Diverse Therapeutic Environment: Group sessions offer a diverse environment where clients encounter a range of personalities, behaviors, and challenges. This diversity can accelerate skill acquisition and generalization.

Example: In a group setting, a child might encounter peers with varying communication styles, helping them adapt and refine their own communication skills more rapidly.

Enhances Social Skills: For many individuals receiving ABA therapy, social skills are a primary area of focus. Group sessions provide a naturalistic setting to practice and refine these skills.

Example: A teenager with difficulty in understanding social cues can benefit from group sessions where they can practice recognizing and responding to these cues in real-time.

Addresses a Gap in Treatment Modalities: Before the introduction of specific codes like 97154, there was a lack of clarity in billing for group sessions. This code provides therapists with a clear avenue for documenting and billing for these valuable sessions.

Example: An ABA therapy center can now confidently offer group sessions, knowing they have a precise billing code that reflects the nature of the service provided.

Encourages Therapeutic Innovation: With a dedicated code for group sessions, therapists might be more inclined to explore innovative group-based interventions and strategies.

Example: A therapy center might develop a group program focused on collaborative problem-solving, where participants work together on projects, fostering teamwork and mutual respect.


CPT Code 97154 is a testament to the multifaceted nature of ABA therapy. Group sessions, with their unique dynamics and benefits, play a crucial role in the holistic development of many clients. By understanding and correctly utilizing 97154, ABA professionals can ensure they’re recognized and compensated for the invaluable group services they offer.