Behavioral Psychology Graduate Program Options

Behavioral psychology is a psychological perspective that suggests that all aspects of human behavior, including acts, thoughts and feelings, are learned behavior. There are master's and doctoral programs available in this field.

Essential Information

Most individuals seeking careers in this field pursue graduate studies. Master's degree programs can prepare individuals for licensing as therapists or counseling. Doctoral programs, often designed for individuals with experience in clinical practice, focus on research in specific areas, such as autism.

  • Program Levels: Master's Degree, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
  • Prerequisites: A related discipline bachelor's or master's, letters of recommendation, admissions essays and standardized test scores. 1-3 years of experience working in the psychology field in a direct capacity for a doctorate. A smaller number of programs issue both a master's and a doctoral degree upon completion. These programs require only a bachelor's degree for entry
  • Program Length of Master's Degree: 2 years
  • Other Requirements of Master's Degree: Practicum, thesis

Master's Degree Programs in Behavioral Psychology

The study of behavioral psychology at the master's degree level is usually referred to as applied behavior analysis. Degree candidates study human behavior and the individual and social factors that influence behavior. The curriculum most often comprises traditional classroom lectures along with an intensive practicum which often consist of 20-25 hours per week, spent on-site at a psychological facility. The practicum runs the entire length of the program. In addition, degree candidates also write and defend a graduate thesis based on original research. Students generally receive course credit for some of their thesis research. Some sample core course topics are listed below.

  • Operant behavior
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Research methodologies
  • Ethics and applied behavioral analysis
  • Biological psychology

Doctoral Degree in Behavioral Psychology

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs are designed to provide the degree candidate with a thorough grounding in all aspects of behavioral psychology research. This includes data analysis, research methodologies and research types, such as basic, applied, quantitative and qualitative research. Because behavioral psychology has had much success in treating developmental disabilities, many programs focus on issues such as autism spectrum disorders. The exact coursework for these programs depends largely on the research focus of the degree candidate. Below are listed some sample core course topics.

  • Memory and cognition
  • Statistical methods
  • Experimental design
  • Behavior foundations
  • Behavioral modalities

Popular Career Options

Many graduates of master's degree programs pursue careers as behavior analysts or therapists. Behavior analysts are employed in a variety of educational and institutional settings, including schools and non-profit agencies. See below for other possible careers.

  • Curriculum consultant
  • Performance management executive
  • Language development consultant

Continuing Education Information

To practice as a behavior analyst, licensure is required. This process varies between states but generally includes graduating from an accredited program and passing a proficiency exam. Continuing education credits are normally required for license renewal.

Some institutions offer master's degree programs in applied behavior analysis as a terminal degree, while other programs are tailored for the individual to continue his or her education in pursuit of a doctorate. Individuals who are pursuing a master's degree before enrolling in a doctoral program should be wary of this distinction. The terminal master's degree does not prepare the individual for a research-focused doctoral program, and admission into a doctoral program will be made more difficult.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Most graduates of a doctoral program in psychology pursue research or teaching positions at the university level. A smaller number of graduates offer their services as board-certified behavioral analysts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary for school, clinical and counseling psychologists was $68,900 in 2014.

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