Behavioral health explores how behavior affects wellness, as well as how outside influences affect behavior. Education and training is available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Aspiring behavioral health technicians, educators and counselors who enroll in such programs will have opportunities to study human relations and family counseling theories and to develop helping skills.
Internships and fieldwork experiences as well as a thesis or dissertation may be required of students. Graduates who go on to become health educators may qualify to pursue voluntary certifications. Typical requirements for entry include a high school diploma or it's equivalent for the associate's or bachelor's programs and a bachelor's degree is required for a master's program.
Associate's Degree in Behavioral Health
Associate's degree programs in behavioral health offer a foundation of study in the many areas that affect human health. Coursework explores health education, mind-body healing, nutrition, substance abuse and other issues that impact overall health. Those who complete an associate's degree program are prepared for entry-level jobs as behavioral health technicians or assistants or may pursue further education in behavioral health or related areas of psychology, social work and counseling.
Program applicants may have to take additional math and science coursework, depending on the outcome of college placement tests.
Associate's degree programs include general education courses in addition to classes in one's major. Most programs also include an internship or similar fieldwork. Some course topics include:
- Behavioral health and human relations
- Learning helping skills
- Helping people solve their problems
- Family counseling
- Basics of chemical dependency
Bachelor's Degree in Behavioral Health
Bachelor's degree programs in behavioral health are diverse, offering students training and education in a variety of health-related topics. Some programs allow students to select concentrations in major problem areas, such as chemical dependency or child welfare, while others focus on health education and health promotion. All of the programs look at the relationship between public health and influences from sociology, psychology, anthropology and other areas. Prospective behavioral health students should have a good background in writing.
The types of courses can vary depending on the concentration and the school. General education courses and an internship opportunity are usually included in the curriculum. Some course topics may be:
- Behavioral health science foundations
- The impact of culture on personality
- Computer technology in behavioral health care
- Assessing needs and planning treatment
- Human development through the lifespan
Master's Degree in Behavioral Health
Graduate study in behavioral health is most often offered as a concentration within a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program. These types of programs tend to focus on community health issues, such as the spread of disease and health promotion. Students are exposed to methods for research and assessment. They may design programs aimed at promoting behavior that leads to good health. Master of Science and Master of Arts programs in community and behavioral health exist that have a counseling focus meant for individuals who aspire to become licensed counselors.
Applicants should have a background in psychology, mental health or neuroscience. In addition, schools prefer applicants who have a background or interest in research and mental health issues.
Master of Public Health programs in behavioral health focus on assessing health and trends in behavioral health, along with designing plans for health promotion. An internship or similar fieldwork is usually included. Some programs involve a thesis or research project. Course topics may be:
- Social and behavioral health implications
- Uses of biostatistics
- The spread of disease
- Evaluating and addressing mental disorders
- Behavioral health systems in society
Popular Career Options
Those who earn a bachelor's degree in behavioral health may be prepared for entry-level positions in a health department, a workplace wellness department or a social service agency. Some possible job titles are:
- Behavioral health technician
- Human services assistant
- Paraprofessional counselor
- Community resource educator
- Family advocate
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
An associate's degree in behavioral health may prepare someone for a position as a social or human service assistant. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 17% job growth for this profession during the 2019-2029 decade. The median annual salary for social or human service assistants was $35,960 in May 2020.
Individuals who earn a Master of Public Health with a behavioral health concentration may want to pursue a career as a health educator. BLS predicts that job growth for health educators would increase 11% from 2019-2029, which is much faster than average for all occupations. The rising cost of health care is part of the reason for the increased demand for health educators. The median salary for health educators was $56,500 in May 2020.
Continuing Education and Certification
Many schools offer graduate certificate programs in behavioral health that are similar to a master's degree program but take less time. Certificate programs are often geared toward individuals who have a bachelor's degree in another field and want to make a career change to a helping profession.
The National Commission of Health Education Credentialing, Inc. offers a voluntary certification process for health educators. Earning the Certified Health Education Specialist designation involves graduating from an approved program and passing a national exam. Having a graduate degree may also be helpful in advancing in the field, according to BLS.
Individuals interested in pursuing research or teaching positions in behavioral health may want to earn a doctoral degree. Programs are available in community and behavioral health and public health or related areas, such as biostatistics and epidemiology.
Education in behavior health is available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Common career options for graduates of these programs include a behavior health technician or family advocate.