Behavioral psychology degrees are available at the master's and doctorate levels. It generally takes two years to earn a master's degree in behavioral psychology, and most master's program applicants have an undergraduate psychology background and an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher. Master's students develop their research skills and usually are required to complete a thesis or final project in order to graduate.
At the doctoral level, students usually have the option of focusing on clinical practice or research. Doctoral applicants who hold a master's degree may be preferred over students with only a bachelor's degree. Some programs may require proficiency in a foreign language and work experience as well. Most doctoral programs require about five years of study, culminating in the defense of a dissertation. A doctoral degree is typically required for licensure as a clinical psychologist.
Master's Degree in Behavioral Psychology
A master's degree in behavioral psychology program includes courses in behavior interventions, psychopharmacology and developmental disabilities. Students get extensive hands-on experience working with patients. Course content addresses the science of behavior analysis primarily as it applies to individuals, but also individuals within organizations, families and other groups. Topics, such as applied behavior analysis or behavior interventions, might be covered across two or more levels of courses. Elective courses in some programs engage other areas of psychology with the intent of providing broader knowledge of the discipline. Behavioral psychology courses might include:
- Statistical analysis
- Applied behavior analysis fundamentals
- Behavior and developmental disabilities
- Behavior interventions
Doctoral Degree in Behavioral Psychology
Some schools offer the subject as a concentration within a clinical psychology degree program. Degree candidates have the opportunity to focus on gaining clinical experience providing behavioral interventions or on conducting research and publishing research papers. Courses and seminars are concentrated during the first two years of a doctoral program. The remaining years are devoted to preparing for examinations and researching a dissertation topic. Courses might include:
- Behavior analysis principles
- Experimental design
- Research methods and quantitative analysis
- Language development theory
- Therapeutic interventions
Popular Career Options
Private foundations, public health agencies and community service groups are among the potential employers of behavioral psychologists. Master's degree holders may find positions as:
- Behavioral services specialists
- Behavioral health clinicians
- Behavioral specialist consultants
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Earning a doctoral degree in behavioral psychology qualifies graduates to conduct behavioral research, provide behavioral therapy as practicing psychologists or teach at the postsecondary level. In addition to private practice, behavioral psychologists may find employment with schools, private companies, consulting firms, hospitals and mental health centers.
Over the years 2014-2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of psychologists as a broad category will increase by 19%. The BLS also reports that the median salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $70,580 as of 2015.
Continuing Education Information
Master's degree holders need to earn a doctoral degree if they want to become a licensed psychologist in private practice or teach at a four-year college. Behavioral psychology programs are available at the doctoral level from a limited number of schools.
All states have certification or licensure requirements for psychologists who offer clinical or counseling services. Licensing typically entails earning a doctorate, completing an internship, accumulating one to two years of professional experience and passing an exam.
Behavioral psychologists may also obtain certification from the American Board of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology (ABCBP), a member of the American Board of Professional Psychology. ABCBP certification requires candidates to submit written and recorded material about professional interactions with clients and pass a three part oral exam.
Students who wish to work as behavioral health clinicians or licensed behavioral psychologists must complete a graduate level behavioral psychology degree program. Certification for behavioral psychologists is also available.