Behavioral Psychology Graduate Program Options

Oct 09, 2019

Essential Information

Most individuals seeking careers in this field pursue graduate studies. Two-year master's degree programs can prepare individuals for licensing as therapists or counselors. Doctoral programs--often designed for individuals with experience in clinical practice--focus on research in specific areas, such as autism. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program are both options within the doctoral track.

A bachelor's degree in a related field is required for entry into a master's, a doctoral, or a dual master's and doctoral program. In addition, individuals pursuing only a doctoral degree will typically need the following perquisites: letters of recommendation, good standardized test scores, completion of admission essays, and an average of one to three years of work experience in the psychology field.

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 of around 20-25 hours per week spent on-site at a psychological facility. The practicum runs the entire length of the program.

Further, degree candidates write and defend a graduate thesis based on original research. Students generally receive course credit for some of their thesis research.

Some sample master's core course topics are listed below.

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

Doctoral Degree Programs in Behavioral Psychology

Doctoral programs are designed to provide the degree candidate with a thorough grounding in all aspects of behavioral psychology research, including data analysis, research methodologies and research types Because behavioral psychologists have successfully treated many developmental disabilities, a large number of programs focus on these disabilities.

The exact coursework for these programs depends largely on the research focus of the degree candidate. Sample core course topics can encompass the following:

  • 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 such as 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 $76,990 in 2018.

Individuals with a professional interest in behavioral psychology can solidify their knowledge and employment prospects with a master's degree, two doctoral program options, or a program that offers both a master's and doctoral degree upon graduation.

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