What is Behavioral Psychology?
To answer the question ‘What is behavioral psychology?,’ you must understand the field’s origins. In the early 20th century, different theories of psychology emerged. Famous behaviorists (e.g., John Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and B.F. Skinner) developed animal experiments based on conditioning (i.e., the process of using reinforcement and punishment to change behavior), the results of which other psychologists could test and confirm. These experiments showed that behavioral psychology could explain animal — including human — behavior.
Behavioral psychology differs from cognitive psychology in that behavioral psychology focuses on what the experimenter can observe (e.g., a subject’s actions). This narrow focus attracted criticism from other psychologists, and as a result, behavioral psychology fell out of favor in the latter half of the 20th century.
Although many psychologists do not use behavioral psychology alone when treating patients or performing experiments, a behavioral psychology degree can still lead to many fulfilling careers. Behaviorists continue to study how conditioning can help patients with specific mental conditions (e.g., autism spectrum disorders).
Behavioral Psychology vs Behavior Analysis
As mentioned in the previous section, behaviorism continues to have an impact on treating some mental conditions. This type of treatment refers to behavior analysis. In behavior analysis, psychologists observe a patient’s behavior before teaching desired behavior as a series of small steps. When a patient master’s one step, the psychologist teaches the second step, and so on, until the patient changes his or her behavior. This process involves prompting and rewarding appropriate behavior to increase its likelihood in the future, as well as introducing or removing environmental factors that influence unwanted behavior.
In other words, behavior analysis is a modern application of behavioral psychology.
What Does a Behavioral Psychologist Do?
Like all psychologists, behavioral psychologists can have a variety of job duties that include performing research, publishing findings, and treating patients. However, a behavioral psychologist helps patients by suggesting new actions that can have a positive effect on patients’ mental state. Other psychologists may prefer using talk therapy. Also, many psychiatrists — medical doctors with a specialization in psychology — often prescribe medication before trying other treatment methods.
Where Does a Behavioral Psychologist Work?
Licensed behavioral psychologists can work in a variety of settings. Hospitals, school districts, and prisons are just a few of the places where these highly trained professionals help others. Also, behavioral psychologists can open a private practice or work as a consultant, which provides flexibility and the potential to treat a broader range of patients.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive behavior therapy mixes both talk therapy and behaviorist principles. During a session, a psychologist asks a patient which thoughts and feelings trouble them the most. Once the psychologist understands the patient’s problems, they recommend new ways of thinking and behaviors (e.g., exercises the patient performs at home) the patient can use to improve their overall mental wellbeing. These behaviors, if repeated consistently, can help the patient reinforce positive thinking and attain a higher quality of life.
How to Become a Behavioral Psychologist
Becoming a behavioral psychologist requires several steps, some of which may vary depending on the state in which you reside.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
a. Some master’s and doctoral programs in psychology do not require applicants to possess a bachelor’s in the same subject.
2. Research graduate programs.
a. Many programs may offer a master’s or doctorate in psychology with a concentration/specialization in behavioral psychology.
3. Earn a graduate degree.
a. Many excellent universities offer an online behavioral psychology degree.
b. While in graduate school, start researching your state’s licensure requirements.
4. Complete licensure requirements.
a. Attain 1-3 years of experience working under a licensed clinical behavioral psychologist.
b. Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.
c. Apply for licensure from your state’s licensing board.
d. Maintain licensure by completing professional development or continuing education courses.
5. Earn board certification.
- The The American Board of Professional Psychology grants board certification to licensed behavioral psychologists who pass a rigorous oral exam.
- Maintaining board certification also requires completing professional development or continuing education courses.
- Many employers require both licensure and certification.
Should I Pursue a Degree in Behavioral Psychology?
Although becoming a licensed and board-certified behavioral psychologist requires years of training, exams, and hard work, the career provides tremendous opportunities to improve people’s lives. Every day, behavioral psychologists help patients identify and overcome obstacles. Additionally, even if you don’t obtain a doctorate and licensure after earning a master’s in applied behavior analysis or a master’s in psychology, you can still use your degree in one of many fulfilling careers. In other words, the degree’s applicability to so many jobs explain why many dedicated professionals earn it.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Masters in Behavioral Psychology?
If you study full time, earning a master’s in behavioral psychology should take around 2-3 year depending on graduation requirements. Part-time programs often require 3-4 years.
Is an Online Master of Behavioral Psychology Right For Me?
Until you gain some academic or professional experience in the psychology field, it is hard to determine whether earning an online master’s of behavior psychology is right for you. Your academic or career goals may change. Fortunately, master’s in psychology programs often feature multiple concentration options, giving you the chance to find the psychology subfield right for you.
Behavioral Psychology Jobs and Salary
How much a behavior psychologist makes depends on many factors, including experience and level of education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average psychologist earns $79,010 per year. Additionally, the BLS projects that the field should grow 14% between 2016 and 2026, well outpacing the median projected growth rate for all careers. This need for psychologist suggests more open positions than available candidates, a time when employers raise salaries and improve benefits.
Below are just some of the many careers where, once you earn a master’s or doctoral degree, you can apply your behavioral psychology expertise:
- Licensed clinical psychologist
- Forensic psychologist
- Instructional psychologist
- University or college professor
Many of these careers require not only an advanced degree but also experience – behavioral psychologists often change jobs when their professional interests evolve.
Published November 14th, 2019