Behavioral Psychology Degree

Behavioral Psychology

Just as there are many personality types, there also are many subsets of the field of psychology. Some psychology specialties focus on the research aspect of mental disorders, while others center themselves diagnosis and treatment. 

All human psyches consist of six things: love, fear, joy, hatred, boredom and sexuality. The degree to which a person focuses on one or more of those aspects is what makes them unique. It’s also what keeps psychologists in business. 

What is Behavioral Psychology?

Psychology can be defined in one of two ways. First and foremost, it is the mental characteristics or attitude which defines a person or group of people. It also can be defined as the scientific study of the human mind and its function, particularly those which affect human behavior in certain situations. People who study psychology are called psychologists. 

It is the goal of psychologists to both understand and treat the human psyche, which includes treatment for mental health, enhancing the performance of the human brain, self-help therapy and other mental health issues that affect one’s daily health and living. 

Behavioral psychology, or behaviorism, became an accepted perspective in the early 1900s. It was founded by psychologist James B. Watson, who believed that behaviors were taught and could just as easily be unlearned with the right kind of therapy. Behavioral psychologists focus on research, education, training and clinical practice, and apply their findings to a variety of problems and people. 

People with bad habits – such as smoking or using illegal drugs – may turn to a behavioral psychologist for help overcoming their addiction. People with anxiety disorders and phobias also may seek out the help of a trained behavioral psychologist, who will use cognitive and behavioral therapy methods to help patients modify, control and even eliminate self-destructive behaviors. 

Behavioral psychologists also can be used to help children and adults with cognitive disorders such as ADHD and autism, by teaching them methods to help cope with the kinds of outbursts to which they are prone. 

Required Education

As with other subsets of psychology, those who enter the field of behavioral psychology should plan to earn not only a Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited four-year program, but also continue on with a graduate program. Most graduate programs can take an additional four to six years to complete. 

If an online program is of interest, please note that there are only a few online behavioral psychology degree programs that are available and accredited. Both St. Cloud State University (Minnesota) and Kaplan University (Florida) offer online master’s degree programs in applied behavior analysis. 

While those with a master’s degree can find employment, the majority of behavioral psychologists have earned a doctoral degree. There are two types of doctoral degrees:

  • Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.): Students who wish to pursue this level of psychology degree can plan on taking five to seven years of graduate-level study. They also must complete an internship with a licensed psychologist as a requirement of graduation. Those seeking a Ph.D. generally focus on research-oriented jobs within the field, which can include theoretical and applied training. Those seeking a Ph.D. will be asked to select a specialty within their field, which can include private practice, clinical psychology or counseling services. Some people who earn a Ph.D. choose to continue working in the field of research. 
  • Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.): This degree was created as an alternative to a traditional Ph.D. and tends to focus on the professional practice of psychology. Those who wish to become a licensed psychologist, who is qualified to diagnose and treat mental disorders, should seek to earn this degree. Psy.D. degrees take an additional four to seven years of graduate study to complete. Students who attempt to earn this degree will be required to intern with a licensed psychologist as part of their degree requirements.


No matter which degree or program is selected, it is important to make sure it is accredited by the American Psychological Association. Those who complete graduate study programs will be required to serve in a residency program, where they will be observed and guided by trained professionals in their field of practice. Behavioral psychologists must be licensed to practice; licensing requirements vary by state. 

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median annual salary for a psychologist with a four-year degree is $68,640. Demand for trained psychologists is expected to increase over the next eight years by 22 percent. Those who have earned a doctorate degree in applied psychology, as well as those who possess a doctorate degree in school psychology, will be in the highest demand over the next decade. Behavioral psychologists often work in academics, so they are included in this group. 


Article by Shari Berg, PsychologyCollegeFinder.org

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