Behavioral psychology is the study of how factors in an individual’s environment influence their actions. Also known as behavior analysis, behavioral psychology has a division within the American Psychological Association (APA), the leading professional organization for psychologists in the United States.
Practitioners of behavioral psychology are known as behavioral psychologists or behavior analysts, who use evidence-based research to help patients modify their behavior, especially in regards to intellectual disabilities, childhood learning, substance abuse, mental health disorders, and environmental contamination. According to the Behavioral Analysts Certification Board (BACB), a national organization which credentials behavioral psychologists, professionals in the field must be licensed in most of the United States.
What Does a Behavioral Psychologist Do?
Behavioral psychologists use evidence-based research in neuroscience, psychopharmacology, conditioning, and even economics to aid patients in modifying their behavior. This practice is known as applied behavior analysis, and the BACB recognizes 12 subspecialty areas, ranging from brain injury rehabilitation to treatment of substance abuse disorders.
Behavioral psychologists address such subspecialty areas through a variety of techniques, including education, monitoring, and therapy. They focus on patients’ behavior, rather than other aspects of their psychology — such as their unconscious, which psychoanalysts would focus on.
Should I Pursue a Master’s Degree in Behavioral Psychology?
By all indications, pursuing a degree in behavioral psychology should lead to a rewarding career. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect data on behavioral psychologists per se, it does track psychologists in general. The BLS reports that the median annual wages for psychologists was $79,010 in May of 2018. Similarly, the BLS also reports that the number of psychologists employed will rise 14 percent from 2018 to 2028.
In order to obtain credentials from BACB as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, an aspiring behavioral psychologist must earn their master’s in behavioral psychology or a similar graduate degree in behavior analysis, education, or psychology.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology?
Obtaining a master’s in behavioral psychology will typically take two to three years. The Association for Behavior Analysis International also accredits behavioral psychology and related educational programs. In order to be accredited by the association, master’s programs must include 405 hours of instruction and 90 hours of supervised experience.
The BACB requirements for the BCBA credential will also accept graduate degrees in behavior analysis, education, or psychology from educational institutions accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
What Can I Do with a Degree in Behavioral Psychology?
The holder of a degree in behavioral psychology can work in a variety of settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists are generally employed in their own practices or by schools, healthcare services, government agencies, or hospitals. Depending on the setting, psychologists may be tasked with research, diagnosis, testing, treatment, and/or supervision.
As noted earlier, the BACB also identifies twelve subspecialty areas that behavioral psychologists frequently work in:
Autism and Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities
Behavioral GerontologyBehavioral Pediatrics
Brain Injury Rehabilitation
Prevent/Intervention in Child Maltreatment
Clinical Behavior Analysis
Health and Fitness
Organizational Behavior Management
Treatment of Substance Abuse Disorder
How to Choose a Master's Program in Behavioral Psychology
Choosing a master’s in behavioral psychology is first and foremost a question of accreditation. In order to obtain credentials from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, an aspiring behavioral psychologist must earn their master’s from a program accredited by either the Association for Behavior Analysis International or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Provided that the degree program is accredited, aspiring behavioral psychologists should consider the program’s compatibility with their lifestyle. For individuals with professional or personal obligations, an online master’s in behavioral psychology may be ideal as it allows students to pursue their education without relocating — and often on their own schedules as well.
Master's in Behavioral Psychology Program Requirements
The criteria for admission to a master’s in behavioral psychology program will differ between universities, but there are some general expectations. A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution is typically required. While a bachelor’s in behavioral psychology is not necessary, the Association for Behavior Analysis International does lay out accreditation standards for bachelor’s in behavioral psychology programs.
Behavioral Psychology Course Learnings
There are certain course requirements that a master’s in behavioral psychology program must meet, according to the Association for Behavior Analysis International. ABAI-accredited master’s degree programs in behavioral psychology should include at least 405 hours of instruction and 90 hours of supervised experience. Additionally, coursework must cover six specific subject areas — principles of behavior, research methods, conceptual analysis, applied behavior analysis, basic behavior analysis, and ethics — and the curriculum should culminate in a thesis or equivalent component.
Behavioral Psychology vs Cognitive Psychology
Behavioral psychology focuses on the relationship between environmental factors and behavior. Cognitive psychology, however, focuses on the relationship between internal mental processes and behavior. In other words, behavioral focuses on the patient’s external world, while cognitive focuses on their internal world. Within the APA, cognitive psychology is grouped with experimental psychology, indicating the field’s focus on research (rather than practice).
All Online Masters Programs in Behavioral Psychology
Online master’s in behavioral psychology programs are an ideal option for students with professional or personal obligations, who nevertheless want to pursue their education. Online master’s programs may allow students to attend prestigious educational institutions without the need to relocate or commute to class. Many online master’s programs also offer students the flexibility to attend online classes or complete coursework on their own schedule, minimizing the disruption to work or family life.
The following universities offer master’s in behavioral psychology programs that are both online and accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International: