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How to Become a Behavioral Psychologist

Behaviorism is one of the oldest and most respected niches in the broad field of psychology. However, despite its lasting impact on the 20th-century school of overall psychological thought, it has fallen out of vogue in recent decades as more current disciplines step up to replace it. This, however, is not optimal, as behaviorism has proven its worth over decades of research and application.

Lately, more people are getting back into roles as behavioral psychologists, applying principles of human behavior to a wide range of human issues, from single individuals to large organizations. If you think you’re a good candidate for behavioral psychology, then you might benefit from a degree in the field. Once prepared, you can start your own practice or work for others who specialize in this niche.

First, though, it’s helpful to understand what behavioral psychology is and what people in the profession do all day. It’s also beneficial to know what the program is like and how you can put your learning into real practice upon graduation.

What Is Behavioral Psychology?

James Clear offers a very good definition of behavioral psychology, also known as behaviorism, explaining that it is “the study of the connection between our minds and our behavior … The researchers and scientists who study behavioral psychology are trying to understand why we behave the way we do and they are concerned with discovering patterns in our actions and behaviors.”

What’s the goal? As Clear continues, “The hope is that if we can use behavioral psychology to help us predict how humans will behave, we can build better habits as individuals, create better products as companies, and develop better living spaces as communities.”

What Does a Behavioral Psychologist Do?

At root, a behavioral psychologist’s job is to record observations of human behavior, identifying negative behaviors and replace them with more positive ones. To this end, they help their patients design proactive toolboxes that help them address the challenges of life in a healthy, measured way. Throughout the day, a behavioral psychologist might do any of the following:

  • Offer assessment and evaluation of patients
  • Record observations of human behavior
  • Keep detailed records of all interactions with patients
  • Work with interdisciplinary teams – such as family members or professionals from schools, hospitals, clinics or elsewhere – to create the best possible interventions
  • Provide talk therapy
  • Design preventative counseling and treatment programs to help steer patients clear of destructive behaviors

The psychologist will modify these principles and approaches depending on the population, which could range from war veterans to the elderly to young people suffering from terminal diseases. No matter what your specific interest area, there is almost guaranteed to be space for you in the profession, according to the job outlook.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to PayScale, the job outlook for behavioral psychologists is quite positive. The average salary is $72,778, with a $2,000 bonus. Once in the 90th percentile, you can expect to make upwards of $90,000 a year, which means that those who stay in the field for decades can definitely look forward to six figures and a very comfortable standard of living.

SEE ALSO: Salary Outlook with Ph.D. in Behavior Psychology Degree

More generally, psychology as a field is growing at a projected job rate of 14 percent between 2018 and 2028. For that reason, it’s a fantastic time to enroll in a behavioral psychology program, for you can be confident that you’ll land on your feet upon graduation.

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Behavioral Psychologist?

To become a behavioral psychologist, you can either get a master’s degree or a doctorate. Many jurisdictions and organizations will require a doctorate. That said, there are also many that will accept a master’s degree to practice, and quite a few states will also allow you to practice psychology with only a master’s degree. In some cases, you may have to take a different job title such as “social worker,” which will allow you to practice the same therapies and techniques, but without the prestige of the “psychologist” epithet. Therefore it is up to you which degree path you take.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best Careers with a Ph.D. in Behavioral Health

If you choose to get a doctoral degree, you will need to earn your master’s first. Then you can enter either a Ph.D. or PsyD program. The first is a Doctor of Philosophy, which is geared toward the academic field. People who want to teach or run studies that contribute to the overall field of psychological knowledge are best suited to this degree.

On the other hand, if you want to spend the bulk of your time working with patients, a PsyD is the best choice. This newer degree was designed to enable people who want to work clinically, either with individuals or groups. It places a heavy emphasis on methodology and practice rather than research and reporting. Despite their differences, though, both degree programs have several coursework areas in common.

What Types of Courses Will You Take?

It is impossible to encompass every course you will take on your road to becoming a behavioral psychologist, but below are some of the most common knowledge areas:

  • Psychological principles and ideologies, especially behaviorism
  • Assessment and diagnoses
  • Intervention and prevention, the former to deal with crises and the latter to help avoid them in the first place
  • Communication, both for writing up patient notes and reports, and for liaising with other members of the patient’s care team (family, medical providers, psychiatrists, social workers, etc.)
  • Ethics and legal principles
  • Research design and reporting

Candidates in behavioral psychology must also learn proper bedside manner and application of psychological principles in the real world. To that end, behavioral psychology programs – both at the master’s level and the doctoral level – include a hefty clinical component. During your clinical time, which can range anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 hours (or other, depending on your program), you will experience firsthand what it’s like to practice psychology.

SEE ALSO: Top 4 Online Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology Programs

Once you have completed those clinical hours and the requirements of your degree program, you can then move on to getting your license.

How Do You Obtain a License?

Different states have different rules about getting a license, so the best thing to do is check the requirements of the board in your state. All states require that you pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. After you do, you can apply for a license, proving you have the required number of clinical hours in your program, and in some cases, a required number of supervised practice hours afterward.

Overall, the road to becoming a behavioral psychologist is a long one, but the rewards are huge. If you’re ready to start today, please explore the programs listed here or feel free to get in touch at any time!

References

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.