Behavioral Psychologist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for behavioral psychologists. Get the facts about job duties, education and licensure requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Applied Behavioral Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Behavioral Psychologist?

Behavioral psychologists help people understand and modify their actions. By observing, studying and recording behavioral characteristics of individuals or groups, behavioral psychologists are able to amass information regarding how and why people interact with one another and their environment in certain ways. They may conduct interviews with their patients or subject them to tests. Behavioral psychologists identify behavioral patterns and are able to diagnose disorders and anomalies in order to recommend appropriate treatments.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming a behavioral psychologist.

Degree Required Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
Additional Training Required Internship and 1-2 years of professional experience
Education Field of Study Psychology
Licensure or Certification All states require practicing psychologists to be licensed; board certification is available in cognitive and behavioral psychology
Job Growth (2014-2024) 19% (for all psychologists)*
Median Salary (2017) $89,299**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **

What Activities Will I Perform as a Behavioral Psychologist?

In general, you would use a variety of theories and practices to observe, interpret, predict, analyze and address human behavior, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You would also assist your clients by understanding their belief systems, emotional responses and actions in order to maintain, alter and prevent certain behaviors.

In order to perform your job, you'll use a variety of techniques and methods such as direct observation, hypnosis, psychotherapy, personality tests and surveys. Since behavioral psychologists are often involved with ongoing clinical research, usually focusing on specific projects throughout your career; these will depend, in part, on your area of expertise or interest.

Where Could I Work?

According to the BLS, depending upon your education and experience, you have several options. You may want to have a private practice or work as an industry-specific consultant. Other workplace environments to consider include medical and counseling clinics, drug treatment and rehabilitation programs, hospitals, medical schools, non-profit agencies and universities.

Among the subfields listed by the American Psychology Association (APA) in 2017, are cognitive and perceptual psychology, developmental psychology, forensic psychology and nueropsychology. You may also be interested in seeking a postdoctoral fellowship at a trauma center.

Will I Need to Specialize?

Psychologists, in general, have some type of specialty, according to the APA. As a clinical psychologist, for example, you may choose to work with adolescents or gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered clients to address short and long-term issues related to anxiety, depression or phobias. As a community psychologist, you might work with specific social groups to improve their overall quality of life; this may include assisting disaster victims with obtaining resources or redrafting school policies to address bullying.

The APA also lists other specialties, such as educational psychology. If you are interested in learning and teaching processes, as well as how specific educational practices and settings affect different groups of people, then you may want to explore this specialty further.

What Type of Degree Will I Need?

In order to work in private practice or other settings, such as school systems or private industry, the BLS states you usually need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. In order to obtain a Psy.D., you may take an exam rather than write and defend a dissertation; you will probably be required to work an extra year under the supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist.

If you have a master's degree, some states may allow you to work directly with clients, according to the BLS. If you specialize in school psychology, for example, you could obtain an Ed.S. degree. These programs usually require you to participate in a year-long internship prior to completing your degree. If you have a bachelor's degree, and want to further explore your career options, the BLS states that you could work as an assistant for a correctional program or community center or qualify for an entry-level position for the government.

What Credentials Will I Need?

According to the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), all states require you to be licensed and certified in order to have a clinical practice. If you want to become board certified in a specific area, you need to refer to that board's specific requirements.

The ABPP lists over ten areas in which you could specialize. These include child and adolescent, forensic and group psychology as well as organizational and business consulting, police and public safety and rehabilitation.

What Salary Can I Expect?

According to a May 2015 BLS report, the median salary for all clinical, counseling and school psychologists is $70,580 per year. The highest paid industry for this field is in child day care services with an average salary of $106,510.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

With a master's degree earned through a program accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs, you stand a good chance of securing a position as a mental health counselor or marriage and family therapist. Mental health counselors focus on individuals or groups, including specific groups such as the elderly or children, and help them deal with and overcome emotional problems such as anxiety, grief and suicidal impulses. They also address relationship issues. Family and marriage therapists deal with the same type of issues but they approach their cases from an interpersonal perspective. They evaluate family roles and relationships of individuals, explain how these issues and situations affect overall mental health and offer or recommend appropriate treatment.

You'll need a master's degree or a Ph.D. to become a sociologist. As a sociologist, you examine and investigate human behavior and interaction in various organizations, cultures or social institutions. You study the history of a group, its development, its ethos and how those characteristics manifest themselves within the group and within the individual members of the group. They also examine how the group can affect societal practices and mores.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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