What Is Behavioral Psychology?

Behavioral psychology involves examining behavioral styles and providing therapy to correct any negative or destructive behaviors. Keep reading to learn more about the field, including career opportunities and education programs. Schools offering Applied Behavioral Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Behavioral Psychology Defined

Behavioral psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on the study and alteration of people's behaviors, including their actions, emotions and thoughts. There are four recognized sub-disciplines of behavioral psychology: applied behavior analysis, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy and cognitive-behavior therapy. Techniques that may be applied include cognitive restructuring, behavioral modeling and, most commonly, classical and operant conditioning.


Classical conditioning is a behavioral intervention technique by which two stimuli are paired together repetitively to elicit the same behavioral response separately. By presenting a person with both a neutral stimulus and a behavior-inducing stimulus, that person will begin to respond to the neutral stimulus in the same way he or she responds to the behavior-inducing stimulus.

Operant conditioning, on the other hand, is a technique that focuses on the association between voluntary behavior and consequence. In this conditioning situation, subjects are either punished or rewarded after an action so that behavior is associated with either a negative or positive consequence.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2014) $68,900 (clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)
Job Growth (2014-2024) 19% (all psychologists)
Key Skills Interpersonal communication, patience, problem-solving, integrity
Work Environments Hospitals, postsecondary schools, primary and secondary schools, independent offices, research facilities, clinics, mental health centers

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

Behavioral psychology lends itself well to the counseling profession, because behavioral-modification techniques can be used to help clients overcome unwanted habits or actions and develop positive and productive behaviors. You might choose to specialize in one area of the field, such as educational, vocational, rehabilitation, mental health and family counseling. You may be interested in behavioral disorder and substance abuse counseling, which are the most closely related to behavioral psychology.

You could become a cognitive-behavioral psychologist. In this position, you would observe, record and interpret clients' behaviors and problems. You'd look for patterns within their lives in order to help them improve their mental and emotional health. You may administer conditioning interventions to help patients overcome mental and emotional obstacles troubling their lives, like eating disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, phobias, developmental disorders, personality disorders, relationship issues and more.

Education Needed for Employment

Graduate-level education is necessary for most behavioral psychology careers. If you want to become a counselor, you usually need at least a master's degree, but if you'd like to work as a psychologist, you typically must have a doctoral degree.

In a behavioral psychology degree program, you can expect to take courses in developmental psychology, personality disorders, behavioral problems and applied behavioral analysis. You also typically complete laboratory work and clinical training in behavioral psychology; you may work in areas of neuropsychology, severe mental illness and behavioral medicine.

There are also degree programs available in behavioral neuroscience, a specialized behavioral psychology discipline. Subjects covered in this type of program can include aging, memory, neurodegenerative diseases, addiction, stress, brain plasticity, perception and impulsivity.

Licensure Requirements

Both clinical psychologists and clinical counselors are typically required to earn licensure before practicing in the profession. Qualifications vary according to type of licensure (mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist, behavioral disorder counselor and psychologist are a few examples), but they typically include education requirements, practical training and professional experience, and then you must pass one or more exams. Continuing education is also usually required to maintain a valid license.

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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