Biopsychology is the study of the biological processes of the brain and how they affect human behavior. Learn about the employment outlook for related careers, degree program options in this field, educational requirements and course topics.
Biopsychology combines the fields of biology and psychology to study the correlation between the biological and psychological processes in human behavior. It's relevant in many fields, particularly in the medical research of diseases and conditions of the brain and nervous system. Biopsychology is usually offered as a specialization in a psychology program at a university at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
With a degree in biopsychology, there are several career possibilities. For example, you could enter positions in medical, biological and pharmaceutical research. You could also become a clinical or counseling psychologist. For many of these positions, you must have a graduate degree, but with an undergraduate degree, you could pursue entry-level positions in social work.
The BLS projected that between 2012 and 2022, employment would increase by 11% for clinical and counseling psychologists; medical scientists (except epidemiologists) can expect job growth of 13% during that same decade. As of May 2013, the median annual salary for medical scientists was $79,840, and for counseling and clinical psychologists it was $67,760.
To pursue a career in biopsychology, you should start by earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, biology or biopsychology. Through a bachelor's degree program in biopsychology, you'll learn how the brain works, how it affects behaviors and the ties between biology and the physiological and psychological systems. You'll take courses that address biology and psychology, including genetics, anatomy, brain-related behaviors, psychological statistics, cognition and personality theories.
With this training, you could prepare for a graduate degree in biology, psychology or biopsychology. You could also pursue entry-level positions in social work, scientific research or pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Graduate degree programs in biopsychology are more common than undergraduate degree programs. Concentrations and specializations are available and you can conduct research that relates to biopsychology. Through master's degree programs, you may explore the ties between behavior and biology by identifying how the brain reacts while suffering from substance abuse or memory disorders, following human error and while making decisions. You'll also conduct research, usually with a faculty mentor, and you'll be required to complete a master's thesis. This training can lead to a career in a clinical or counseling psychology, usually through the supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist with a doctorate of their own, or industrial and organizational jobs.
With a doctorate in biopsychology, you can conduct independent research at pharmaceutical, university or government facilities, teach at a 4-year college or university or begin a private practice in counseling psychology. Through the degree program, you'll be required to conduct research and complete an independently-researched dissertation that addresses an issue in biopsychology. You're also likely to sit in lectures for topics such as assessing personality, the relevance of personality, neuroanatomy, hormones and behavior, neuropsychology and how gender affects the brain and behaviors.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to work in psychology or social work, you should be compassionate, sensitive and emotionally mature (www.bls.gov). For research positions, communication skills, self-discipline, leadership skills and the ability to work on your own or with others are important. Patience and perseverance are useful qualities since you may need to work on a project over a long span of time or work with the same patients for many years.
Some careers in this field may require licensing or certification. For example, a counseling psychologist in clinical practice may need to demonstrate a minimum of training and experience. State requirements for these credentials vary by location, and may also require testing or continuing education to maintain.