Careers in Behavioral Psychology

Research what it takes to become a behavioral psychologist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Applied Behavioral Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Behavioral Psychologist?

A behavioral psychologist's specific field of interest is how to produce appropriate behavior through learned experiences. For example, they may work with patients to help them quit smoking, stop overeating or overcome a phobia. They use methods like operant conditioning, which is a punishment and reward system that is intended to influence a person's behavior so that they make desirable choices. They may also use classical conditioning in their treatment of patients, in which an association between two events is created; for example, ringing a bell just before feeding a dog so that the sound indicates to the dog that it is about to be fed. Behavioral psychologists may also study disorders such as autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree
Master's degree
Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology degree (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology degree (Psy.D.)
Education Field of StudyClinical Psychology
Developmental Psychology
Experimental Psychology
Health Psychology
Other psychology specialties
Key ResponsibilitiesDiagnose and treat patients with a variety of emotional disorders
Teach college courses in psychology and related fields
Conduct research using behavioral psychology approaches to study a variety of questions
LicensureState licensure required to practice psychotherapy
Job Growth (2014-2024)10% for all other psychologists*
Average Salary (2015)$93,050 for all other psychologists*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is Behavioral Psychology?

Behavior psychology apply principles of learning to understanding the development of both normal and abnormal behaviors, and to remedying problematic behaviors. As a behavioral psychologist, you carry out clinical work, assisting patients suffering with addictions, mental illnesses and other maladies. Behavior therapy techniques you may use include classical conditioning, desensitizing, operant conditioning and cognitive-behavioral therapy. You might also employ psychoanalysis, psychodynamic or humanistic therapies, or you could take a more integrative approach.

What Is Animal Behavioral Psychology?

Animal behavior psychology is a branch of applied psychology that addresses conflicts between humans and animals and resolves them in a way that benefits both. It focuses on observation and non-laboratory field experimentation, as well as control and management techniques. You could treat a dog's or a cat's phobia with an approach called counter-conditioning, or you could assist with remedying bad behaviors and training animals to perform various tasks.

Where Could I Work?

If you'd like to focus on just helping people, you might work as part of a treatment team in a community mental health clinic, hospital, rehabilitation facility or wellness center. You could also open your own private practice. Alternatively, you could work for a research program, or you could combine research and teaching duties and work in a university. Government agencies also employ behavioral psychologists.

If you're planning to work with animals, your may find a job in a zoo or aquarium, striving to create an environment for the animals that mimics their natural homes and allows them to express natural behavior. You could train pets at clients' homes, or even at shelters. You could also train search-and-rescue, K-9 units or other law enforcement dogs.

What Are the Requirements?

If you're interested in becoming a clinical behavioral psychologist, you would need a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree in psychology. The difference between these two degrees is that the latter is focused more on clinical work and doesn't require a dissertation.

To be a practicing psychologist, you need to become licensed by the state where you want to work. To obtain licensure, you typically must complete an internship, have approximately two years of experience and earn a passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. You can refer to the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Boards to determine your state's specific requirements.

If you'd like to work with animal behavior, you can earn a bachelor's degree in animal science, psychology or biology. Though there aren't many graduate programs available that focus specifically on animal behavior, you could also earn your master's or doctoral degree in psychology with an emphasis in animal behavior. Internship opportunities may be available at local animal shelters, museums, theme parks or zoos.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Like behavioral psychologists, mental health counselors and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors meet with patients to discuss their issues and develop strategies to overcome them. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, who are also known as addiction counselors, deal with patients who are trying to curb addictions, such as smoking or drinking, that have a negative and harmful impact on their lives. These professionals may use some of the techniques behavioral psychologists use to discourage unwanted behaviors that facilitate addictions. Mental health counselors address issues such as depression or low self-esteem, and they may use strategies that behavioral psychologists use to promote positive thinking and positive self-image. Mental health counselors need a master's degree; substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors need a bachelor's degree.

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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