Behavioral Psychology Graduate Program Options
Behavioral psychology graduate degree programs are available at the master's and doctoral levels and prepare graduates for careers in clinical practice, research or teaching. Read on to learn about education prerequisites, required courses and employment information, including salary projections.
Behavioral psychology is a psychological perspective that suggests that all aspects of human behavior, including acts, thoughts and feelings, are learned behavior. Most individuals seeking careers in this field pursue graduate studies. Master's degree programs can prepare individuals for licensing as therapists or counseling. Master's programs, which take about two years to complete, call for courses in human behavior and what influences it. There are extensive clinical experience requirements as well. Doctoral programs, often designed for individuals with experience in clinical practice, focus on research in specific areas, such as autism.
Master's Degree Programs in Behavioral Psychology
The study of behavioral psychology at the master's degree level is usually referred to as applied behavior analysis. Degree candidates study human behavior and the individual and social factors that influence behavior. The curriculum most often comprises traditional classroom lectures along with an intensive practicum. Practicums vary between programs but often consist of 20-25 hours per week, spent on-site at a psychological facility. The practicum runs the entire length of the program, usually 3-4 semesters.
Individuals applying to a master's degree program in behavioral psychology or applied behavior analysis submit undergraduate transcripts along with standardized graduate test scores. Some programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in psychology. Other requirements may include letters of recommendation and an admissions essay.
In addition to completing the coursework and the practicum, degree candidates also write and defend a graduate thesis based on original research. Students generally receive course credit for some of their thesis research. Some sample core course topics are listed below.
- Operant behavior
- Developmental disabilities
- Research methodologies
- Ethics and applied behavioral analysis
- Biological psychology
Popular Career Options
Many graduates of these programs pursue careers as behavior analysts or therapists. Behavior analysts are employed in a variety of educational and institutional settings, including schools and non-profit agencies. See below for other possible careers.
- Curriculum consultant
- Performance management executive
- Language development consultant
Continuing Education Information
To practice as a behavior analyst, licensure is required. This process varies between states but generally includes graduating from an accredited program and passing a proficiency exam. Continuing education credits are normally required for license renewal.
Some institutions offer master's degree programs in applied behavior analysis as a terminal degree, while other programs are tailored for the individual to continue his or her education in pursuit of a doctorate. Individuals who are pursuing a master's degree before enrolling in a doctoral program should be wary of this distinction. The terminal master's degree does not prepare the individual for a research-focused doctoral program, and admission into a doctoral program will be made more difficult.
Doctoral Degree in Behavioral Psychology
These programs are designed to provide the degree candidate with a thorough grounding in all aspects of behavioral psychology research. This includes data analysis, research methodologies and research types, such as basic, applied, quantitative and qualitative research. Because behavioral psychology has had much success in treating developmental disabilities, many programs focus on issues such as autism spectrum disorders. This research-focused degree is available as either a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.).
Most programs require applicants to have a master's degree in psychology or a related field. A smaller number of programs issue both a master's and a doctoral degree upon completion. These programs require only a bachelor's degree for entry. Admission to any graduate psychology program is competitive, and many programs suggest that applicants have at least 1-3 years of experience working in the psychology field in a direct capacity.
Other admission requirements include standardized test scores, letters of recommendation and an admissions essay. It is not unusual for a program to suggest that applicants must have a certain minimum score on the GRE or a minimum graduate grade point average.
The exact coursework for these programs depends largely on the research focus of the degree candidate. Below are listed some sample core course topics.
- Memory and cognition
- Statistical methods
- Experimental design
- Behavior foundations
- Behavioral modalities
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Most graduates of a doctoral program in psychology pursue research or teaching positions at the university level. A smaller number of graduates offer their services as board-certified behavioral analysts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary for school, clinical and counseling psychologists was $67,650 in 2012.
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