Masters Degree in Behavioral Health: Program Overviews
The study of behavioral health involves analyzing and understanding the relationship between the body, the mind and human behavior, and a master's degree in this discipline can help students develop the skills necessary to enter a range of careers in public and mental health. Read on to learn about the prerequisites, curriculum and career options in this field.
Behavioral health looks at the behavior-mind-body relationship. Specifically, this program allows students to explore how health policies and systems affect the community and the individual. For example, it can provide students with an in-depth understanding of how such influences as alcohol and drugs, lifestyle choices, stress and the environment can affect human psyches and societies.
Because behavioral health science is so broad, this program is designed to be interdisciplinary. Students must have a grasp of psychology, human biology, the environment and the diversity of societies and cultures to be effective behavioral health scientists. Most programs require students to choose an area of specialization in which to focus their work, such as children's health or healthcare policies. A thesis is generally required. Most programs can be finished in about 1-2 years.
Upon completion of the program, students may enter the behavioral health field in such roles as case manager, researcher or public health administrator. They may also seek licensure as a mental health counselor.
Generally, to enter this degree program, students are only required to have an undergraduate degree from an accredited university or college. The undergraduate major does not matter. However, some master's degree programs may require students to have an undergraduate degree in health or behavioral sciences.
Core courses focus on the principles, practices and theories of behavioral health. They provide students with a foundation in the field. Core courses include:
- Perspectives in behavioral health
- Biobehavioral systems
- Intervention design and implementation
- Community development and health education
- Health behaviors of communities and diasporas
- Health and communications
- Health promotion and campaigns
Once they complete the core courses, students learn about various research methods and the different specialties of behavioral health. Specialties include: children's health, mental health, healthcare policies, health of at-risk communities and groups and behavioral health system creation and delivery. Students must also complete a thesis to successfully complete this program.
Employment Prospects and Salary Info
Behavioral health scientists are beneficial to many fields, including education, counseling, psychology, social work, medicine and public health. As a result, the options for behavioral health graduates are numerous. A few of the career options are:
- Professor, Ph.D. candidate or researcher
- Health policy maker
- Consultant to governments, universities or healthcare agencies
- Healthcare evaluator or analyst
- Behavioral health specialist
While most teachers at 4-year colleges and universities have a Ph.D., teaching opportunities may be available for master's-degree holders at community colleges. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that postsecondary teachers who taught health specialties at junior colleges earned average salaries of $62,650 as of 2012. A 17% increase in job opportunities was expected for all college-level instructors from 2010-2020, which is about average compared to other career fields.
After completing the master's program, students have the option of continuing their education on the doctorate level. The Ph.D. program prepares students to become behavioral health specialists, professors and leaders in the healthcare field. Some doctoral programs require that students possess a master's degree, but others will accept students with an undergraduate degree.
The Ph.D. program emphasizes research design and application, and it allows students more time to learn about their chosen specialty. To successfully complete the program, students must complete a thesis. This thesis is designed by the student, and it showcases their understanding of a behavioral health topic.
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