Behavioral Psychology Careers

What is Behavioral Psychology?

Behavioral psychology, also known as behaviorism, studies the link between sensory abilities, thought processes, perceptions, emotions, and behaviors, of course. This type of psychology also examines various behavioral styles, in an effort to develop techniques and methods that change unhealthy, negative and destructive behaviors into more positive, healthier and uplifting ones. Behavioral psychology focuses on altering, improving and changing people’s thought processes, actions, emotions and behaviors. This branch theorizes that mental, psychological, and emotional disorders can be improved through a variety of behavior-modifying techniques (i.e. behavioral modeling, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and cognitive restructuring).

The four specialized areas of behavioral psychology are: cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and applied behavioral analysis.

Conditioning

  • Classical conditioning is an action that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly combined to elicit the same response, during different times. The goal is for the individual to respond the same way to natural situations, as he or she does to behavior-inducing stimuli.
  • Operant conditioning, on the other hand, occurs when an association between voluntary behaviors and consequences is formed (i.e. punishment and rewards).

What are Job Duties of a Behavioral Psychologist?

Behavioral psychologists perform a variety of job duties such as:

  • Observing and interpreting the behaviors of clients and patients, in order to develop treatment plans that address their mental illnesses and/or psychological disorders
  • Working closely with clients and patients on a regular basis
  • Helping clients and patients learn how to control and resolve their issues (i.e. addictions, impulsivities, phobias, and anxiety/panic attacks)
  • Observing and interviewing clients and patients, in order to gather information on their signs and symptoms
  • Providing psychological techniques like: psychoanalysis, hypnosis, psychotherapy, and biofeedback with clients and patients
  • Attempting to gain a more in-depth understanding the relationship between human behaviors and cause-and-effect actions
  • Working directly with clients and patients to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and psychological disorders
  • Conducting psychological research studies designed to introduce new elements of human behaviors (in various conditions, and with the use of behavior-provoking stimuli)

Some behavioral psychologists seek employment at colleges and universities, while others are employed as school counselors or school psychologists, or pediatric psychologists. These behavioral psychologists typically work with children, who have experienced severe traumas. In addition, some seek employment as social workers, as a way to help rehabilitate people addicted to drugs and alcohol, and those engaging in unsafe, impulsive, and/or dangerous behaviors. Moreover, other behavioral psychologists work at businesses and organizations, providing data and insight on consumer trends.

Furthermore, some behavioral psychologists work with law enforcement, providing felons, suspects, and criminals with counseling services.

Where Does a Behavioral Psychologist Work?

Behavioral psychologists typically work in schools (i.e. elementary, middle, junior high, and high), social service agencies, hospitals, clinics, treatment facilities, nursing homes, private practices, research labs, and businesses.

What are the Careers in Behavioral Psychology?

With a behavioral psychology degree, one can seek employment in the following industries:

Sociology

With a degree in behavioral psychology, one can work as a sociologist. A sociologist studies social behaviors (i.e. interactions) and how human actions are precipitated by cultural traditions, religious beliefs, economic statuses, educational backgrounds, routines, and society (i.e. families, groups, organizations and social institutions).

Social Work

As mentioned above, one can also become a social worker with a behavioral psychology degree. Social workers help clients and patients manage, cope, deal with, and resolve their issues. A sub-type of social work is a clinical social work. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat a variety of mental illnesses, behavioral disorders and emotional issues.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

Lastly, many behavioral psychologists acquire jobs as substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, who provide substance abuse counseling services to people, suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and other behavioral problems. They also help clients modify unhealthy and negative behaviors. Lastly, they provide treatments that help clients heal from the throes of addiction.

What is the Employment Outlook for Behavioral Psychologists?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychology jobs, in general, are expected to increase approximately 12% by the year 2022, while counseling, clinical, and school psychology jobs are expected to rise approximately 11% by the same year. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder psychology jobs should see a 31% boost in opportunities by 2023, while behavior psychology jobs is expected to see a 27% jump in job opportunities by that same timeframe (bls.gov).

Lastly, behavioral psychologists, who work at substance abuse treatment centers and private mental health practices are expected to see a 44% increase in in jobs by 2022. This growth will stem from an increased awareness of student and pediatric mental health issues, emotional and physical well-being, drug abuse and addiction, a booming elderly population, dealing with aging, and/or a poor or struggling economy. As time goes on, more and more businesses and agencies will turn to behavioral psychologist to help them better understand human thought processes and behaviors (bls.gov.)

How Much Does a Behavioral Psychologist Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical psychologists, including behavioral psychologists, can expect to make approximately $74,000, per year, on average, depending on the location, experience, training, and industry. Behavioral disorder counselors, on the other hand, can expect to make approximately $42,000, per year, on average. According to Indeed, behavioral psychologists can expect to earn approximately $73,000, per year, on average (April 2015 data).

What Degree is Needed to Become a Behavioral Psychologist?

To become a behavioral psychologist, one will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree (B.S. or B.A.) in any field, preferably a psychology or social work field, a master’s degree in psychology (with coursework in cognitive and behavioral psychology) or a related field, and a doctorate (Ph.D.) in psychology with a focus on cognitive and behavioral studies. Many aspiring psychologists, after earning a bachelor’s degree, apply directly to a doctoral program. However, requirements vary by program and not all doctoral programs lead to licensure.

During a graduate behavioral psychology program, students are introduced to various behavioral psychological theories, principles, approaches, techniques, and methods. They are also taught the difference between performance and cognition. Most of the coursework centers on human development and research. In addition, these students take an in-depth look at abnormal, social, and personality psychology. Graduate behavioral psychology programs typically last a few years, and involve a thesis, and internship.

At the doctoral level, students are taught various research methods and approaches, in an effort to help them accurately interpret and analyze differing behaviors. They also learn how to detect and address child abuse, child neglect and unhealthy parent-child relationships. Moreover, doctoral students explore the relationship between human behaviors and gender identity. Furthermore, they learn how to apply what they learned in class to “real world” scenarios. Courses may include: developmental psychology, personality disorders, behavioral problems, applied behavioral analysis, neuropsychology, severe mental illness, and behavioral medicine. It normally takes a student 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree, 2.5 to earn a master’s degree, and between 5 and 7 years to earn a Ph.D.

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