How to Become a Behavioral Psychologist


Behavioral psychology concerns itself with the observable behaviors of human beings. All behavior is learned, and therefore, behavior can be altered. By scientifically tracking why people do what people do, this branch of psychology provides insight into behavioral factors. Behavioral psychologists work with patients to change behavior – such as improve habits or cut out unhealthy lifestyle factors like smoking or gambling.

But where do you start if interested in behavioral psychology?As with most jobs in therapy, a PhD or Psy.D is required. It takes years of coursework, practicum, internships and post graduate learning to earn a PhD with a focus on behavioral psychology.

What Does a Behavioral Psychologist Do?

Behavioral psychologists examine an individual’s behaviors, and the alteration of those behaviors, particularly the destructive ones. The leading principle behind behavioral psychology is to utilize research based tactics to improve conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse through the modification of behaviors. Or in other words, behavioral psychologists are looking to understand why individuals display the behaviors that they do and develop solutions that will improve their current condition. Often, they will work one on one with individuals to develop behavioral based solutions to their issues.

Behavioral psychologists ultimately work to provide solutions to individuals who are suffering from a wide degree of illnesses by modifying or altering their behaviors to improve their current and future state of being. This is achieved through the careful analysis and consideration of an individual’s behaviors, paying less attention to the internal cognitive processes in place, and more attention around examining the surrounding stimuli.

Where Does a Behavioral Psychologist Work?

Many behavioral psychologists are self-employed, operating under their own practice. However, self-employment is not the only option for aspiring behavioral psychologists. In addition, many behavioral psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools, often under the title of a school psychologist. In this role, behavioral psychologists work individually with children to address behavioral based issues, such as depression or acting out in destructive manners.

In addition to working within the field of education, behavioral psychologists can also work within a clinic or physician’s office, often under a group of practitioners. However, this type of work environment is rare in comparison with self-employment. A substantial number of behavioral psychologists go on to open up their own practice, where they will often specialize within an area of behavioral psychology. These specialties may include providing solutions to issues such as substance abuse, obesity, and depression just to name a few. Often, a behavioral psychologist after being in the field will narrow their focus to provide superior solutions to their clientele.

What are the Requirements to Become a Behavioral Psychologist?


It is important to have a fascination with human behavior in order to thrive in this field. The profession is for the curious – those who wonder what makes others tick and what can be done to change habits.


The vast majority of behavioral psychologists possess their Masters or PhD in psychology, sometimes even specializing in behavioral psychology. In addition, depending on the environment in which a behavioral psychologist is practicing, they may also need additional licenses and certifications.

Before getting an advanced degree, a student must complete four years of school and gain a bachelor’s degree. A BA in psychology is not necessary, though it may be the easiest way to get into a graduate school’s psychology program.

Choosing which grad school is the correct one for those who wish to specialize in behavioral psychology can be tough. Each university offers special programs, and it is important to do research before deciding where to pursue an advanced degree.

A student with the career goal of becoming a behavioral psychologist will have to choose between a PhD and a Psy.D. Those who would like to focus on research usually obtain a PhD, while those students who enjoy working with patients in treatment choose to pursue a Psy.D. Both doctorates are equally endorsed by the profession.

  • Talk to professors or professionals: this is a great way to start working toward a career behavior psychology. Professors and professionals who are already in the field can share their own experiences and offer sound advice.
  • Search the internet: find out which schools are at the forefront of behavioral psychology research. Many schools have programs in this field – but not all of them may be right for every student based on locations, price, and other considerations.

Talk to admissions counselors:  call or email professionals at the schools that interest you. They will know what is expected in terms of GRE scores, letters of reference and other assets that make students valuable to the faculty.

It is not necessary to obtain a master’s degree in order to gain admission to doctoral program. Students can choose to go straight from a four year bachelor’s degree to a PhD program.


All students must complete internships in order to receive a doctorate, however many find it challenging to procure an internship. A candidate must use and rate his preferred internships, and then he must interview and be accepted to one of those internships. Wherever places the student, he must accept. Behavioral psychology internships can be found at many types of counseling organizations, hospitals and non-profits.

Licensure Hours

Every PhD candidate must eventually complete about 3,000 supervised hours of practice, which can be done at a job or internship. However, requirements may vary from state to state.

Training and Self-Development

Behavioral psychology is an ever developing science. As stimuli of the modern world changes, so will the branch of psychology. This is why it is important to continue self-development. The best way to do this is to keep updating the knowledge connected with behavioral psychology. Attending conferences and training on the subject may help greatly in this matter.

What are the Career Opportunities for New Graduates?

An entry level job for the behavioral psychologist may range from teaching to hospital work. Public agencies that help at-risk people (traumatized veterans, addicts, etc) develop better behaviors may put the just-graduated behavioral psychologist to work.

Public schools, law enforcement agencies and colleges sometimes have behavioral psychologists to talk to people in need of better habits. There are also many jobs in research for the behavioral psychologist – drug companies often need to analyze effects of medications and will use them to do this.

It is possible to be hired by a private practice that specializes in changing bad behavior for people who would like to lose weight, quit smoking or stop other negative habits. Eventually the behavioral psychologist may end up with an organization focused on therapy and changing habits.

What is the Salary for a Behavioral Psychologist?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide separate salary data for behavioral psychologist. However, clinical psychologists (which may include behavioral psychologists) on average earn earn $100,770, as of May 2018.

What Careers are Similar to Behavioral Psychology?

There are many careers that are related to behavioral psychology and not all of them require advanced degrees or years of education. Behavioral Health is a field where there is always a need for those with various levels of experience and education.

Behavioral Health Case Manager: As a behavioral health case manager, they are a part of a clinical team that assesses the patient and develops a service plan. They also document the patient’s progress as they go through treatment and maintain the clinical records as needed. In addition to the care that they are receiving, the behavioral health case manager will also coordinate any additional care needed, like health and dental care. To be a behavioral health care manager, employers usually require a Bachelor’s degree in a related major or a combination of education and experience to meet the job requirements.

Behavioral Health Technician: Like the behavioral health case manager, another member of a clinical team is the behavioral health technician.  They are a bit more “hands on” with the patients as they can lead group or individual counseling sessions and play a large role in developing and implementing the service plan for each patient. Most health technicians are required to have either an Associate’s degree and three years of experience in behavioral health or a Bachelor’s Degree and one year of experience.

Board Certified Behavioral Analysts: A behavioral analyst is another part of the team as well. In addition to contributing to the care plan, they can collect data in case the plan needs to be altered, and oversees the implementation of the plan by the technicians. They can also act as the point of contact for community agencies for outside resources. It is more of a manager’s role than a technician. To be a behavioral analysts, most employers require certification and a year of experience.

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