Psychology is vital for professionals who want to help people experiencing mental abnormalities.
If you have affinity for helping others or a desire to uncover research other professionals can apply in the field, you should consider earning a master's in behavioral psychology. Psychology positions are projected to grow by 14% through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS).
Positions that require an education in behavioral psychology are available to professionals with a bachelor's degree; however, earning a master's degree opens up leadership roles, provides a competitive advantage, and increases earning potential. A master's in behavioral psychology is a great stepping stone toward a promising career in psychology.
Should I Get a Master's in Behavioral Psychology?
Students intrigued by examining cognitive processes, human behavior, emotions, perception, and sensory abilities may want to consider a master's in behavioral psychology. Emerging professionals strive to uncover innovative techniques and methods that redirect destructive behaviors into positive behavior.
At the graduate level, students apply psychological theories, approaches, principles, and methods to real world scenarios. The majority of coursework delves into research, human development, abnormal and social psychology, and personality. Students also develop a specialized skill set to meet the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities in an ethical way. Skills acquired through a behavioral psychology master's program prepare students to perform task analyses, behavior assessments, pass associated certification tests, and qualify for Ph.D. programs.
Master's degrees in behavioral psychology are offered both online or in a traditional classroom setting. While online courses offer flexibility, on-campus programs may be more appealing to students who have recently completed their bachelor's degree. On-campus environments allow students to work directly with professors, tutors, advisers, and classmates. Classroom environments also ensure that students allocate a set amount of hours per week to learning content through lectures, assignment deadlines, and exams. Additionally, students have access to faculty and emerging professionals studying the same content. Many programs also post local job and internship openings and leverage their resources to help students secure employment.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Behavioral Psychology?
Behavioral psychology majors learn basic psychological and scientific principles, develop elite critical thinking skills, and apply decisions based on data. This specialty area also gives students additional skill sets related to behavior analysis, abnormal psychology, and cognition that are helpful for dealing with atypical behavior. Because psychology is a vast field, students who earn a master's in behavioral psychology can qualify for multiple careers that are in high demand.
- Marriage and Family Therapist
Therapists working with couples and families strive to help their clients overcome issues within relationships of all sorts by encouraging them to discuss their emotions or difficulties. Professionals often apply a goal-oriented therapeutic approach to assist clients in achieving a positive and healthy state of mind.
Median Annual Salary: $48,790*
Psychologists study cognitive, social, and emotional processes communicated through human behavior. The majority of professionals work in clinical, counseling, or school settings.
Median Annual Salary: $77,030*
- Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
These professionals assess progress of parolees, evaluate probationers to determine necessary rehabilitation, test clients for drug abuse, and conduct pre-hearing investigations. The majority of probation and correctional professionals work for state and local governments.
Median Annual Salary: $51,410*
- Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors
These counselors help people who struggle with eating disorders, behavioral problems, mental health issues, drug addiction, or alcoholism. Professionals work in mental health centers, prisons, community health centers, and juvenile detention centers. At minimum, counselors must have bachelor's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $43,300*
- Rehabilitation Counselors
Rehab counselors work with people who have developmental, physical, emotional, or mental disabilities. The ultimate goal of these counselors is to help clients manage or overcome the effects of their disabilities. These professionals often work in senior citizen centers, adolescent guidance organizations, or rehab centers.
Median Annual Salary: $34,860*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Master's Program in Behavioral Psychology
Selecting a master's program in behavioral psychology is no small endeavor. Prior to making this decision, students should examine what kind of commitment they can feasibly make to a program. A master's in behavioral psychology can often be completed in two to three years full-time in a traditional classroom setting. Most universities also offer a summer semester that students can use to graduate earlier; however, financial aid does not always cover summer courses. Students who need financial assistance should communicate with a financial adviser prior to enrollment.
Universities may also accept students who enroll part time, as students in master's programs often work and cannot commit to attending college full time. Students should keep in mind that part-time enrollment can double the length of a program.
Many online programs are also available for students pursuing a master's in behavioral psychology. Online programs are often taught in asynchronous and self-paced formats, which is perfect for working professionals. Both formats allow students to complete coursework on their own time.
Major coursework typically includes psychopathology, social psychology, applied concepts, ethical and professionals issues in addiction counseling, advanced intervention, science and human behavior, diversity in clinical practice, and affective psychology. Most programs also require students to complete a thesis or capstone course. Students should anticipate conducting rigorous empirical research and evaluations. While most programs cover the same content, the title of their courses may differ. Students should review course content to ensure they're receiving education that qualifies them for their desired job role, future Ph.D. or Psy.D. program, or licensure.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Behavioral Psychology
Accreditation is the process universities undergo to validate the quality of their programs. Regional accreditation applies to the school as a whole, whereas programmatic accreditation applies to a singular program.
Receiving an accredited degree assures employers that their candidate's education has equipped them with critical skills needed to perform their job. Accreditation agencies are composed of peer review boards who set standards. Members are often faculty from accredited schools.
Where behavioral psychology is concerned, graduate students should look for a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA is the most prominent organization in the United States dedicated to psychology education. Behavioral psychology majors who want to work with children and adolescents might consider programs accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists.
Master's in Behavioral Psychology Program Admissions
While graduate school applicants are familiar with the admissions process from their undergraduate experience, there are a few significant differences. Many schools are more selective about graduate candidates and admit less students per academic semester. Graduate admissions also offer multiple admissions deadlines, so students don't have to start in the fall with undergraduate students.
Applicants should provide a copy of their undergraduate transcript, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and their Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. The GRE is a standardized exam that measures how likely a student is to excel in a graduate program. Unlike online programs, some schools may require a face-to-face interview. Students should consider their goals for the program as well as bring a copy of their resume to an interview.
Below, are a few of the prerequisites and admission materials required for students applying for a master's in behavioral psychology.
- Bachelor's Degree: Schools often ask for an official transcript proving a student completed a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. Most schools charge a small fee for retrieving an official transcript.
- Professional Experience: Requirements for experience vary by program. Competitive schools may want students to have experience applying theories and methods in real world situations.
- Minimum GPA: Nearly every reputable psychology graduate program requires a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 for its applicants, though some graduate programs have more rigorous standards.
- Application: Schools look for students who meet their standards because it helps ensure they can succeed in the program and helps to maintain their own statistical goals. The application process also illuminates the academic history of candidates.
- Transcripts: Transcripts indicate how well a student has performed in each class. Schools usually require students to submit official copies.
- Letters of Recommendation: Students are typically required to have three letters of recommendation from teachers or professionals who can elaborate on the student's skills and work ethic.
- Test Scores: At the graduate level, schools are primarily concerned with the GRE because it speaks to a students' ability to do well in a graduate level program.
- Application Fee: All schools require an application fee of around $60. Eligible students can apply for a fee waiver if they demonstrate financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Behavioral Psychology?
Master's programs in behavioral psychology often include foundational psychological concepts and skills needed for management positions, but schools offer different elective and specialization courses. Despite discretionary course combinations, students can anticipate completing any of the programs below in a behavioral psychology master's program.
|School Psychology||School psychology students use principles of applied behavior analysis, educational psychology, and developmental psychology to create intervention plans for children and adolescents who struggle with behavioral health issues. Professionals collaborate with parents and teachers to promote school safety and prevent crises through intervention.||School psychologist|
|Biopsychology or Behavioral Neuroscience||Behavioral neuroscience examines biological influences on human behavior. This speciality also focuses on how biological systems such as the nervous system interact with behavior. Statistics and neurobiology are important subcategories of this path as well.||Learning and education scientist, comparative psychologist, behavioral neuroscientist|
|Addiction Psychology||Psychologists who focus on addiction examine research and theories to generate treatment plans for people who struggle with addiction. Addiction psychologists also tend to focus on cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychodynamics to diagnose and treat patients.||Psychologist, addictions and mental health therapist|
|Counseling Psychology||This specialty utilizes psychological concepts to assess everyday struggles such as stress or negative coping mechanisms. Counseling psychology does not include clients who suffer from mental health disorders.||Family and marriage counselor, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor, rehabilitation counselors|
|Social Psychology||Social psychologists study how people are affected behaviorally when they interact with others. While this particular concentration draws on aspects of sociology, it primarily examines human behavior in varying environments.||Research psychologist, political strategist, social worker|
Courses in a Master's in Behavioral Psychology Program
No two master's programs in behavior psychology are identical. Some schools may offer the same content, but use different course titles, while other programs require additional coursework influenced by their department missions or goals. Potential coursework is listed below.
- Science and Human Behavior
An advanced course for students interested in social and behavioral epidemiology, social and human behavior coursework emphasizes philosophical factors of behavior analysis. Students explore conceptual themes to create a foundation for understanding research that focuses on health and behavior in different contexts.
- Behavioral Modification
Students learn about key areas of behavioral modification in multiple settings. Coursework includes goals and application of fundamental behavioral analysis from a philosophical and scientific perspective as well as behavioral reinforcement and change theories. This course can prepare students to become behavioral specialists.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Commonly referred to as CBT, this course differentiates between thoughts and beliefs. Students also explore how automatic thoughts develop, how to track automatic thoughts, identify core beliefs, and examine common cognitive errors. This course is helpful for students who want to become behavioral therapists.
- Advanced Intervention
This course focuses on advanced issues linked to trauma induced dysfunctions; PTSD is a common condition discussed in this course. Students continue building upon theoretical knowledge regarding development and conduct research-supported therapy and assessment for multiple levels of trauma.
- Behavioral Analysis
Students explore behavioral principles to understand human interaction in social situations such as parenting or interpersonal relations. Techniques acquired in this course help students apply principles of behavior in their own lives in addition to the lives of their future clients.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Behavioral Psychology?
On average, students can earn a master's in behavioral psychology in just over two years; however, there are factors that impact graduation timelines. Students who attend school part time should anticipate doubling the length of their program. But if students decide to take additional classes on top of their full class load, they could graduate earlier.
Most schools base program length on fall and spring semesters, but several schools also offer a summer semester for entrepreneurial students wanting to accelerate their program. Financial aid may not cover courses taken over a summer semester. Students can apply for scholarships or see if they qualify for loans.
Additionally, some students who do not mind digital learning environments enroll into online programs, which are often accelerated. Many of those programs follow eight-week semesters and do not take summer breaks.
How Much Is a Master's in Behavioral Psychology?
Earning a master's in behavioral psychology costs between $9,000 and $20,000 per year, depending on the type of university students choose. To identify an accurate average, students need to identify what their personal requirements are for an ideal graduate experience. For instance, students who want to go away for school must factor in out-of-state tuition, which significantly increases the overall program cost. Similarly, students who plan to stay on campus have to consider room and board costs.
Private school tuition commonly costs more than public universities, especially for out-of-state students, and often has stricter admission standards. Popular public schools can also be competitive, which allows the school to charge more for tuition. Some graduate programs do not distinguish between in-state and out-of-state students when charging tuition and charge the same flat rate to both groups.
Other factors that can impact program costs include minors and specializations students are interested in. Students who want to acquire additional skills that aren't included in the standard program must work with their counselor to develop a graduation pathway, which often pushes back graduation dates if students do not increase their class load each semester.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Behavioral Psychology Prepares For
After earning a master's in behavioral psychology, students can pursue a certification related to their career goals. Below are a few certifications available to graduates:
- Alcohol and Drug Counselor
This international exam assesses students' knowledge about alcohol and drug counseling across the world. Professionals who are ADC certified serve as experts in prevention, coexisting disorders, recovery, and substance use treatment.
- Licensed Behavioral Health Practitioner
An LBHP licensure indicates that professionals have the necessary education to engage in professional counseling environments. Students must have a master's degree from an accredited university or prove that their program meets the requirements for the LBHP licensure. Licensure requirements vary by state.
- Certified Co-Occurring Disorders Professional
Graduates with a master's degree in behavioral psychology can earn their certificate in coexisting disorders. This certification is useful for professionals working as counselors or advocates of clients struggling with addiction. Students must acquire 2000 hours of experience to qualify.
- Board Certified Behavior Analyst
BCBA certification is a graduate-level certification for professionals who want to provide behavior-analytic services as independent practitioners. As a behavior analyst, professionals ensure patients receive effective treatment. Applicants must pass an exam before earning this certification.
- Veterans Behavioral Health Certificate
Graduates who have an affinity for supporting veterans can earn a veteran behavioral health certificate, which prepares them to have a competitive advantage in case manager, mental health, and addiction treatment roles. Curriculum includes the latest clinical guidelines from the Department of Defense and exposure to cultural sensitivities.
Resources for Graduate Behavioral Psychology Students
This database focuses on emotional trauma, PTSD, and dissociation. Students can find current articles and research about these topics.
This international honor society for psychology majors offers membership to students that includes financial support, research opportunities, and networking opportunities.
This database is a useful research tool for mental health majors and practitioners alike.
Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA strives to advance behavioral health and reduce the overall impact of mental illness and substance abuse.
This organization strives to uncover what drives addiction and highlight the consequences of drug use. Students have access to clinical research, publications, education materials, and relevant events for professionals focused on drug abuse.
A department in the National Institute of Health, NIAAA provides students access to current research, publications, and multimedia.
Professional Organizations in Behavioral Psychology
Professional organizations are extremely valuable to students who recently earned a master's in behavioral psychology, providing members with vast communities of peers who are enthusiastic about their work and believe in collaboration. Seasoned professionals often serve as mentors to newer professionals in the field. Additionally, many professional organizations offer continuing education coursework and regularly post job opportunities.
The ISSBD provides professionals with access to the latest research on development across the human lifespan. Members have access to grants, career support, and networking opportunities.
Since 1974, this organization has offered membership for professionals interested in the science, application, philosophy, and education of behavior analysis.
This organization strives to help CBT professionals develop their skills. Members receive monthly newsletters, discounts on insurance, and access to national conferences and certification programs.
The APA is a leading organization in psychology. Members receive professional development opportunities, insurance coverage, and access to a variety of publications and databases.
Dedicated to research, teaching, and applied psychological science, APS members can access magazines and journals in the psychology field. APS also offers multiple networking opportunities and awards for esteemed professionals.
Professionals who are clinically certified can join the NAPPP, an organization that promotes quality psychological practice.