This guide explores positions for professionals with a doctorate in behavioral psychology, including forensic psychologist, school psychologist, and clinical psychologist. The sections below also cover the differences between the research-oriented Ph.D. in psychology and the practice-focused doctor of behavioral health (DBH). This guide includes information about psychology admission requirements, courses, curricula, outcomes, and accrediting organizations for doctorate in behavioral psychology online programs.
Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology?
Earning a doctorate in behavioral psychology online can lead to high-paying careers as psychologists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earn a median annual salary of almost $77,000, and the top 10% of earners in these professions make more than $129,000 per year. Industrial and organizational psychologists, who apply psychological concepts to business problems, rank among the highest earners in the psychology field. These workers take home a median salary of $97,260 per year, and the highest-paid industrial psychologists earn more than $190,000 annually.
Psychology professionals -- especially those with doctoral degrees -- are in high demand. The BLS projects a 14% increase in employment for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists between 2016 and 2026, which translates to 21,000 new job opportunities. The BLS attributes this growth to the aging population and the general public's increased reliance on psychologists.
Clinical psychology can be a highly rewarding and satisfying line of work. Students interested in helping people overcome mental and behavioral issues can consider earning a doctorate in behavioral psychology online. This degree helps students gain the specialized skills necessary to treat serious psychological conditions and help people lead healthier, happier lives.
A doctorate in psychology is also ideal for individuals interested in pursuing a challenging career. Psychologists apply knowledge of the field to diagnose issues, solve problems, and identify the best approaches to help each of their patients.
What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology?
Graduates with a doctorate in behavioral psychology can pursue careers in a variety of settings. Doctorate holders interested in helping the general public can work in a hospital, treating patients with mental health issues. Clinical psychologists in hospital settings work with specialists and other professionals -- including nurses, social workers, and therapists -- to develop treatment plans for patients with behavioral issues, suicidal thoughts, and depression.
Psychologists can also focus on treating a particular type of issue, such as substance abuse or alcoholism. Professionals may work in treatment centers, helping patients struggling with addiction. They also may open a private practice, where they can counsel patients independently or with a team of professionals. Psychologists may also advise students in school settings.
Psychology graduates interested in business can pursue careers in industrial and organizational psychology. Unlike clinical psychologists, these professionals apply psychology knowledge to solve business problems, such as worker productivity issues. Organizational psychologists can work for consulting firms that serve a variety of corporate, nonprofit, and government clients.
Additionally, graduates can pursue careers outside the psychology field. Graduates can become behavior analysts and study the effects of biology, medicine, and experiences on human behavior. Behavior analysts work in many of the same settings as psychologists, including schools and hospitals.
A Ph.D. in behavioral psychology also prepares students for jobs in academia. Ph.D. holders can land entry-level teaching jobs at community colleges, liberal arts schools, and universities. The list below describes a few common positions for doctorate in psychology degree holders.
- Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists assess patients, diagnose conditions, and treat mental disorders. They may specialize in a particular field, such as behavioral psychology or an emotional disorder. They treat severe, short-term issues as well as chronic illnesses. Clinical psychologists administer diagnostic tests, interview patients, and provide psychotherapy.
- Counseling Psychologist
These professionals advise patients on ways to overcome emotional, social, vocational, educational, and developmental issues. They offer counseling that helps patients understand and deal with their problems. Counseling psychologists often work in schools or private practices.
- School Psychologist
School psychologists need state certification and an advanced degree, such as a Ph.D. or a doctor of psychology. These mental health professionals work in schools to help students with developmental, behavioral, learning, and educational disorders. They counsel students and families and meet with teaching and administrative staff.
- Organizational Psychologist
Organizational psychologists, sometimes called industrial-organizational psychologists, apply psychological concepts and research techniques to workplace situations. They help executives and training/development workers improve productivity, management, and morale. Organizational psychologists study their organization and recommend new policies and training programs.
- College Professor
Most four-year institutions require postsecondary teachers to hold a doctoral degree. These educators prepare lectures, assign readings, and grade assignments. Additionally, psychology professors may conduct independent research and publish their findings in journals or books.
Behavioral Psychology Doctoral Program Overview
Before pursuing a doctorate in behavioral psychology, learners should research the requirements of different doctoral programs. Students should understand the different degree options and key characteristics of behavioral psychology doctoral degrees. The following sections include information about common admission criteria, types of doctoral degrees in psychology, and behavioral psychology curricula.
Types of Doctoral Degrees in Behavioral Psychology
Students planning to pursue an advanced behavioral psychology degree have multiple degree options to choose from. For example, learners can choose a Ph.D. or DBH program. Both types of programs cover behavioral psychology concepts, but each degree has different practical applications. Students should consider their career goals when choosing what type of degree to earn.
DBH programs have a professional focus and are well-suited for healthcare workers who want to specialize in mental health and behavioral disorders. Typically, these programs accept master's-level practitioners, such as nurse practitioners, clinical mental health counselors, clinical social workers, and family therapists. However, some DBH programs accept students without a healthcare background. Learners study topics such as neuropathophysiology, psychopharmacology, and behavioral health and wellness. Unlike many Ph.D. programs, DBH programs do not prepare students to become licensed psychologists.
Ph.D. programs in behavioral psychology are research oriented and may qualify graduates for state licensure. Professionals with a Ph.D. in psychology often work in professions such as clinical psychology and school psychology. Students can also pursue a Ph.D. in behavior analysis. Since Ph.D. programs require an extensive dissertation, they often take several years to complete. DBH programs generally require a shorter time commitment.
Additionally, aspiring licensed psychologists can earn a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) degree. As opposed to research-focused Ph.D. programs, Psy.D. programs emphasize clinical skills.
Application Requirements and Admission Criteria
Admission criteria vary between schools, but many programs feature similar requirements. Generally, universities evaluate applicants based on their academic skills, personality, and professional goals.
Applicants must submit official undergraduate and/or graduate transcripts, and they usually need to meet a minimum GPA requirement (typically between 3.0 and 3.5). While some programs require a master's degree for admission, many programs accept students with a bachelor's degree. Some schools expect students to have completed prior coursework in research or psychology, but a bachelor's degree in the field is not a typical requirement.
Applicants usually need to provide three letters of recommendation, a current resume, and an essay describing their reasons for choosing the particular psychology program. Some institutions require students to explain their career goals in writing. Additionally, applicants may need to submit GRE scores, and some schools require students to sit for an interview.
Specific coursework varies by school and depends on the type of degree. DBH, Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, and Ph.D. in behavioral analysis programs all have different course requirements. Programs that prepare students for positions as clinical psychologists generally include extra courses and supervised clinical components. This section offers a general overview of what to expect from a doctoral program in behavioral psychology.
The core requirements of behavioral psychology programs often include a few classes on research methods. These courses may cover topics like research design, psychological statistics, quantitative research methods, and data analysis. In addition, some research courses focus on dissertation work. Core courses may also discuss basic psychology concepts and theories, applied behavior analysis, and experimental behavior analysis.
Ph.D. programs often include some electives, which allow students to explore specialized topics. Elective options may include classes in adolescent psychology, clinical psychopharmacology, and industrial and organizational psychology.
Additionally, doctoral programs often require a practicum, internship, or other field experience in behavioral psychology or analysis. Ph.D. candidates also complete a major research project called a dissertation. The list below describes a few sample courses often found in behavioral psychology doctoral programs.
- Research Design: This class teaches students to design experiments using group and single-subject methodologies. Learners explore various data analysis methods, including statistics, correlation, and regression.
- Biological Aspects of Behavior: Students learn about the relationship between biology and psychology. This course covers basic psychopharmacology, neuroscience, psychophysiology, and neurological assessment. Learners also explore biologically grounded treatments.
- Experimental Analysis of Behavior: In this class, students review literature on key areas, including schedule-induced behavior, concept formation, escape and avoidance, and generalization and discrimination.
- Research Seminar: During research seminars, doctoral students conduct research, develop ideas, and contribute to their major research project.
- Supervision in Behavior Analysis: This course prepares students to oversee behavior analysts and similar practitioners. Students learn about supervising direct care staff, professional training and development, and ethical issues in supervision.
- Ethical and Legal Issues in Psychology: This class provides an overview of major moral and legal challenges that behavioral psychology graduates encounter in their professional lives.
- Behavior Pathology: Students in this course become familiar with the psychopathology of behavioral issues across the lifespan. They learn about diagnostic classification, functional analysis, and experimental research in psychopathology.
- Behavioral and Psychological Assessment: Students examine the theoretical and practical considerations behind behavioral evaluation. They learn about measurement system design, self-reporting, and direct assessment.
Doctoral programs in behavioral psychology help students gain the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue a variety of careers. However, the specific abilities students develop vary by program. For example, programs focused on behavior analysis emphasize skills in applied behavior analysis and experimental behavior analysis. These programs may also prepare students to manage and supervise other behavioral psychology practitioners.
Behavioral psychology programs generally help learners build a strong knowledge base covering topics like psychology, mental health issues, human behavior, and behavior therapy. Students also learn about ethical and professional issues in the field. An understanding of moral issues in psychology practice helps graduates navigate complicated situations.
Some programs explore specialized clinical topics that prepare students for work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Learners may gain an understanding of pharmacology and the treatment of mental illness by completing clinical internships and practica. They may also develop skills that prepare them to evaluate patients and diagnose health issues.
Accreditation for Online Behavioral Psychology Doctoral Programs
Accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding where to earn your doctorate in behavioral psychology online. Students should only apply to accredited institutions, which offer high-quality educational programs. Many employers, scholarship-granting organizations, and licensing boards require candidates to hold a degree from an accredited university.
Prospective students should look for schools that are accredited by a regional accrediting organization, such as the Higher Learning Commission or the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Behavioral psychology programs may also hold recognition from a field-specific organization, such as the American Psychological Association or the National Association of School Psychologists.