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Online Master's Programs in Behavioral Psychology

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Updated on: 11/22/2018

Behavioral psychologists study the connection between our brains and our behaviors. They can help predict behavior, change unhealthy or destructive patterns, and encourage healthy habits. If you want to help people improve their lives in tangible ways, a career in the field of behavioral psychology can prove very rewarding.

Earning a master’s in behavioral psychology opens numerous potential career paths. If you already work in psychology or counseling, a masters can improve earnings and offer specialized areas, like an autism concentration. The majority of counseling and other positions in the field of psychology require a master’s degree at minimum. A bachelor’s alone limits your opportunities for career and salary advancement. With a master’s in behavioral psychology program you can work as a researcher, psychologist, or counselor. In this guide you will find detailed information about how to choose an online master’s degree in behavioral psychology.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Behavioral Psychology Program?

Students learn to conduct behavior assessments and analyses in a behavioral psychology master’s program. They learn different techniques and tools for implementing interventions and learn to create different research plans. Students also learn to conduct themselves ethically and professionally and get hands-on professional experience working with clients in a clinical practicum. Many behavioral psychology programs ready students to take the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s behavior analysis exam. Individuals who pass the exam become board certified behavior analysts. The typical master’s in behavioral psychology program takes 19 months to three years of full-time enrollment to complete. Programs require learners to complete between 30 and 48 credits. Both on-campus and online master’s in behavioral psychology programs exist. Students can typically complete all coursework online in distance programs, but still need to take an in-person clinical practicum.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in behavioral psychology program?

Most behavioral psychology programs offer courses that focus on behavior assessment and analysis, research design, professional ethics, and a clinical practicum. Below are some sample courses available in a typical master’s in behavioral psychology program.

Behavior Assessment

Students learn to observe and measure human behavior in this class. This course provides an in-depth overview of the tools used for behavioral assessment using direct and indirect methods, including assessment of behavior preference. Students also learn to use systematic manipulations to assess behavior.

Introduction to Behavior Analysis

Learners receive an introduction to the theory, concepts, and practice of applied behavior analysis. This course explores the design and implementation of interventions intended to influence behavior. Other issues include functional behavior hypotheses, intervention effectiveness, and behavior assessments.

Ethical and Professional Conduct for Behavior Analysts

This class examines professional and ethical conduct of behavior analysts and covers the conduct expected of board certified behavior analysts. Course materials include the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s Professional and Ethical Standards, as well as its Guidelines for Responsible Conduct for Behavior Analysts.

Research and Design Methods

This course exposes learners to a variety of research types and tools. Students learn how to ask research questions, choose appropriate methodologies, and analyze data. This class has an emphasis on single-subject experimental design. Students learn to design a feasible research project with real or hypothetical data and complete a research report.

Clinical Practicum

Students complete a supervised practicum in a clinical setting in their local area. They must keep a journal describing and analyzing their experience and write a final report. This practicum helps students gain some of the required supervised hours needed for the Behavior Analysis certification exam.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Most online master’s in behavioral psychology programs require students to complete a clinical practicum. Typically, students must complete a certain number of hours working in-person with clients, under the supervision of a professional psychologist or counselor. Online students usually complete their practicum in their local community. This requirement tends to be most common at schools that hold verification from the BACB, which requires certification applicants to complete supervised clinical hours to qualify for its exam.

What specializations are available in a master’s in behavioral psychology program?

Many master's in behavioral psychology degrees offer specializations that let students closely explore a particular area of interest. Adding a specialization may increase program duration. Below are a few sample specializations; available concentrations may vary by school.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

This specialization is designed for educators and clinicians who work with individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This focus explores the use of behavioral principles in treatment, particularly within the educational system. Students learn to use evidence-based interventions and develop educational programs for ASD individuals.

Applied Research

The applied research specialization teaches students behavioral principles and research methodologies to address behavioral challenges. Methodologies explore survey research, action research, and case analysis, among others. Students take courses, including research methods in applied behavior analysis; behavioral assessment and ongoing evaluation; and research in education.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Designed for students who want to explore the use of behavioral psychology in substance abuse treatment, this concentration is ideal for individuals to work as substance abuse counselors. Students learn to use behavioral analysis tools to help clients.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology Degree?

A master’s in behavioral psychology opens up careers in psychology, counseling, and social work. Graduates find work as psychologists; counselors and therapists; and social and community service managers. A degree in behavioral psychology does not guarantee eligibility for these careers, but can often lead to similar career paths. Most of the counseling and psychology careers listed below require certification or licensure, in addition to a master’s. Many behavioral psychology master’s graduates pursue board certification as behavior analysts through the BACB.

Psychologists

Psychologists study social, emotional, and cognitive processes and behaviors. They work in a variety of settings, including private practices, schools, and hospitals. Psychologists typically need a doctoral degree in psychology, but a master’s is sufficient in some cases.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Counselors who focus on substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health advise individuals suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism, and other mental and behavioral problems. They help change problematic behaviors. You typically need a master’s degree and a license to work as a counselor in one of these fields.

School and Career Counselors

School counselors help students succeed by developing their social and academic skills, while career counselors help people choose careers. School counselors usually work in K-12 schools and colleges or at social service agencies. You usually need a master’s degree in counseling or a related field to work as a school or career counselor.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists help individuals with problems in their familial and marital relationships. They help clients change their behaviors to create functional and healthy relationships. They work in private practices, social service agencies, and mental health centers. Most need to hold a master’s and a license to practice.

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers supervise social service programs and community organizations. They coordinate and evaluate programs, suggest improvements, and write proposals. They usually work for non-profit groups and government agencies. A bachelor’s degree is required, but many employers prefer to hire candidates with a master’s degree.

Joining a professional organization in behavioral psychology can benefit students and recent graduates. Most groups offer networking opportunities, discounts on annual conferences, subscriptions to publications, and continuing education workshops. Other benefits include access to career services and job boards. If cost concerns you, keep in mind that many groups offer student discounts.

American Psychological Association (APA)

The APA works to advance the profession of psychology to benefit society. Members receive benefits like professional development resources, subscriptions to publications, discounts on conferences, continuing education programs, and more.

Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)

Founded in 1971, the ABAI brings together professionals interested in behavior analysis. Members receive job placement services, subscriptions to journals, continuing education opportunities, and the chance to participate in special interest groups.

American Psychiatric Association (APA)

The APA works to ensure that everyone can access quality psychiatric treatment and diagnosis. It also advances the profession of psychiatry and sets the standards for clinical practice.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)

The AACAP’s mission includes promoting healthy child and adolescent development. It advocates, educates, and researches issues related to child and adolescent psychiatry.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)

Founded in 1974, the SPSP represents more than 7,500 social and personality psychologists around the world. Members receive access to continuing education opportunities, professional publications, and networking events.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Behavioral Psychology?

You can expect a competitive salary with a master’s in behavioral psychology. The degree opens the door to a variety of positions as psychologists; substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors; school and career counselors; marriage and family therapists; and social and community service managers. A degree in behavioral psychology does not guarantee eligibility for these positions, but it can lead to these career paths.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Psychologists Less than $42,330 $77,030 More than $124,520 +14%
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Less than $27,310 $43,300 More than $70,840 +23%
School and Career Counselors Less than $32,660 $55,410 More than $91,960 +13%
Marriage and Family Therapists Less than $31,390 $48,790 More than $81,760 +23%
Social and Community Service Managers Less than $39,730 $64,100 More than $109,990 +18%

Source: BLS 2018

The BLS projects higher-than-average job growth in the field of behavioral psychology. Job growth for psychologists is double that of other jobs at 14%. The BLS expects even stronger job growth for counseling professions like substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists at 23%. Individuals who take on supervisory roles as social and community service managers can expect an 18% job growth rate.

The level of degree you earn substantially impacts potential salary growth. Individuals who hold a master’s degree in psychology tend to earn more than those who only hold a bachelor’s degree. Someone who earns a bachelor’s in psychology earns a median annual salary of $49,000. Those who hold a master’s in psychology make an additional $16,000 a year, with a median annual salary of $65,000. Your potential to increase your earnings over time also rises substantially with a master’s degree. The top earners with a bachelor’s make less than $80,000 a year, but those with a master’s can make close to $100,000 annually.

Online Master’s in Behavioral Psychology Program Accreditation

When choosing an online school, consider regionally accredited colleges. Schools that hold regional accreditation undergo an independent process of evaluation to ensure they meet quality standards.You can also receive federal financial aid and transfer credit from regionally accredited institutions. No field-specific accrediting agencies exist for master’s in behavioral psychology programs; however, many programs receive verification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). A BACB verification means you will receive the knowledge and skills needed to work professionally as a behavior analyst. The BACB created and operates the certification exam that credentials behavior analysts. Its certification programs hold accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology Degree

With the rising cost of college, paying for your degree can be challenging. Most students cannot afford to pay for an entire master’s in behavioral psychology on their own. Fortunately, graduate students can use a variety of financial aid resources to help fund their education, including federal student loans, grants, work-study, scholarships, and graduate assistantships.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    Federal financial aid plays a big role in funding the education of many master’s in behavioral psychology students. Types of federal aid include student loans, grants, and work-study. Every student should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out if they qualify for financial aid. Learners who don’t fill out the FAFSA could miss out on free money.

  • Scholarships from Professional Organizations

    Master’s students can often find scholarships from professional organizations to help pay for school. Typically, you must be a member to qualify for a group’s scholarships. The American Psychological Association and state psychological organizations distribute scholarships to graduate psychology students every year.

  • Program Scholarships

    Most master’s in behavioral psychology programs offer a variety of scholarships to incoming and current students. Schools tend to base eligibility on criteria, like merit, financial need, and community involvement. Capella University, for example, offers psychology scholarships up to $2,000 for master's students.

  • Assistantships/Research Positions

    Although more common in traditional on-campus behavioral psychology master’s programs, some online degrees offer students the opportunity to receive tuition discounts or waivers in exchange for work as a research or teaching assistant. Students typically work part-time for their department, providing teaching and research assistance to faculty. For example, Northeastern University’s master’s of science in applied behavior analysis offers a variety of graduate assistantships.