Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology

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Who Gets a Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology & What to Expect

With a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, graduates attain qualifications that maximize career options in the field. As a terminal degree, an online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology allows students to pursue careers beyond those allowed by a master’s degree. Someone holding a Ph.D. can become a psychologist, professor, research scientist, and behavior analyst.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for psychologists will rise 14% between 2016 and 2026, faster than the national average. Graduates who hold a doctoral degree have the most positive outlook. Demand for psychologists is growing in schools, hospitals, and social services agencies as mental health awareness grows.

Reasons to Pursue an Online PhD in Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral psychology is a rewarding career field, where Ph.D. graduates can help people as psychologists and counselors, and contribute to the field through research and teaching. There are a wealth of reasons to consider pursuing a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology online, including:


With a Ph.D. in psychology, graduates from accredited programs qualify for any position in the field. By pursuing the proper experience and research interests, students can become leaders in the field.


By pursuing a research-focused Ph.D., students master the skills to delve deep into their related personal research interests. By learning methods for conducting empirical research studies and pursuing dissertation studies, students develop expertise they would not otherwise obtain.


Behavioral psychologists help patients recover from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health challenges by altering behavioral patterns and thought processes. Researchers help refine these processes and invent new solutions to ongoing problems.


With a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, graduates can lead research teams, direct clinical practices, and influence the next generation of practitioners through professorships and research.


By definition, a Ph.D. provides specialization through research and experience that cannot be reached with a lower-level degree.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology?

Graduates holding a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology have a variety of career options available to them. While an online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology leads to clinical licensure for many, the degree tends to be more research focused, funneling graduates toward careers in universities and research centers. Still, job titles vary widely, and Ph.D. students who obtain the proper licensure can also practice in clinical settings and private practice.

Researchers study the field of behavioral psychology and propose improvements based on conclusions drawn from their research. They may work directly with patients, or gather data through observation.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

Graduates who hold a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology enter the field with a wide variety of options, including practicing psychology in schools and clinical settings, research science, professorships, and behavior analysis. The table below outlines possible careers for Ph.D. in behavioral psychology graduates.

  • Psychologist

    Psychologists diagnose mental health conditions and work with other medical professionals to develop appropriate plans of treatment. Behavioral psychologists recommend adjustments to behavioral and thought patterns. They may be in private practice, or work in hospitals, government agencies, or corporations.

    Average Annual Salary: $79,010

  • Behavior Analyst

    Behavior analysts teach people in other fields, such as teachers, parents, and support professionals, how to implement behavioral adjustments and therapies. Behavior analysts must have good oral and written communication skills, as well as experience in teaching and learning disabilities.

    Average Annual Salary: $58,531

  • Professor

    Professors who work for colleges and universities teach behavioral psychology students and conduct research studies. They are typically expected to publish findings on a regular basis, contributing to the field through research.

    Average Annual Salary: $86,796

  • Research Scientist

    Research scientists perform experiments and gather data for corporations, universities, and government agencies. Their work may be applicable to areas such as consumer behavior, education, and specialized research in the field.

    Average Annual Salary: $78,507

  • Clinical Psychologist

    Clinical psychologists evaluate patients and diagnose conditions, caring for people who have problems with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. They provide psychotherapy for individuals and groups, working in private practice, military branches, hospitals, and other clinical settings.

    Average Annual Salary: $77,420

Source: Payscale

Behavioral Psychology PhD Program Requirements & Outcomes

While details vary by program, students can expect to complete an online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology in four to six years, typically spread across 60-75 credits. Courses may run asynchronously, though some programs require at least one face-to-face online course. There may be in-person requirements in the form of short-term residencies on campus for intensive coursework, or local practicum assignments.

Students can expect to encounter a research-focused curriculum, establishing a methodology foundation and building skills that will ultimately prepare them to complete their dissertations and continue to contribute their findings to the field after graduation.

Typically, applicants to online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology programs must submit GRE scores, work experience, letters of recommendation, and an essay demonstrating their writing skills. Students who wish to work with specific faculty should be prepared to make a detailed request to that end.

Common Courses

Students pursuing a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology online can expect to encounter research-focused curriculum and advanced topics in psychology. While specific course titles and curricula vary depending on the particular school and program, sample courses for an online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology may include:


This course focuses on understanding how humans learn and function at the behavioral level, including the development of cognitive processes. Through deep understanding of Pavlovian and instrumental conditioning and the cognitive processes behind stimulus control and sensitive conditioning, students can learn to apply methods to empirical research studies.


Explores the genetic and environmental influences on cognitive development and personality, with a focus on differentiating techniques when working with patients of varying cognitive abilities and personalities.


Emphasizes the techniques for literature review and analysis of empirical studies, as well as a solid foundation in experimental analysis of behavior, including quantitative analyses, methodological approaches, and contemporary relevance. Students develop research questions and practice critical research skills necessary for success in research-oriented professions.


Topics in social neuroscience include in-depth research in social and personality psychology. This may involve the study of contemporary topics such as social media, text analysis, perceptions of self and identity, the evolution of childhood, and theory of social psychology.


Provides students with a firm understanding of the expected ethical standards for behavioral psychology, including research and observation, cultural sensitivity, and hands-on practice. Students can apply ethical standards, including relevant laws and regulations, regardless of the career they ultimately pursue in behavioral psychology.

Other Requirements

In addition to coursework, students pursuing an online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology must complete other requirements to graduate. While these requirements and details vary depending on the specific program, students may be required to complete supervised practicum assignments, comprehensive examinations, and dissertations.


Some programs require students to complete supervised practicum assignments for hands-on experience in behavioral psychology, though these requirements may be limited to students who wish to pursue professional licensure after graduation.


Some programs require a benchmark comprehensive examination as a part of a behavioral psychology Ph.D. program to prove they can synthesize the knowledge they’ve obtained in the program and continue to doctoral candidacy.


Most online Ph.D. programs in behavioral psychology require students to complete a dissertation in which the student designs an empirical research study, collects data, draws conclusions, and defends the work to a committee of faculty members.

Skills & Competencies

Online Ph.D. programs in behavioral psychology prepare students for a variety of careers, for which the following skills are essential:


A Ph.D. in behavioral psychology prepares students to collect and analyze data to diagnose clients, perform empirical research, and reach impactful conclusions.


Students learn to communicate research findings and discuss conditions and treatment plans with clients. Behavioral psychologists must write coherently in order to communicate research findings and consult with other physicians, and to speak articulately with clients as well.


Ph.D. programs in behavioral psychology cover ethical standards for treating mental health clients, conducting research studies, and respecting the bounds of confidentiality when reporting research findings.

Problem Solving

Behavioral psychologists must be able to transform data into action, applying theory to real-life situations. They work with clients to design treatment plans to make progress toward recovery.


Many graduates of Ph.D. programs in behavioral psychology go on to teach at the college and university level. As such, many programs offer the opportunity for students to develop teaching skills through graduate assistantships and mentoring opportunities.


Graduates who wish to practice behavioral psychology directly with clients in a hands-on capacity must develop interpersonal skills that build trust and rapport. By directing a Ph.D. program to suit their program goals, students can take part in courses and practicum experiences to hone their interpersonal skills.

Behavioral Psychology Professional Organizations

Professional organizations provide a wealth of resources for students and graduates of behavioral psychology programs. Membership in a professional organization can help behavioral psychologists to stay current with trends in the field, network with peers, find in-person and online professional development opportunities, and access industry discounts on necessities like liability insurance.

To make the most of an organizational membership, professionals should consider attending annual conferences where they can participate in workshops, panels, and presentations as audience members or presenters. An annual conference is an excellent place to meet colleagues from around the country and take advantage of professional development opportunities. Depending on the organization, members can extend their activity by serving on committees, volunteering for events, attending or leading local meetings, or serving as a member of the board of directors.

Finding the right organization means considering what kind of involvement a student or graduate desires, and examining whether the particular organization fits those needs and interests. Students should also consider whether the organization’s mission and goals fit with their own professional interests.

Association of Professional Behavior Analysts

APBA is a nonprofit organization representing credentialed behavior analysts and supports those working in the field by liaising with government offices and regulating bodies, offering professional publications, and presenting an annual conference.

Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

ABCT promotes the understanding and treatment of human problems through behavioral, cognitive, and biological problem solving. Members receive access to ABCT’s professional journal, networking opportunities via listserv, and the opportunity to attend ABCT’s annual conference.

National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists

NACBT is an open organization designed not only for students and professionals, but also for members of the general public who want to know more about applying behavioral therapies to their own lives. Professional membership includes networking via online resume boards and discounted registration to the national conference.

Association for Behavior Analysis International

ABAI’s membership is comprised of professionals who apply principles of behavioral science through teaching or direct practice. Members have access to job postings, event discounts, presentation submissions for conferences, and several publications.

American Psychological Association

APA supports psychologists across specific disciplines through networking opportunities that include member-run chapters divided by topical interests. The organization also provides webinars and professional development opportunities, as well as access to professional publications.

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