How to Become a Behavioral Psychologist


Published June 18, 2024

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Behavioral psychologists apply their specialized training to help patients overcome behavioral issues, such as substance use, phobias, and anxiety. As the demand for mental health services continues to rise, the field of behavioral psychology offers rewarding and diverse employment opportunities to make a difference in people's lives.

Learn how to become a behavioral psychologist, and what to expect once you enter this career.

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What Is a Behavioral Psychologist?'

What sets behavioral psychologists apart from other psychologists is their focus on observable behavior and applying cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, such as behavioral modeling, classical and operant conditioning, and cognitive restructuring, to modify learned negative behavior patterns.

Behavior psychologists treat all demographic groups with a wide range of behavioral disorders. Some of these professionals focus on certain populations, like children or older adults. Others specialize in a single condition, such as autism, learning disabilities, or eating disorders. Behavioral psychologists work in different settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practice, often collaborating with clinical and counseling psychologists on research and treatment strategies.


  • Interview patients to assess and diagnose behavioral issues and develop treatment plans.
  • Lead continuing therapy sessions to help patients understand and change their behavior and apply their treatment plan.
  • Collaborate with other psychologists and healthcare professionals to implement treatment plans.
  • Research applications of behavioral theory.
  • Teach behavioral psychology at colleges and universities.

Related Fields

Although you need a doctorate to obtain a state license, a behavioral psychology degree can lead to other career paths outside the field of psychology. Graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree often find alternative employment opportunities in education, business, human resources, social services, and criminal justice.

How to Become a Behavioral Psychologist

Becoming a behavioral psychologist may take 8-12 years. After completing a four-year bachelor's in general psychology or a related field, you can enroll in a two-year master's program to prepare for doctoral studies or, depending on the school, continue into a doctoral program after earning your bachelor's degree.

  1. 1

    Complete a Behavioral Psychology Internship

    An important component of becoming a behavioral psychologist is completing an internship approved by the American Psychological Association. Internships provide professional experience with different settings and patient populations. The APA authorizes one-year internships, but some states may require additional hours of supervised clinical experience to obtain licensure.
  2. 2

    Earn a Doctoral Degree in Behavioral Psychology

    In most states, licensed behavioral psychologists must hold a doctorate from an APA-accredited program. Accreditation demonstrates that your program meets professional and academic standards, preparing you to deliver evidence-based and ethical services. You may pursue a research-oriented Ph.D. or a practice-oriented Psy.D. degree.
  3. 3

    Complete Post-Doctoral Supervised Experience

    In addition to the one-year internship completed in the last year of doctoral studies, you must complete a postgraduate supervised experience. This postdoc internship sharpens your advanced clinical practice skills, provides mentorship and networking opportunities, and helps you accumulate the hours required for state licensure. While requirements vary, most states expect 1-2 years of postgraduate supervised practice.
  4. 4

    Apply for Psychology Licensure with Your State Board

    You must apply for licensure through your state's professional licensing board to practice as a behavioral psychologist. Licensing protects the well-being of patients by demonstrating your qualifications and competency. Each state establishes specific eligibility requirements, including course content areas, postdoc hours, and state jurisprudence exams.
  5. 5

    Pass the EPPP

    To obtain a state license, you must register for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. This 225-question exam, which takes four hours and fifteen minutes to complete, covers all content areas of psychology. A passing score on the EPPP certifies you to practice.

Behavioral Psychologist Education and Licensure

Doctoral Program Curriculum

Whether you choose a research-oriented Ph.D. program or a Psy.D. that emphasizes clinical skills, a behavioral psychology doctorate gives you a comprehensive understanding of behaviorism and behavior-modifying applications. This terminal degree comprises 60 or more credits, taken over 4-6 years. Ph.D. programs generally require an empirically based dissertation.

In a Psy.D. program, you may have to complete a dissertation or capstone research project based on a clinical application. Most doctoral programs include practicum opportunities and a year-long internship.

Although every program offers a unique curriculum, you can expect to take courses in research design and data analysis, behavioral and psychological assessment, and behavioral and cognitive theories and therapies.

Licensure Requirements

Licensing protects the general public by ensuring professionals have the competency to work directly with clients. You need a doctorate from an APA-accredited school to practice as a licensed behavioral psychologist. Graduating from an accredited program demonstrates your ability to provide quality psychological care.

Once you obtain your doctorate and fulfill approximately 2,000 hours of postdoctoral internship experience, you must pass the EPPP, and a jurisprudence exam, if required by the state where you intend to practice. The licensing process is expensive. Depending on the state, fees can cost more than $1,000.

After obtaining your license, you must maintain it by accumulating continuing education credits and applying for license renewal every two or three years, depending on your state board requirements.

What Can You Do With a Degree in Behavioral Psychology?

The insights into human behavior acquired in a behavioral psychology degree program have applications in multiple professions. This versatile degree leads to promising employment and salary opportunities both in and out of the psychology field.

Careers Behavioral Psychology Graduates Can Pursue

A behavioral psychology degree provides the training you need to enter various rewarding careers, including those listed here. The highest-paying positions, especially those in clinical practice, require a graduate degree.

Behavioral Psychologists

Behavioral psychologists study, assess, and treat mental health conditions, using evidence-based treatments for applied behavior analysis and behavioral therapies. They find employment in clinical, research, education, and business settings.

Mental Health, Behavioral Disorder, and Substance Use Counselors

Licensed mental health counselors advise clients dealing with addictions and emotional and behavioral disorders, helping them change problematic behaviors and improve their mental well-being. Substance use counselors sometimes enter the field with a bachelor's degree, but many states require counselors to complete graduate training and licensure to practice independently.

Marketing Managers

Marketing managers develop marketing policies and direct marketing campaigns for their organizations. They study consumer trends, preferences, and behaviors, identify target markets, and implement strategies to create and increase demand for products and services.

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists assist individuals on probation or parole to navigate the rehabilitation process. They assess their progress using interviews, evaluations, and psychological tests and then connect them with resources, such as job training, healthcare, or counseling services.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Family therapists work with individuals, couples, and families to identify behavioral and psychological problems that contribute to relationship issues. They help clients deal with challenges that affect relationship dynamics, such as divorce, domestic abuse, parent-child conflicts, and substance use disorders.

Behavioral Psychologist Outlook and Salaries

The best-paying careers for behavioral psychologists typically require a graduate degree and licensure. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2023, the average salary for behavioral psychologists, who must have a doctorate and state license to practice, is $110,300 a year with the top 10% making well over $150,000. Behavioral psychology doctoral graduates employed as clinical or counseling psychologists make an average salary of $106,600.

The overall job outlook for psychologists is projected to grow by six percent from 2022-2032, faster than the national average, adding 12,800 openings on average each year. The BLS projects strong employment growth for many mental health-related professionals, including those with behavioral psychology specializations. Employment of mental health, behavioral disorder, and substance use counselors is expected to grow by 18% between 2022 and 2032, and marriage and family therapist positions by 15%.

Behavioral Psychologist Outlook and Salaries
Occupation Average Annual Salary (May 2023) Projected New Jobs Between 2022-2032
Behavioral psychologists $110,300 2,900
Mental health, behavioral disorder, and substance use counselors $60,080 71,500
Marketing managers $166,410 23,700
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists $67,880 2,400
Marriage and family therapists $68,730 10,600
Source: BLS

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Behavioral Psychologist

What is the role of behavioral psychology?

Behavioral psychology research and clinical applications address the ways learning occurs through the reinforcement of behavior, whether positive or negative, and how behavior can be modified by controlling the environment. Behavioral psychology studies how human behavior is learned through conditioned interaction with the environment in response to external stimuli.

Behavioral psychologists work with patients to diagnose behavioral disorders and develop treatment plans. These professionals use multiple techniques and empirically based applications. Common approaches often include talk-focused cognitive therapy, behavioral therapies that help patients identify and change harmful behaviors, and applied behavioral analysis that rewards positive behaviors in place of previously learned patterns of negative behaviors.

The two major areas of behavioral psychology are experimental behavior analysis and applied behavior analysis. The experimental focus studies human behavior with the purpose of adding to the general body of scientific knowledge. Applied behavior analysis uses scientific knowledge about behavioral principles and therapies to treat patients in clinical settings.

Psychologists analyze internal mental processes, such as memory, emotion, and perception, to help individuals address their mental health conditions. On the other hand, behaviorists are less concerned with internal thought processes, focusing primarily on observable behaviors resulting from environmental influences and ways to modify harmful behaviors.

Page last reviewed on June 5, 2024

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