Aspiring behavioral psychologists need to first earn either a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. in the field. A doctoral degree demands a huge time commitment and a large financial investment. Fortunately, graduates enter into a healthy job market. The number of psychologists is projected to increase by 14% from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This guide summarizes what prospective behavioral psychology doctoral candidates can expect from the degree. Read below to learn about program requirements and curricula in addition to potential career paths.

Psy.D. vs. Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology: What's the Difference?

Doctoral degrees in psychology come in two forms. A Psy.D., or doctor of psychology, functions as a professional degree and concentrates on clinical practice, preparing graduates to become practicing psychologists. At the end of their degree, Psy.D. students typically must pass comprehensive examinations. Alternatively, a Ph.D., or doctor of philosophy, allows students to dedicate most of their time to dissertation research. While Ph.D. graduates may also work as psychologists, many continue to focus on their research. Some work as faculty members, while others find research opportunities through government agencies or private companies.

What to Expect in an Online Behavioral Psychology Doctoral Program

A doctoral degree undeniably demands a large commitment from students. Learners dedicate long hours, working for

a degree that might take more than half a decade to achieve. Specific expectations, like the curriculum plan, dissertation, and work experience requirements, vary depending on the school.

Admission Requirements for a Behavioral Psychology Doctoral Program

Individuals interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology online must first earn a bachelor's and master's degree. Admissions departments generally require applicants to hold their previous degrees in psychology or a related field. They may also look in depth at candidates' transcripts to ensure they have completed coursework in topics like social or behavioral sciences and human biology. Frequently, schools require applicants to hold a minimum 3.0, 3.25, or even 3.5 GPA in previous coursework.

Frequently, schools require applicants to hold a minimum 3.0, 3.25, or even 3.5 GPA in previous coursework.

Some universities list GRE scores as an admission requirement, while others consider transcripts or previous work experience in lieu of test scores. Some admissions departments look for students who have already completed significant research. Typically, applicants must also submit a personal statement, a CV or resume, 2-3 references, and a personal statement outlining their academic and professional goals.

Sample Courses for an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology

The curriculum for an online Ph.D. in behavioral psychology online includes both taught and research courses. As students generally enter psychology doctoral programs with an academic background in psychology, courses build upon foundational knowledge by focusing on advanced and complex topics. Some doctoral programs pair behavioral psychology degrees with sustainability or public health, taking an interdisciplinary approach to the topics. In this case, students take both psychology and behavioral analysis courses in addition to courses like social and behavioral aspects of public health.

Learners may also receive course credit for internships or supervised work experience. Discover more examples of common courses in the list below.

Health Psychology

Often, behavioral psychology programs include public health courses in the curriculum. Health psychology bridges the gap between the two subjects, focusing on how people's behavior and personalities interact with their environment to affect their health. The course examines this concept at the individual, community, and population levels.

Principles of Behavioral Analysis

This course covers the conventions of behavior and considers theories and methodologies for analyzing that behavior. Students examine factors and consequences that influence behavior and learn the principles and procedures involved with behavioral change.

Behavioral Change Strategies

Learners in this course study social and psychological theories in affecting behavioral change. The course may go over topics like cognitive behavior therapy and raising consciousness. Students analyze the effectiveness of methods such as reinforcement, punishment, modeling, and stimulus control. Learners may also need to employ self-reflection methods in this course.

Advanced Psychopathy

Psychopathy examines mental disorders and the behavioral manifestations of mental illness in humans. This course often focuses on the emotional and social maladjustments of people suffering from disorders. Students consider environmental factors, like home and school settings, as well as biological factors, such as genetics. The course may also cover illnesses such as eating disorders, substance abuse, schizophrenia, and psychology disorders.

Research Methods

Ph.D. curricula usually include research methods courses, preparing students to accurately and effectively complete their dissertation or thesis research. Students may take quantitative and/or qualitative research methods courses. The course trains learners in research methods like multivariate regression models, specifically with a focus on behavioral psychology.

Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Completion Time

The time it takes to earn a Ph.D. in psychology differs for every doctoral candidate. Doctoral degrees typically involve 60-66 credits. Most schools allow students to work at an individual pace, especially with their dissertation research. However, sometimes the curriculum includes a cohort learning format for taught classes, meaning students study at a fixed pace with a group of peers. Doctoral programs may allow students to transfer credits, which can help candidates graduate sooner.

Students often finish their degrees in four or five years. Those who transfer credit and study full time may be able to graduate within three years. Conversely, part-time students may extend their degrees for several years.

Internship and Research Requirements for a Behavioral Psychology Doctoral Degree

All Psy.D. programs and most Ph.D. programs include clinical internship or supervised work experience requirements. Distance learners typically fulfill this requirement within their local community, often at hospitals or clinics. Credit requirements for internships vary; some students need just three credits while others spend an entire academic year in a clinical setting. For some doctoral programs, students also must pass a comprehensive exam at the end of their program.

Distance learners typically defend their dissertation through virtual conferencing.

Ph.D. candidates should expect to spend a considerable amount of time on their dissertation research. Learners must choose a dissertation topic that interests them and fits into their career goals. Often, at least half of the entire degree consists of dissertation research. Prior to graduation, doctoral candidates must defend their research in front of a committee of faculty members. Distance learners typically defend their dissertation through virtual conferencing.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Behavioral Psychology Graduates

Professionals holding a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in behavioral psychology typically pursue careers as psychologists. Graduates of this degree often become behavioral psychologists, but the psychology industry offers a variety of different positions. Graduates can also find jobs as clinical, counseling, developmental, or rehabilitation psychologists. Alternatively, they can continue to conduct research in the field as university faculty members or experimental psychologists. The table below gives more details on how these positions differ and what graduates can expect from each.

Behavioral Psychologist

Behavioral psychologists can work independently in private practice or at hospitals, counseling clinics, and rehabilitation organizations. These professionals evaluate patient behavior, employing methods like cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy to modify patient behavior patterns and effectively treat patients. Their patients might struggle with things like anxiety disorders, substance abuse, or depression.

Median Annual Salary: $72,519

Clinical Psychologist

In many ways, clinical psychologists fulfill similar job responsibilities as behavioral psychologists. However, clinical psychologists typically work with patients dealing with a greater variety of mental illnesses, and they may employ treatment methods other than behavior modification therapies. Clinical psychologists can work with people dealing with short-term personal problems as well as people wrestling with chronic conditions.

Median Annual Salary: $79,010

Counseling Psychologist

Counseling psychologists meet with patients over an extended period of time. Their treatment methods tend to include more client-centered and humanistic approaches than clinical psychologists. They may also work with general populations or people without mental disorders who contend with personal, emotional, or behavioral struggles.

Median Annual Salary: $79,010

Postsecondary Teacher

When behavioral psychologists earn their Ph.D., they become qualified to work as professors at colleges and universities. Some Ph.D. graduates go straight into academia after graduating. Others spend years working in clinical settings before becoming professors. Postsecondary teachers' responsibilities include teaching college courses and conducting and publishing academic research.

Median Annual Salary: $78,470

Experimental Psychologist

Similar to postsecondary teachers, experimental psychologists usually work at colleges and universities. Although they sometimes teach, their jobs focus on experimentation and research. They typically work on research teams and in laboratory settings. Sometimes government agencies or private companies hire experimental psychologists as well.

Median Annual Salary: $91,966