Although he did not necessarily consider himself a behaviorist, Ivan Pavlov was one of the founders of behavioral psychology. When he trained dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell, he developed the method of classical conditioning that has since been used to help millions of people overcome phobias and addictions. Similarly, B. F. Skinner’s experiments in operant conditioning led to the realization that people could be trained to overcome the worst addictions by using a system of rewards and punishments. Together, these theories form the foundation of behavioral psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Why a Master's Degree?
Although behavioral psychology graduate schools vary, most programs take at least two years to complete. Students will receive a thorough education in applied and theoretical behavioral science; during the course of a two-year program, they will be inundated with course work that deals with various research methods. Depending on the program, either an internship or practicum may be required. Many schools also require the completion of a master’s thesis. Graduates look forward to careers in clinics, hospitals, and schools, as well as the private sector.
Inside a Behavioral Psychology Master’s Degree Program
Generally, students can expect to spend four to six semesters taking course work toward the degree. The typical master’s program will require a number of foundational courses in the principles and methods of behavior analysis. Classes tailored specifically toward particular populations, such as the developmentally disabled and substance abusers, are also usually offered. Many of the best programs are moving into organizational management issues, and now offer courses on adult education and performance management, as well.
As these are graduate programs, students can expect to take courses in both qualitative and quantitative research methods. For those programs that require it, students will demonstrate proficiency with a research method when they present, write, and defend a master’s thesis. Most schools also require an extensive internship or practicum prior to graduation.
What’s Next for Behavioral Psychology Master’s Degree Holders?
Those who graduate with master’s degrees in behavioral psychology can expect to find long-term employment with relative ease. Many go directly into counseling where, according to the BLS, they earn a median annual salary of $42,250. Others choose to assume managerial positions in clinics and other education settings; these graduates enjoy median annual salaries of $62,740. Whatever their choice, graduates in the field can expect total job availability to increase by 10% by 2024.
Many graduates with a master’s degree choose to continue their education through a certificate program in behavioral psychology; certificate holders can become Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA). People with this certification are in high demand to conduct behavioral assessments and develop interventions in clinics, organizations, and private practices. With the certification, these people are also qualified to teach, research, and publish in scholarly journals.