Over the years, psychology has evolved and different schools of thought have taken center stage. This doesn’t mean that the “old school” way of thinking is erased forever - it may just take on different names, become a subset of a larger psychology degree, or might be harder to find in traditional health care facilities or universities. This is where behavioral psychology and psychologists stand right now.
Behaviorism became popular in the early 20th century when psychologists discovered that they could “train” subjects (including humans and animals) to perform certain behaviors. This marked a large shift from the previously-center-stage theories of psychoanalysis. Through ideas like operant and classical conditioning, practitioners, parents, and employers discovered that they could shape another person’s behavior and possibly treat certain disorders.
Although this school of thought has been largely pushed aside by ideas based on cognitive psychology and positive psychology, there still are psychologists focused solely on the study of behavior and the application of behavioral psychology. Keep reading to learn more about what this career looks like and how you can become a behavioral psychologist!
What Does a Behavioral Psychologist Do?
A behavioral psychologist studies, observes, and applies their knowledge of behaviorism to change behavior and offer support for this field of psychology. Behavioral psychologists have a special focus on how people interact with their environment and how those interactions shape a person’s behavior.
Although a behavioral psychologist may gather information or share that information with students, they may also apply their knowledge to help correct or influence behavior. Some correctional facilities or health care providers may prefer a behavioral approach over other approaches in clinical psychology. This is the true beauty of psychology - there is always another way to approach a problem.
A behavioral psychologist may take a strictly behavioral approach or they may study cognitive-behavioral psychology. This combination is more popular and organizations are more likely to hire someone who understands CBT.
To get a job as a psychologist, regardless of your specialty, you will need to get a college degree. In fact, you might need quite a few. Most psychology positions require a Ph.D. or PsyD in Clinical Psychology.
Once you graduate, you are expected to take on an internship so you can receive your board certification and license to practice. Licensure looks different in every state but generally will require your doctorate and the completion of an exam.
Other job requirements will vary depending on the team and clients that you work with. Leadership skills, knowledge in working with people of different age groups, and familiarity with different assessment tools may be part of the requirement for your desired position.
Behavioral Psychologist Reported Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Schools for Behavioral Psychology Degrees
These programs can usually be found under the title of “Behavioral Science.” Behavioral science is an umbrella term for the study of behavior - psychology is a subdiscipline within the larger study of behavioral science. The degree may also be labeled “Behavioral Neuroscience.) As you search for colleges, be sure to directly meet with professors and advisors to discuss the courses that will be involved in each degree program.
Some of the best behavioral science and psychology programs can be found at:
- Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
- Tulane University (New Orleans, LA)
- The University of Texas - Austin (Austin, TX)
- The Ohio State University (Columbus, OH)
- The University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS)
- Columbia University (New York, NY)
- University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
- University of Illinois (Champaign, IL)
- Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
- Arizona State University (Temple, AZ)
Companies That Hire Behavioral Psychologists
Want to help people change their behavior? Want to teach others about behavioral psychology? There is a job for you out there! The following companies and organizations may be looking for behavioral psychologists:
- Correctional centers
- Schools and school districts
- Colleges and universities
- Consulting firms
- Research facilities
Jobs with similar responsibilities may appear under similar names, such as “Clinical Psychologist,” “Behavioral Health Assistant,” or “Mental Health Clinician.” Reach out to employers before you apply for jobs in behavioral psychology.
A behavioral psychologist may also start their own practice specializing in behaviorism.
Interviews from a Behavioral Psychologist
How can you become a behavioral psychologist? Psychologists are ready to tell you! Take a look at videos on YouTube recorded by behavioral psychologists like Dr. Eldad Farhy.
This interview with a neuroscientist gives you a look at what a day in postdoc life looks like!
Once you’ve received your degree, you can start making videos like this, too! The Behavioral Science Guys also have some advice for you - they use their expertise to educate others on how to know if you’re being manipulated!
Famous Behavioral Psychologists
These behavioral psychologists shaped the study of Behaviorism, which once was the leading approach to psychology. Although psychologists have moved “beyond” looking strictly through the lens of behaviorism, the work of these psychologists made an enormous impact on psychology:
- B.F. Skinner created the “Skinner box” in which he conducted experiments on animals and developed the theory of operant conditioning.
- Edward Thorndike worked on learning theory, paving the way for modern educational psychology and the theory of operant conditioning.
- Ivan Pavlov helped to develop the idea of classical conditioning through his well-known experiments with dogs.
- John B. Watson established Behaviorism as a school of psychology.
- Dr. Aaron T. Beck is considered the “father” of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Behavioral Psychology Examples
A behavioral psychologist may hold different job responsibilities depending on the day and their job position:
- Teaching a class on behavioral psychology at a local college
- Conducting research on how rewards influence social media behavior
- Talking to business leaders about employee morale and behavior
- Work with social workers to help addicts understand how they can change their behavior
- Engaging with individual clients through CBT methods