The field of behavioral psychology concerns itself with the idea that every type of behavior is learned. It focuses on the conditioning that human beings experience when they interact with their personal environment. Behavioral psychologists are analytical and like to observe things, determining how external factors affect the way people make decisions. To become a behavioral psychologist, a person must first complete a doctoral degree. This means that it requires a significant investment of both money and time, not in the least because, once the degree has been completed, the graduate will have to work under direct supervision for some time as well. However, those who have done it will always tell you that it was worth the investment, and that it paid off.
So what are the things you can do with a behavioral psychology degree?
- You can specialize in a variety of focus areas within behavioral psychology. This means that, at any point during your career, you can take a slight change in direction and keep things interesting.
- You can become involved in research, which many behavioral psychologists find interesting. This means you will have the opportunity to develop new theories on behavior and perhaps even find a definitive answer with regards to the age-old nature versus nurture debate. When you perform research, you will generally work not just with humans but also with animals.
- You will have a direct role to play in the improvement of human behavior. If you so choose, you can work in a clinical role with people of any age who have behavioral difficulties, and try to help them restore their well-being.
- You can work in a variety of settings, including universities (either to teach or to conduct research), healthcare settings, private practices, federal government, the correctional system, schools, and more.
- You can become a behavioral interventionist. This means that you will focus on identifying harmful or risky behavior, and helping those people who exhibit those behaviors to make changes by enforcing positive thinking instead. Behavioral interventionists are often required in schools and home environments, and also in the field of substance abuse and addiction. To be a behavioral interventionist, you must have excellent communication skills and be really patient. Furthermore, you must be ready to deal with violent behavior, and to accept that many people do not want the help that you are offering.
- You can become a mental health case manager. In this role, you will work together with psychiatrists in order to help them screen new patients to determine the type of treatment that is most suitable to them. As part of a multidisciplinary team that includes the patient, you will determine which treatments are most relevant, and carry them out as and when required. You will also track progress so that you can report back on the effectiveness of any interventions put in place. To be a mental health case manager, you must have excellent record keeping and communication skills.
- You can choose to become a special education teacher. While this does require further training, it is a popular career option with behavioral psychologists, because they feel they can make a greater impact on young people, ensuring they can grow into happy, healthy adults. In this role, you will ensure that children learn according to their capacity, while at the same time equipping them with important life skills. Again, having excellent communication skills is vital for this particular role. You will be an advocate for the child, ensuring that both the educational system and the child’s family are able to put measures in place to improve outcomes.
- You can become an outpatient therapist. This is most often related to the field of substance abuse, which means that you will provide therapy, counseling, and other forms of treatment to those who are recovering from a substance abuse disorder. While this traditionally involved working with young adults up to the age of around 40, the face of addiction is changing tremendously. More and more often, children aged between 12 and 17 require addiction treatment, as do the elderly. You can also choose to work as an inpatient therapist, which means you will perform the same types of duties, but in a much more intensive way, and in a setting where patients remain for the duration of their treatment.
- You can work as a behavioral scientist, which is a research position. Here, you will work directly with individuals, exposing them to a variety of external and internal stimuli, in order to determine the impact of such stimuli on their behavior. In this role, you will often work closely with neurologists, who will aim to determine the biological impact of the various stimuli on the brain, which you as a behavior scientist will then interpret in terms of their psychological effects. This role brings together the hard sciences with the soft sciences, creating a unique perspective overall.
- You can work for the government. The government, across all different departments, implements policies that affect people all over the country, and even beyond. In many cases, they want to determine the psychological impact of a new policy before deciding on whether or not to implement it. Once implemented, they also want to monitor the psychological response to those changes. All of these can be done by a behavioral psychologist and, in this role, you will be indirectly responsible for the improvement of lives all over the country.
These are just some of the things you can do with a degree in behavioral psychology, and there are many more. This demonstrates just how wide this particular field of psychology is. And this is also why more and more sub-specializations are starting to occur. For instance, parapsychology – the psychology behind paranormal events – was once an obscure element of behavioral psychology. Today, it has become a science in its own right.
- Careers in Psychology. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/careers/resources/guides/careers.aspx
- Psychologists. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm