The Best Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Programs
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As the world continues to change, behavioral psychologists and their studies have become more essential than ever.
Behavioral psychology is a theoretical approach to psychology that examines human behavior. Most schools do not have doctoral programs in behavioral psychology. Instead, they offer psychology doctorate degrees in applied behavior analysis or behavioral neuroscience.
Doctoral students in behavior analysis research how different environments affect human actions and how to modify behavior. A Ph.D. in this field opens doors to clinical, research, and academic careers. Graduates with a behavior analysis doctorate can earn their professional licenses to become psychologists. They can also pursue leadership roles in behavior analysis organizations and academic or research careers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists earn a median salary of over $82,000, which is above the average for all careers. A doctorate degree in behavior analysis can also lead to a career as a psychology professor, community services manager, or behavior analyst. Many of these careers are projected to report positive job growth rates from 2019-2029.
This guide introduces the best online doctorate programs in behavior analysis. The programs are not ranked, but rather listed in alphabetical order. Prospective applicants can use this information to identify the program that provides the best fit for their interests and professional goals.
The Best Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Programs
Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Programs Ranking Guidelines
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Featured Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Programs
What Is an Online Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology?
A doctorate in behavior analysis qualifies graduates for research, academic, and leadership roles. Many psychology career paths require candidates to possess doctorates. For example, licensed psychologists and psychology professors typically hold Ph.D. or Psy.D. degrees.
During a doctoral program in behavior analysis, graduate students study applied behavioral science, experimental analysis, community health, and behavioral assessment. Coursework builds strong analytical and research skills. Doctoral students also gain clinical abilities through internships and practicums.
Earning a doctorate in psychology takes several years. Most Ph.D. programs take 5-7 years to complete the coursework, internship, and dissertation requirements. Psy.D. programs generally take a slightly shorter 4-6 years, including supervised clinical experience.
Admission requirements for behavior analysis doctoral programs vary among universities. Most doctoral programs in psychology require an accredited bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field for admission.
Applicants do not need master's degrees in psychology to enter doctoral programs. However, many programs set prerequisite undergraduate coursework in psychology and statistics.
Each candidate typically must provide GRE scores, a resume, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. Online programs often conduct interviews to determine fit.
Choosing an Online Doctoral Behavioral Psychology Program
Before pursuing an online doctorate in psychology, prospective doctoral students must find the right program for their needs and goals. Online programs prioritize flexibility, but applicants should consider whether their prospective programs feature any in-person classes or field experience requirements.
Other key considerations include cost, eligibility for in-state tuition or tuition deductions, and program length. Applicants can also narrow their options by exploring course formats, the number of required credits, and any additional fees. Additionally, psychology degree-seekers should look into specialization options, coursework requirements, and faculty.
Accreditation for Online Behavioral Psychology Degree Programs
Prospective applicants should research university and program accreditation before applying to doctorate in psychology programs. Accredited universities meet the highest standards for educating students and granting degrees. Accredited degrees meet the requirements for professional licenses and certifications.
The American Psychological Association (APA) grants accreditation to doctoral programs. However, APA only accredits programs with in-person components, including hybrid programs.
What Else Can I Expect From a Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology Program?
During a doctoral program in behavior analysis, each graduate student chooses a specialization area, such as neuroscience and behavior, the psychology of learning, or organizational behavior. Doctoral candidates strengthen their skills through specialized coursework and hands-on internships before completing dissertations.
Common Courses for an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology
- Organizational Behavior Management: In organizational behavior management courses, graduate students explore organizational behaviors, productivity, and efficiency. Students examine what psychological approaches can be taken to encourage staff development, improve performance, and increase behavioral safety. The class prepares behavior analysis students for careers in organizational behavior management.
- Regression Analysis: In courses on regression analysis, learners strengthen their statistical and analytical skills. They learn how to analyze psychological data using techniques like probability and statistical modeling. This course prepares doctoral candidates to conduct dissertation research.
- Behaviorism: Courses on behaviorism critically examine the learning theory developed by John B. Watson in the early 20th century. Doctoral students study the evolution of behaviorism as a theory on the acquisition of knowledge. They explore applications of behaviorism in education and in treating behavioral disorders. The class also addresses critiques of behaviorism.
- Research Design: The course examines the research process, along with how to develop research questions and follow ethical practices. Students strengthen their methodological and independent research skills. The course prepares doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations.
- Cognitive Psychology: Graduate-level cognitive psychology courses examine how people process and interpret information. Coursework covers cognitive theory and current research in the field, along with perception, memory, and language acquisition. Other topics include intelligence, learning, and social cognition. In addition to lectures, students may complete labs to study human cognition.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Program?
An online doctorate in psychology requires a substantial time commitment. Earning an online Ph.D. in psychology typically requires at least five years for full-time students. Online Psy.D. programs generally take 4-6 years.
Several factors influence program timelines, including the total credits required, internship length, and enrollment status. Online psychology programs use synchronous and asynchronous course delivery methods.
Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Behavioral Psychology Degree
Doctoral students can pay for their psychology degrees with a mix of scholarships, fellowships, savings, and loans. Online graduate students qualify for several forms of financial aid. The federal student aid program provides grants, loans, and work-study opportunities for graduate degree-seekers. Students qualify by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year.
Graduate students can also find funding through private and local scholarships, private student loans, and institutional aid. Before taking out student loans, apply to scholarship, grant, and fellowship opportunities. Some doctoral programs also support graduate students with assistantships.
Behavioral Psychology Jobs
A behavior analysis degree can lead to diverse career opportunities. With a doctorate in psychology, professionals can work as behavior analysts, psychology professors, and school psychologists. They also pursue careers in community and social services. This section introduces salary data figures, projected job growth rates, and job duties for different career paths.
College professors instruct undergraduate and graduate students. Psychology professors, for instance, teach courses on behavioral psychology, school psychology, and human development. Professors create syllabi, design lectures and assignments, and assess students. Most professors conduct research and publish their findings in scholarly journals.
Most tenure-track professor jobs require each candidate to possess a doctorate. Psychologists with Ph.D. degrees and individuals with a Psy.D. degrees can pursue academic roles. However, a Ph.D. typically provides more focused training for careers in academia.
Behavior analysts assess clients and provide behavior therapy. They examine individual actions, interview clients and their families, and create treatment plans for different behavioral disorders. Techniques in behavior analysis include teaching clients strategies to modify behaviors, including potentially harmful behaviors.
Many behavior analysts specialize in working with people on the autism spectrum. Some behavior analysts specialize in working with children, while others work with adults. This career typically requires a graduate degree in psychology or a related field. Early career behavior analysts complete supervised clinical work to qualify for national certification. In some states, behavior analysts must hold a license.
Social workers help clients manage challenges in their daily lives and behavioral issues. Clinical social workers, for example, diagnose mental and behavioral disorders. Social workers conduct assessments to understand client needs, develop plans and treatment options, and help clients access services.
Social workers also evaluate programs to identify areas for improvement. They manage services that treat clients, and some social workers offer psychotherapy. Clinical social workers must hold graduate degrees and complete supervised clinical experience to receive licensure.
School psychologists promote productive learning techniques and help students address behavioral problems. They work with teachers and school administrators to create effective learning environments and improve teaching techniques. School psychologists also assess students, meet with parents to discuss emotional or behavioral issues, and study learning and behavior in educational settings.
This career path requires strong communication and analytical skills. School psychologists generally hold doctorates or education specialist degrees. Most school psychologists hold state licenses.
Community Health Program Director
Community health program directors manage programs that promote public health and wellness. They oversee staff, manage funding sources, and set departmental goals. These professionals also evaluate programs to determine whether they meet community needs. They suggest improvements to current programs and recommend new initiatives.
A community health program director often needs a graduate degree in a field related to their organization. Most also bring work experience in their field and strong leadership and communication skills. A community health program director does not need a license.
Behavioral Psychology Professional Organizations
Professional organizations in psychology connect students with established professionals and help doctoral candidates transition into their careers. Many of these associations offer professional development resources, networking opportunities, and career guidance. They often provide student membership discounts, as well. Learn more about psychology professional organizations below.
Interview With a Behavioral Psychologist
Dr. Kaye Cook is a professor and academic chair of psychology at Gordon College, a small liberal arts college in New England. She is a research and teaching developmental psychologist, having recently published a monograph with Dr. Dale Hay on the developmental origins of prosocial behavior and aggression. Her research is currently focused on forgiveness across cultures and religions. She will serve as Fulbright scholar in Indonesia in spring 2022.
What level of education do you have, and what did you look for in your psychology programs?
I hold a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, having applied to both developmental and clinical psychology programs in order to study children's emotions behaviorally.
Although I long favored clinical over developmental, when I had to choose, I chose research. I realized that I was less interested in cognitive than emotional behavior and clinical work than research. Even though I am a licensed clinician and enjoy using behavioral methods, I am also a teacher and researcher. What do people do that reveals feelings? What methodologies capture the person's emotions in a behavioral world?
My graduate school professor, Dr. Harriet Rheingold, believed that simple research could answer complex questions. She studied behavior, without making assumptions as much as possible, and sought creative methodologies by which she challenged attachment theory and social behavior. Her focus — behavior first — has informed my work in the classroom, the lab, and the clinic, where at different times I have been a therapist, an expert witness for immigration cases, and a pediatric psychologist.
What classes or experiences were the most beneficial (personally or professionally) in your behavioral psychology program?
Most beneficial to me, oddly enough, have been classes in research methodology, animal behavior, and behavior analysis. Research methodology courses taught me to think in terms of frameworks and outcomes, animal behavior courses taught me to observe rather than anthropomorphize, and behavior analysis courses taught me to analyze behavior with the goal of improving lives.
Together, the breadth of these courses has taught me to pay attention to macro- as well as micro-level factors in behavior. Recent statistical advances are impressive (see, e.g., the analytic template to an outcome-wide approach, which can be used to assess complex causal effects, VanderWeele et al., 2020), but much more is needed.
What was one of the biggest challenges of your behavioral psychology program, and what advice would you have for someone just starting out?
One of the biggest challenges for me was making the leap from the undergraduate stance of receiving information to being responsible for one's own learning.
Do not be afraid to explore unusual avenues or complex questions; rather, attempt to frame questions appropriately complexly while studying them simply.
Do not be afraid of statistics. I have seen students who fear math borrow its lens to transform what appears incomprehensible and unmanageable into something deeply understandable. Be willing to let this happen to you.
Frequently Asked Questions About Getting a Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology
A Ph.D. focuses on research and academic career paths, while a Psy.D. trains psychologists for careers in practice. Both degrees can lead to employment as a psychologist, researcher, or professor.
A doctorate in psychology meets the requirements for psychologist licensure. Graduates can work as psychology researchers, clinical psychologists, school psychologists, and psychology professors.
Several universities offer online Ph.D. in psychology programs. Distance learners complete coursework in a virtual learning environment and meet any in-person requirements in their local areas.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.
Reviewed by: Megan Pietrucha, Psy.D.
Megan Pietrucha, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who currently practices in the Chicago area. She holds a bachelor's in psychology from Illinois Wesleyan University and a master's and doctorate in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University. Her clinical interests include the treatment of eating and body image concerns, college student and student-athlete mental health, mood disorders, health and wellness, mindfulness, sport and performance psychology, and consultation. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Pietrucha has served as the training director for an APA-accredited internship program and has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in psychology. She has also worked with high school and college athletes and teams, as well as recreational fitness programs, to provide mental skills training for athletic performance and fitness adherence.
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