How to Become a Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologist

Behavioral and cognitive psychology sets itself apart from other branches of psychology because it stresses the importance of an empirical approach, referred to as experimental-clinical approach, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). In other words, behavioral and cognitive psychology is focused less on the abstract realm of the mind and emotions, and more on measurable things, such as a person’s overt behavior and brain activity.

When working with clients or conducting research, behavioral and cognitive psychologists employ applied behavior analysis, behavior therapy, and cognitive therapy practices, carefully measuring the effectiveness of their interventions in treating psychological issues such as anxiety and depression, personality disorders, mental disorders, substance abuse problems, and more Behavioral and cognitive psychologists make periodic assessments to determine how well treatment is going, and make necessary modifications to treatment if a patient or client is not showing significant improvement.

What degree is required to become a behavioral and cognitive psychologist?

Most behavioral and cognitive psychologists enter clinical, counseling, or research positions, which typically require a Ph.D. in psychology, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Students may enroll in a traditional or online behavioral and cognitive psychology degree program, both of which provide a solid education and incorporate internship opportunities. Students should make sure that any behavioral and cognitive psychology degree online is accredited by the APA to ensure they are being adequately prepared for professional practice in psychology.

In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, psychologists must be licensed to practice psychology independently, according to the BLS. After a psychologist is licensed, he or she may eventually seek board certification in cognitive and behavioral psychology through the American Board of Professional Psychology. Board certification requires that candidates have a doctoral degree, a license to practice, documented course work in cognitive psychology, and professional experience in behavioral and cognitive psychology. They must also provide letters of reference from colleagues and supervisors attesting to their professional knowledge of the specialty. While board certification is not required as a psychologist, it may be more desirable in the eyes of some employers.

How long does it take to become a behavioral and cognitive psychologist?

Students who want to enter the field of behavioral and cognitive psychology typically commit one to two years to a master’s program and three to seven years in a doctoral program. Much of the time commitment of such programs comes from the rigor of graduate study and the demands of doctoral research, which may take a number of years in and of itself. Predoctoral and postdoctoral experience, internships, and residencies also represent a time commitment as they are required for obtaining licensure. While licensure requirements vary by state, students generally must have completed a doctoral degree, an internship, and acquired one to two years of supervised experience, according to the BLS.

What is a behavioral and cognitive psychologist’s salary?

The median yearly salary for psychologists was $68,640 as of May 2010, according to the BLS. However, that figure takes into account all types of psychologists, and isn’t indicative of behavioral and cognitive psychologists specifically. Actual salaries will vary significantly based on a psychologist’s experience, location, and employer or client base.