Behavioral psychology, frequently referred to as behaviorism, is the section of psychology that focuses on human behaviors that are observable. In this study of psychology you will be primarily focusing on concepts of punishment, conditioning, and reinforcement, as well as operant and classical conditioning. This branch of psychology operates on the fact that all behaviors are a result of conditioning. Conditioning occurs as individuals interact with their surroundings and their environment.
Although behavioral psychology is one of the main courses that you will be required to take in an introductory psychology degree program, there are many factors and concepts that are contained in this section of psychology that can be confusing. Generally speaking, as a behavioral psychologist you will work on the premise that an individual’s responses to specific environmental stimuli is what shapes the behaviors that we exhibit. In addition, you will be studying an individual’s behavior in a systematic and observable approach that has no bearing on their mental state or capacities. It is also likely that you will only pay attention to observable behaviors that can be appropriately studied; subjective, internal states such as mood, cognition, and emotion are not considered observable.
In your capacity as a behavioral psychologist it is highly likely that you will need to get your career started as a psychologist. You will spend the majority of your time observing, recording, and interpreting your patients’ behaviors, issues, and problems. It will be important that you can identify patterns within what a patient does in their life and use that information to hopefully improve their emotional and mental health. You may also find that you are responsible for administering specific conditioning interventions that can help your patients battle the mental or emotional issues they are dealing with in their lives. With your educational background and degree you could also become a counselor. Formal training in behavioral psychology can well prepare you for the world of counseling because the techniques of behavior modification are widely used as a means of helping patients overcome unwanted habits or issues that they are dealing with.
Often, individuals who work in the section of behavioral psychology choose to specialize in a specific area such as vocational, mental health, family counseling, educational, or rehabilitation. It is common for behavioral psychology specialists to focus their work efforts on substance abuse counseling or behavioral disorders, since these areas are most closely related to the branch of behavioral psychology. You will likely spend much of your time using either classical conditioning techniques or operant conditioning techniques. Classical conditioning uses paired stimuli that are intended to elicit separate responses. Operant conditioning focuses more on the association that exists between a voluntary behavior and its consequence.
In order to work as a behavioral psychologist you will need a graduate level degree. Although in some cases a master’s degree is sufficient for you to be a counselor, you will need a doctor of psychology degree in order to practice as a psychologist. Your formal training will be focused on areas such as personality disorders, developmental psychology, applied behavioral analysis, and behavioral problems. It is common for colleges and universities to require their prospective behavioral psychologists to complete a practicum, which will allow them to apply what they have learned in the classroom in a real world setting with direct supervision from a mentoring psychologist. Regardless of whether you work in the capacity of a counselor or as a behavioral psychologist you will need to obtain licensure once you have finished school. Specific licensing requirements will vary from one state to another, so you will want to check into what is required by the state you reside in.