A behavioral psychologist is a mental health professional who studies the nature of different human behaviors. He or she might specialize in clinical psychology, helping patients overcome difficulties through behavior modification, or research psychology, conducing experiments and trials to learn more about behavioral principles and the causes of different disorders. To become a behavioral psychologist, an individual must usually obtain at least a master's degree, though many employers prefer candidates with doctorates. Both clinical and research psychologists are typically required to complete one to two years of supervised work before practicing independently.
The first step a person usually takes to become a behavioral psychologist is enrolling in a respected undergraduate psychology program. Most bachelor's degree programs take four years to complete, and include coursework in various psychology subjects. Students receive classroom instruction about general psychology principles, the history of psychological studies, research techniques, statistics, and clinical applications.
Post-baccalaureate programs typically consist of classroom and laboratory instruction specially tailored to the principles of behavioral psychology. Students learn about classical and operant conditioning, behavioral analysis, therapy strategies, and research ethics. A student might choose to work as a research assistant in a university laboratory while completing his or her degree program to gain valuable hands-on experience and better prepare him or her to become a behavioral psychologist. Most schools require individuals to conduct independent research projects and construct theses or dissertations before receiving their degrees.
A new clinical psychologist is usually required to practice under the supervision of established mental health experts for up to two years. In addition, most states and countries require that a new professional pass a written licensing exam to become a behavioral psychologist. The exact content of licensing tests varies by location, but most exams measure an individual's understanding of confidentiality and ethics, behavioral therapy, and basic clinical techniques.
To become a behavioral psychologist in research institutions and universities, a graduate must usually work as an intern or an assistant to experienced professionals for a period of one to two years. An assistant might help set up tests and experiments, record findings, enter data into computer systems, analyze results, and write scientific papers. Once an assistant has proven his or her competence and demonstrated the ability to work unsupervised, he or she is granted the opportunity to begin conducting independent research.