Behavioral Health Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a behavioral health graduate program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers
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Studying Behavioral Health: Degrees at a Glance

Behavioral health is the study of normal and abnormal behavior. Behavioral health programs are often linked with public health and analyze how factors such as neurology, environment, society and mental health affect human behavior. Areas within behavioral health include social work, sociology, psychology and neurology. Individuals with undergraduate degrees in these areas may benefit from a master's degree in behavioral health.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of employment for behavioral health counselors employed in residential facilities is projected to increase by 44% from 2010-2020. Based on BLS data, the need for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is expected to increase by 27% from 2010-2020.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Counselors and therapists who want to pursue an additional degree -Individuals who want to be professors
-Individuals seeking to pursue research in behavioral health
-Individuals seeking to change public policy in the field of public health
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) -Epidemiologist ($70,000)*
-Medical and health manager ($96,000)*
-Social and community service managers ($63,000)*
--Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors ($41,000)*
-Marriage and family therapists ($49,000)*
-Mental health counselors ($43,000)*
- University professor ($74,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years after the master's
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Master's degree in related field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Behavior Health

A master's degree in behavioral health can be found on its own or as a concentration in a public health program. This degree is suitable for those interested in pursuing areas of therapy or counseling, focusing on substance abuse and behavior disorders. Individuals who already have a degree in social work or psychology may find a master's degree in behavioral health to be useful in integrating their professional studies in a public health capacity. Your program will help you identify the relationships and similarities between the various areas of behavioral health - psychology, environment, mental health -- to create comprehensive solutions. In addition to earning a degree, you will also need to pursue licensure in the state where you practice.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors with graduate degrees are able to offer multiple services to their clients and may be preferred by employers.
  • Employment is expected to increase as more people seek treatment for addictions and disorders.
  • Additional growth may be due to sentencing of drug offenders to treatment instead of incarceration.

Cons

  • Each state has licensing requirements for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors.
  • Counselors often have to manage large workloads with limited resources, which can lead to a stressful work environment.
  • The curriculum includes research and data, which should be a consideration for those who are more interested than the outreach or planning responsibilities within the field.

Courses and Requirements

To prepare for research in human and community behavior, you can expect to take courses in statistics, research and epidemiology. You will also receive instruction in counseling techniques for various ages and demographic groups. If your program is part of a larger public health program, you can expect to take courses in health assessment and program planning. Your coursework may prepare you for counseling certification, such as the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor or Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Most states require licensing for professionals. You may also have to complete an internship and/or thesis.

Online

Most master's degree programs in behavioral health are traditional on-campus programs. However, you will find several hybrid programs that offer some coursework online or during evenings and weekends. It is more likely that you will find online programs in public health, although those programs may not offer a concentration in behavioral health.

Get Ahead With This Degree

Complement your degree by gaining relative experience, finding healthy stress relievers and learning about technology that can improve your work and community impact.

  • Find ways to cope with stress. In the highly stressful field of social work and public health, you become an asset to your employer when you have found a way to manage work stress in healthy ways including a hobby or exercise.
  • Licensing and certification boards generally require a certain number of clinical hours to qualify. Review the licensing requirements in your state to ensure that if your practicum does not offer what you need, you find work or an internship that will count toward your licensing requirements.
  • Stay abreast of software and online tools used for counseling that could expand the ways in which you reach clients.

Alternative Degree

With a master's degree in social work, you will learn to assess individuals and prepare plans to help clients cope with challenges in their everyday lives. All clinical social workers must have a master's degree in social work. Your coursework will include courses similar to those in behavioral health including assessment and counseling techniques. Based on projections from the BLS, there will be a 25% employment growth for social workers from 2010-2020, which is faster than average.

PhD in Behavioral Health

There are two types of doctoral programs in behavioral health. The traditional program is steeped in research and designed for individuals seeking to define public health policy. The other type of degree -- a DBH or a DPH with a concentration in behavioral health -- is designed for individuals seeking leadership positions in behavioral and public health. Those programs require more coursework outside of the research area. With a DPH, you can become a health care executive, implementing public health plans for a hospital or government organization. Enrollment for PhD programs is highly competitive, and you may need to have experience in the field before applying.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The changing health care landscape will provide robust opportunities for ground breaking research that can effect public policy.
  • With your PhD, you will be able to teach courses at public and private universities and colleges, as well as online universities.
  • Many professors enjoy a flexible schedule, some even work part-time. This will give you the opportunity to focus on your research.

Cons

  • The changing landscape of healthcare provides multiple challenges for health care executives having to keep up with policy and legislation changes.
  • Despite expected growth in enrollment, public institutions that rely on government funding may not be able to employ professors in lean economic times.
  • According to BLS postsecondary education is a highly competitive employment market, partially due to a trend towards hiring part-time and adjunct professors instead of tenure-track positions.

Courses and Requirements

PhD programs are generally customizable, and you will likely work with an advisor to develop a plan of coursework directed towards your dissertation and career goals. Your coursework will include core courses in research, epidemiology and statistics. Students pursuing DBH or DPH programs will have more courses in public health theory, including ones in leadership, management, health promotion, health communication and intervention techniques. You can expect to take seminar courses and to complete a dissertation.

Online Degrees

You can find a few accredited online PhD programs in behavioral health or public health with a concentration in behavioral health. However, most programs that you find will be on-campus. Although some schools may offer some online courses, most PhD programs will require a full-time commitment to complete the program.

Stand Out with This Degree

Build on your education by improving the soft skills that employers prefer.

  • There are a plethora of health conferences relating to health, obesity, mental health, etc. Attending conferences related to your interest area may be beneficial and keep you up-to-date in the field. You will get tips on current research and research trends. Some organizations offer discounts for students.
  • Whether you are communicating health programs to community members or interacting one-on-one with someone facing health challenges, you will have to learn to communicate effectively for different types of people.

Degree Alternatives

You may want to consider a PhD program in epidemiology. The degree in epidemiology is often found in the school of public health. You will learn research techniques for studying population behavior. Upon graduation, you will have the skills to effectively research public health issues. Similar to the programmatic outcomes of a doctoral degree in public health, a PhD in Epidemiology will provide you with the skills to conduct research that effects public health policies. Your program will provide coursework with research guided by faculty. According to BLS data, employment in epidemiology is expected to grow faster than the average from 2010-2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Health Psychology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
      • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
      • MS in Psychology: Industrial & Organizational Psychology
      • Master in Christian Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
      • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies
      • Master of Science in Health Psychology
      • Master of Science in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
      • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • MS in Psychology
      • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
      • MSPY - Industrial/Organizational Psychology Specialization
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • MS in Educational Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Sacred Heart University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSAP - Community Psychology
      • MSAP - General Track
      • MSAP - Industrial/Organizational Technology
  • San Francisco, CA

    San Francisco State University

  • Glassboro, NJ

    Rowan University

  • Laurel, MD

    Maryland University of Integrative Health

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Health Psychology
  • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization

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Northcentral University

  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies
  • Master of Science in Health Psychology

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Kaplan University

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • MS in Psychology
  • Master: Psychology/General Psychology

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Indiana Wesleyan University

  • M.S. Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring

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Sacred Heart University

  • MSAP - Community Psychology
  • MSAP - General Track
  • MSAP - Industrial/Organizational Technology

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