Positive Psychology Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a positive psychology program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of master's and doctoral degrees, as well as potential careers.
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Master's and PhD in Positive Psychology at a Glance

Positive psychology is a new field of psychology that has grown up since the late 1990s. Critiquing the approaches that psychology has taken since the mid-twentieth century as too focused on negative aspects, such as psychological illnesses, it strives to understand the psychology of well-functioning people and develop ways that positive behaviors can be reinforced. These approaches go far beyond believing in the 'power of positive thinking' and strive to understand the roots of happiness, satisfaction and positive social relationships. Although there are no firm numbers on job growth, the demand for psychologists as a whole is rising, predicted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to rise 22% from 2010-2020.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in applying positive psychology theory in working with individuals or organizations People who seek to work in academia as professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Industrial or organizational psychologist ($95,000)*
- Life coach (varies widely)*
- University professor ($68,000)*, Clinical psychologist ($68,000, may require a Psy.D. in some states)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time 3-5 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10-16 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis or capstone project
- Master's exams
- Roughly 25 graduate-level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal and dissertation
- Teaching or field requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability Available in hybrid format No

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

Master's in Positive Psychology

A master's degree in positive psychology can be applied across many fields, depending on the expertise of the student. Some schools may offer specializations as well, applying positive psychology to such areas as developmental studies and organizational studies. Students may be either traditional or non-traditional, with some working their way into the field immediately after completing undergraduate programs, while others are mid-career or second-career professionals set on applying the knowledge of positive psychology to their current careers.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Potential employees with master's degrees in positive psychology are relatively rare, allowing you, as a graduate, to offer something unique to organizations
  • These master's degrees can and have been applied across a number of fields, where these new approaches are making inroads towards professional acceptance
  • The popularity of positive psychology has spurred demand for people who understand the research and can apply this knowledge to organizations

Cons

  • Because of the newness of the field of study, positive psychology lacks the infrastructure and institutional support that ties traditional psychology to certain career outcomes
  • Many positions are research-related in this growing field, so some students may find the training of a PhD program necessary for their goals
  • A master's degree in psychology may not prepare you to work as a psychologist

Courses and Requirements

Instead of focusing, as traditional psychology does, on aberrant behavior, positive psychology focuses on what is going well, and how people and organizations can measure and promote these behaviors. Courses may not only offer the opportunity to truly contrast these two approaches, but also develop measures of positive activities and interactions. Programs may also offer an introduction to research methods, teaching students not just to apply these concepts, but also to measure them statistically and rigorously. Topics covered may include:

  • Development in traditional psychology and positive psychology
  • Developmental psychology and life stages
  • Flow and positive contexts
  • Statistical analysis and research methodologies in positive psychology
  • Understanding and promoting innovation and creativity

Online Degree Options

As of October 2012, no programs focusing completely on positive psychology are available. Nonetheless, prospective students may seek out a hybrid-format program with limited on-campus requirements designed for working professionals. Such programs provide a flexibility that allows students to develop their educational credentials without leaving their careers.

Stand Out with This Degree

As positive psychology is a recent and growing field, you may benefit from seeking out mentors who are leaders in the approach. Following research publications to keep up with the state of the field and communicating your interest to possible mentors can provide context and create networking opportunities, assisting in steps from selecting a program to developing a research topic. Combining an interest in research with application of ideas to personal areas of expertise developed through work and career experience can form a strong synergy and promote career growth by defining a niche of expertise.

Doctorate in Positive Psychology

The field of positive psychology has grown since its inception under the then-president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Positive psychology is a new field related to traditional psychology, and although it has a different research focus, the relationship between the two disciplines has not yet been fully defined and solidified, and those teaching in positive psychology programs have earned doctorates themselves in other disciplines, especially psychology.

Because the field of positive psychology is relatively new, the opportunities to earn a PhD or Psy.D. in the specialty is limited. Nonetheless, such programs are becoming available, and it is also possible to earn a degree from a psychology program while researching positive psychology. In order to do so, students should research possible mentors at psychology programs and contact them in advance.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Because of the newness of the field, students have the ability to come in on the forefront of its expansion
  • Research and teaching positions in universities can not only include positive psychology programs, but also traditional psychology and management programs
  • A doctoral degree in psychology is commonly required for licensure to work as psychologist

Cons

  • Because of the limited number of programs that focus entirely on positive psychology, competition for entry may be high
  • Research and teaching positions at colleges and universities are generally extremely competitive
  • The rarity of these programs makes it likely that interested students will need to relocate to find a suitable program

Courses and Requirements

The coursework requirements for PhD programs are similar to those for the master's degree. PhD programs, however, provide a more in-depth knowledge of research methods in preparation for dissertation research. PhD programs may also require other professional development activities, including student teaching, field experience and portfolio development. The process of original dissertation research sets a PhD program apart from other graduate programs, as these programs prepare candidates to pursue their own careers in research and teaching settings.

Online Degree Options

As of October 2012, there are no online or hybrid doctoral programs available in positive psychology. Students interested in seeking out online psychology PhD programs may find a few options online, but careful attention should be paid to both accreditation and state licensing requirements.

Stand Out with This Degree

Although the field of positive psychology's popularity has grown in recent years, it is still a relatively small field. Students looking to stand out with this degree will want to seek out a mentor in the field. Especially for those seeking to develop academic careers, relocating to be close to programs that offer the correct coursework and best opportunities may be of benefit. Getting involved with current research in the field through assistantships and internships can provide a path to publication and standing above other candidates.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Psychology
      • MS in Psychology - Industrial Organizational Psychology
      • MS in Psychology - Child and Developmental Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

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

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA-Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
      • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Health Psychology
      • MS in Psychology: Industrial & Organizational Psychology
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Grief and Bereavement
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

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

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
  • Online Programs Available
    7. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Psychology - General Psychology
      • M.A. in Psychology - Organizational Leadership
      • MA Psychology - Industrial Organizational Psychology
      • M.A. in Psychology - Business Psychology
      • MA Counseling
      • MA Counseling - Addiction Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in General Psychology
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies
      • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
      • M.A. in Psychology - Industrial Organizational Psychology
      • M.A. in Psychology - Health Psychology
      • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

Featured Schools

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MS in Psychology
  • MS in Psychology - Industrial Organizational Psychology
  • MS in Psychology - Child and Developmental Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

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

Which subject are you interested in?

Ashford University

  • MA-Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
  • MS in Psychology: General Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • M.S. Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?

University of the Rockies

  • Master of Arts in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Organizational Leadership
  • MA Psychology - Industrial Organizational Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Science in General Psychology
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring

What is your highest level of education completed?