What Should I Major in if I Want To Work in Behavior Therapy?

For many jobs that required advanced degrees or training, it can be hard to know how to best prepare as an undergraduate. Completing relevant coursework as an undergrad is one of the best ways you can prepare yourself for a master’s degree or a future career in your chosen field, but different areas of study have different paths to a career. Choosing the right major is essential for anyone considering a career in behavior analysis or behavioral psychology, especially since most will go on to pursue a master‘s degree in the field of study. Admissions can be competitive for the top programs, so you want to put your best foot forward. Keep reading to learn about which college majors are best suited to pursuing that dream.

What is behavior therapy?

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First, it’s important to understand what precisely behavior therapy is. Behavior therapy is a term used to describe psychotherapy techniques that seek to identify, limit, and potentially change harmful and destructive behaviors that are often the function of a mental health condition. The idea behind behavior therapy is that behavior that can be learned can also be changed or unlearned, and treatment focuses on management of these behaviors. This type of counseling can be especially helpful for those with autism spectrum disorder, or mood disorders like depression or anxiety. It can also be used to manage phobias and issues related to substance abuse.

The origins of behavior therapy and behavioral psychology lie in the 20th century. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, aimed to use changing negative thought patterns as a way to mitigate or stop damaging behavior. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines CBT as therapy that “focuses on exploring relationships among a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.” The belief is that working through these issues can help foster healthier behavioral choices that significantly improve the quality of life for the patient.

What should you major in to prepare for a career in behavior therapy?

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The typical path to becoming a behavior therapist is to receive your undergraduate college degree, then apply for a masters in behavior therapy. That means your major will be a big part of evaluating your application to decide if you’re a good candidate for a master’s degree in a behavioral psychology program. Psychology, sociology, social work, and, naturally, behavioral science are all ideal majors for someone hoping to continue on to being a behavior therapist or mental health counselor.

Getting into elite colleges and graduate programs can be challenging. It’s worth looking into college counselor rates to determine if you can afford to invest in a little help with your applications. Everything from your letter of recommendation to your internships to your undergraduate GPA will be heavily weighted in the process, so you can’t afford to neglect any aspect of your application. Any edge you can give yourself is important, which is why having the right major for your bachelor’s degree can be a big difference-maker when it comes time to separate yourself from other applicants.

Choosing your college major is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as an undergraduate, and it can impact your career in meaningful ways even after you graduate. When pursuing a career in behavior psychology, majors like psychology, social work, or behavioral science will give you a solid foundation for the more advanced skills you’ll learn about when completing your graduate degree. While there are a wide variety of majors that could be applicable to a career in behavior therapy, and there are successful applicants to advanced degree programs from many of them, that doesn’t mean there aren’t particularly relevant fields of study that might better help aspiring psychologists.