Cognitive Behavioral Psychology Degree and Career Guide

    Cognitive behavioral psychology involves using a treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to improve the symptoms of psychological disorders. Clinicians who practice CBT treat a variety of psychological disorders by using research-based techniques to help clients and patients change problematic thoughts and behaviors. The American Psychological Association (APA) has recognized Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology as a specialty since 2000 and psychologists who practice CBT can apply to become Board-certified through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Many cognitive behavioral psychologists work in hospitals, psychology clinics, or schools and practice CBT with clients and patients; others work in research settings such as universities to help develop and improve the techniques used in CBT.

    To be eligible for the full range of job options within cognitive behavioral psychology, you will need to complete a doctoral program in psychology that includes training in both research and professional practice (in other words, working with patients and clients). Options for this degree include a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree in clinical, counseling, or school psychology. In some states, such as Alaska, Kansas, and West Virginia, you can become licensed to practice therapy with a master’s degree in psychology, which could allow you to provide CBT to clients and patients. Additionally, a master’s or bachelor’s degree in psychology may qualify you for research assistant positions in settings where cognitive behavioral psychology is being studied.

    Quick Facts

    • There are 26 colleges and universities with cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics programs.1
    • No schools offer a certificate in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics.1
    • No schools offer an associate’s degree in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics.1
    • 17 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics.1
    • 12 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics.1

    For not-for-profit colleges and universities.

    Table of Contents
    Cognitive Behavioral Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework
    Best Value Schools with On-Campus Cognitive Behavioral Psychology Programs
    Select Cognitive Behavioral Psychology Programs
    Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist Career Information
    Becoming a Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist
    Job Description
    Salary and Job Outlook
    Additional Resources
    Frequently Asked Questions

    Degree Requirements and Coursework

    Doctoral programs in counseling, clinical, or school psychology usually take four to seven years to complete (including a year-long required clinical internship) and provide training in both research and professional practice. The minimum required GPA to enter a graduate psychology program is usually 3.0, but a higher GPA helps applicants be more competitive. Most schools do not offer specific cognitive behavioral psychology degree programs, so you will need to look into individual psychology programs to determine which ones offer specialized training in this area. Some programs clearly describe themselves as having a cognitive behavioral orientation to their training and research. In other cases, you may need to contact a program to ask if they provide coursework, clinical placements, and research opportunities in cognitive behavioral psychology.

    Students who attend a program that includes a specialization (or concentration, specialty, or emphasis) in cognitive behavioral psychology can expect to complete advanced coursework in a variety of topics related to professional psychology, such as assessment and diagnosis of psychological disorders. In addition, they will learn how to use general techniques to help clients change their negative thoughts and behaviors and will also become familiar with specific, structured cognitive behavioral treatments (often referred to as “manualized therapies”). Students generally also take multiple courses in statistics, which prepares them to carry out research to help develop new therapies or improve existing ones. Examples of courses students in cognitive behavioral psychology programs might take include:

    • Clinical Internship
    • Clinical PracticumCognitive Behavioral Therapy
    • Cognitive Psychology
    • Ethics of Psychology
    • Introductory and Advanced Statistics
    • Psychological Assessment
    • Psychopathology/Abnormal Psychology
    • Research Methods
    • Theories of Psychotherapy

    Best Value Schools with On-Campus Cognitive Behavioral Psychology Programs

    The following table includes the best value colleges and universities offering training in cognitive behavioral psychology. To create this list, we researched psychology programs at not-for-profit schools offering on-campus graduate degrees in counseling, clinical, and/or school psychology with a low undergraduate net price (under $16,000 per year) and a high undergraduate graduation rate (80% or higher). Higher undergraduate graduation rates tend to be an indicator of a school’s success, and a low net price is important to prospective students as they consider the return on their investment. As of March 2019, all of the schools on this list offer doctoral psychology programs that identify as having a cognitive behavioral orientation or provide training in cognitive behavioral psychology. We’ve also included the relevant degrees offered at each school, US News & World Report rankings, and the percentage of tenured faculty.

    SchoolGrad Degree(s)US News National Rank2Grad Rate1% Tenured Faculty3Net Price1
    University of Washington-SeattlePhD Clinical Psychology;
    PhD School Psychology
    #59 tie84%51%$9,443
    University of North Carolina-Chapel HillPhD Clinical Psychology;
    PhD School Psychology
    #30 tie91%43%$11,199
    Brigham Young University-ProvoPhD Clinical Psychology;
    PhD Counseling Psychology
    #66 tie83%46%$12,979
    University of Texas at AustinPhD Clinical Psychology;
    PhD Counseling Psychology
    PhD School Psychology
    #49 tie83%49%$14,356
    University of California-Los AngelesPhD Clinical Psychology#19 tie91%48%$14,760
    University of FloridaPhD Clinical Psychology;
    PhD Counseling Psychology;
    PhD School Psychology
    #35 tie88%52%$15,283
    University of Wisconsin-MadisonPhD Clinical Psychology;
    PhD Counseling Psychology;
    PhD School Psychology
    #49 tie87%49%$15,910
    University of GeorgiaPhD Clinical Psychology;
    PhD Counseling Psychology;
    PhD School Psychology
    #46 tie85%54%$15,934

    Select Cognitive Behavioral Psychology Programs

    Traditional Master’s Programs

    American University

    American University offers a flexible Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology program with three different tracks: General Psychology, Experimental/Biological Psychology, and Personality/Social Psychology. Students in all tracks are required to complete coursework in both general psychology and research techniques but can tailor the program to match their specific interests. American University’s MA program offers a course in cognitive behavioral therapy as well as multiple courses covering psychological concepts foundational to cognitive behavioral psychology. Additionally, multiple faculty members list research interests in cognitive behavioral psychology or related areas. Students can choose whether to complete an original research project for their master’s thesis. This option can be helpful for students planning to continue on to doctoral programs in psychology, as doctoral programs will sometimes waive thesis requirements for students who completed one in a terminal master’s program. Additionally, some credits from this program may be transferable to doctoral programs.

    Villanova University

    Villanova University’s Master of Science (MS) in Psychology program has been active since 1961. Although it is not intended to be a terminal program for psychological practitioners, students receive foundational training in graduate-level psychology and research that can help prepare them for doctoral programs in psychology. Students in Villanova’s MS in Psychology program are able to customize their coursework to fit their future academic and career goals, and many take courses outside of the department to supplement their psychology instruction. The program offers multiple courses that will help students learn the fundamental concepts involved in cognitive behavioral psychology as well as one course specific to cognitive behavioral techniques. Some of the coursework from Villanova’s MS program may be transferable to a doctoral program in psychology.

    Traditional Doctoral Programs

    University of Texas at Austin

    The University of Texas (UT) at Austin offers PhD programs in Counseling Psychology, School Psychology, and Clinical Psychology, all of which are APA-accredited. Although these programs are housed across two different departments, there are ample opportunities for training in cognitive behavioral psychology through coursework requirements and research experiences. The Clinical Psychology program specifically notes that it emphasizes cognitive-behavioral approaches. Students in all three programs are required to conduct research and receive clinical training in their area of specialization, including practicum placements and a year-long internship. UT’s Department of Educational Psychology, which houses the Counseling Psychology and School Psychology programs, has been ranked by US News & World Report in the Educational Psychology Programs category, while the clinical program has been ranked in the Clinical Psychology Programs category.

    University of Washington-Seattle

    The University of Washington’s (UW) Clinical Psychology PhD program has been APA-accredited since 1948 and identifies as having a “strong cognitive behavioral emphasis” in both their research and clinical work. The program has been ranked by US News & World Report in the Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs category. Students can choose to specialize in general (adult) or child clinical psychology, and multiple core and elective courses in cognitive behavioral psychology are offered. Students also have the opportunity to train in the Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics, which offer clinical and research experience in cognitive-behavioral psychology. Graduates of UW’s Clinical Psychology program will be well-prepared for clinical careers, but the program places a particular emphasis on training scientists who will conduct research that contributes to the practice of cognitive behavioral therapy.

    Online and Hybrid Programs

    Oregon State University

    Students in Oregon State University’s (OSU) online psychology program are required to complete at least 65 quarter credit hours of psychology coursework. This requirement includes several mandatory courses as well as a wide variety of elective options, allowing students to select courses that fit well with their career interests. Students must also take classes outside of the psychology department to fulfill OSU’s liberal arts curriculum requirements, but are able to choose whether to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. Graduates from OSU’s online psychology program should graduate with a breadth of knowledge that allows them to pursue entry-level research positions or graduate programs in psychology. OSU has been highly ranked in US News & World Report’s Online Bachelor’s Programs category.

    University of Florida

    The University of Florida (UF), which has been ranked in US News & World Report’s Online Bachelor’s Programs category, offers an online Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Psychology. Students in this program are required to complete at least 30 credits in psychological theory and research, and courses include topics relevant to cognitive-behavioral psychology. In addition to the psychology coursework requirement, students must also complete classes in math (including statistics) and biological science. Opportunities to earn course credit through independent research and community work are available. Graduates from the University of Florida’s online psychology program may be eligible to apply for graduate psychology programs or research assistant positions.

    Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist Career Information

    How to Become a Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist

    Cognitive behavioral psychologists are clinical psychologists and must become licensed in order to practice in any state. Licensure requires that prospective psychologists attend a doctoral program (either a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a PhD in Psychology); in addition, they must complete extensive supervised experience and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Each state has its own steps to licensure, but the basic steps include:

    1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology or a related field.
    2. Earn an accredited PsyD or PhD in Psychology with a cognitive behavioral focus.
    3. Gain the supervised clinical experience required by your state.
    4. Pass the required exam(s), including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
    5. Apply for and receive a psychology license from your state’s psychology board.
    6. Begin practicing as a cognitive behavioral psychologist.
    7. Complete any continuing education required by your state in order to keep your license current.

    Job Description

    Many cognitive behavioral psychologists work directly with patients to diagnose and treat psychological disorders and may be employed in psychology clinics, hospitals, or other medical settings, or schools. Psychologists who practice cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) help clients and patients improve their functioning and well-being by using research-based techniques to change problematic behaviors and ways of thinking. Other cognitive behavioral psychologists work in settings such as universities or research labs, where they conduct research studies on CBT to improve existing therapies and develop new methods of treatment.

    All doctoral-level programs in cognitive behavioral psychology will include training in both clinical practice and research. Therefore, some cognitive behavioral psychologists have jobs that allow them to spend part of their time using CBT to treat patients and part of their time conducting research on CBT. These positions are usually found at universities or academic medical centers. With a PhD or PsyD in clinical, counseling, or school psychology that includes training in cognitive-behavioral theories and treatments, you can be eligible for employment as a cognitive behavioral psychologist. Cognitive and behavioral clinical practice or research can be carried out in almost any role that requires a doctoral degree in the applied practice of psychology, including:

    • Clinical psychologist
    • Child clinical psychologist
    • Counseling psychologist
    • Geriatric psychologist
    • Health psychologist
    • Professor
    • Research psychologist
    • School psychologist
    • Substance use psychologist

    Salary and Job Outlook

    According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for counseling, clinical, and school psychologists is $87,450.4 The highest salaries for these psychologists are reported in child daycare services settings and home health care services, at $120,130 and $105,440, respectively.4 Of the 113,270 psychologists in this category nationwide, almost half are employed in either elementary and secondary schools (45,630) or offices of other health care practitioners (20,040).4

    The outlook for clinical, counseling, and school psychology jobs in the United States is promising, as it is projected that the number of positions in this field will increase 14.2% between 2016 and 2026, amounting to 21,000 new jobs.5 Additional stability in this field comes from the fact that clinical, counseling, and school psychology has been ranked as one of the fields least likely to become computerized (<1% chance) in this age of ever-increasing technology.6

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What kind of degree do I need to become a cognitive behavioral psychologist?

    To become a cognitive behavioral psychologist, you need to earn a PhD or PsyD in clinical, counseling, or school psychology. You will want to earn this degree from a program that includes coursework, clinical training, and research opportunities in cognitive-behavioral theories and treatments. However, in some states you can become licensed to practice psychotherapy (including cognitive behavioral therapy) with a master’s degree in psychology. Additionally, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology may allow you to apply for research assistantships in settings where psychologists are studying cognitive behavioral psychology.

    How long does it take to become a cognitive behavioral psychologist?

    Before applying to doctoral programs, you must complete a bachelor’s degree (which takes four years) and may choose to earn a stand-alone master’s degree in psychology (which usually takes one to two years with full-time study). Doctoral psychology programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology usually take between four and seven years to finish, including the required year-long clinical internship. To become licensed, you may need to complete at least one additional year of postdoctoral training. Therefore, the entire process may take over 10 years after you have finished high school.

    Do cognitive behavioral psychologists work with patients?

    Yes, many of them become licensed and practice cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with clients and patients in various treatment settings. Other cognitive behavioral psychologists work in universities or academic medical centers, where they study the effects of CBT techniques and treatments on research participants.

    Is cognitive behavioral psychology the same as cognitive psychology?

    Despite the similar names, these are actually two different areas of psychology. Cognitive behavioral psychology focuses on research and clinical practice relevant to the treatment of psychological disorders. Cognitive psychology, which is often offered as a stand-alone PhD program, involves research into topics such as learning, memory, and thinking. Cognitive psychologists typically are not trained to provide clinical services.

    How do I choose a cognitive behavioral psychology degree program?

    When you are looking into doctoral programs that provide cognitive-behavioral training, you should search for one that is accredited by the APA, as this is required for licensure in most states. The APA does not accredit bachelor’s or master’s degree programs; however, attending a nationally- or regionally-accredited school where psychology research is being conducted will likely increase your job prospects and strengthen your doctoral program applications.

    Can I get a cognitive behavioral psychology degree online?

    Because practicing cognitive behavioral psychology requires hands-on, experiential training, a 100% online degree is unlikely to qualify you for jobs in this area of specialization. However, earning an online (or hybrid) bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology can sometimes be used as a stepping stone to in-person graduate programs that include training in cognitive behavioral psychology.

    Additional Resources

    1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
    2. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
    3. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
    4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019 Occupational Employment and Wages, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193033.htm
    5. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
    6 Frey, Carl Benedikt, and Michael A. Osborne. “The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 114, January 2017, pp. 254-280: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf