Cognitive Behavioral Psychology Degree and Career Guide
Cognitive behavioral psychology uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat symptoms of mental health conditions. Clinicians who practice CBT treat a variety of psychological disorders by using research-based techniques to help clients manage mental health conditions or emotional concerns. 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 CBT techniques.
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 (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.
- There are 27 not-for-profit 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 degree in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics.1
- 16 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics.1
- 15 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics.1
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
To become licensed to practice as a cognitive behavioral psychologist, you need a doctoral degree in the field. 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 more competitive applicants have higher GPAs.
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 will complete advanced coursework in a variety of professional psychology topics, 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 for research in developing new therapies or improving existing ones. Examples of courses in cognitive behavioral psychology programs include:
- Clinical Internship
- Clinical Practicum
- Cognitive 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). High 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.
|School||Grad Degree(s)||US News National Rank2||Grad Rate1||% Tenured Faculty3||Net Price1|
|University of Washington-Seattle||PhD Clinical Psychology;|
PhD School Psychology
|University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill||PhD Clinical Psychology;|
PhD School Psychology
|Brigham Young University-Provo||PhD Clinical Psychology;|
PhD Counseling Psychology
|University of Texas at Austin||PhD Clinical Psychology;|
PhD Counseling Psychology
PhD School Psychology
|University of California-Los Angeles||PhD Clinical Psychology||#19 tie||91%||48%||$14,760|
|University of Florida||PhD Clinical Psychology;|
PhD Counseling Psychology;
PhD School Psychology
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||PhD Clinical Psychology;|
PhD Counseling Psychology;
PhD School Psychology
|University of Georgia||PhD Clinical Psychology;|
PhD Counseling Psychology;
PhD School Psychology
Select Cognitive Behavioral Psychology Programs
Traditional Master’s Programs
American University offers a flexible Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology program with three specialization tracks: general psychology; clinical science; or cognition, learning, and neuroscience. Students can tailor the program to match their specific interests, but each track requires students to complete coursework in both general psychology and research techniques. 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. All tracks offer a non-thesis option. 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’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 can 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 teach students the fundamental concepts involved in cognitive behavioral psychology as well as one course specific to cognitive behavioral techniques. Students must complete an original research thesis under faculty supervision. 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 Doctor of Philosophy (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 must 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 US News & World Report’s Clinical Psychology Programs category.
University of Washington-Seattle
The University of Washington’s (UW) Clinical Psychology Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program has been APA-accredited since 1948 and identifies as having a “strong cognitive behavioral emphasis” in both its 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 (BRTC), which offer clinical and research experience in cognitive-behavioral psychology. The UW’s Clinical Psychology program is research-focused and is not a good fit for students interested in private clinical practice. The UW’s PhD program trains future scientists who will conduct research that contributes to the practice of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Online and Hybrid Programs
Oregon State University
Oregon State University’s (OSU) online psychology program consists of 180 quarter credits with at least 60 being upper-division credits 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 can choose to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. Graduates of OSU’s online psychology program are prepared 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 must complete at least 30 credits in psychology and related coursework in biological sciences, math, and statistics. Psychology courses include topics relevant to cognitive-behavioral psychology. Opportunities to earn course credit through independent research and community work are available. Graduates from UF’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 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). Prospective cognitive behavioral psychologists must also 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:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology or a related field.
- Earn an accredited PsyD or PhD in Psychology with a cognitive behavioral focus.
- Gain the supervised clinical experience required by your state.
- Pass the required exam(s), including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
- Apply for and receive a psychology license from your state’s psychology board.
- Begin practicing as a cognitive behavioral psychologist.
- Complete any continuing education required by your state to keep your license current.
Many cognitive behavioral psychologists work directly with patients to diagnose and treat mental health conditions and find work in schools, psychology clinics, hospitals, or other medical settings. Psychologists who practice cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) help clients and patients improve their functioning and well-being by using research-based techniques to manage mental health or emotional concerns. 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 include training in both clinical practice and research. Therefore, some cognitive behavioral psychologists spend part of their time using CBT to treat patients and part of their time conducting research on CBT. These dual roles are usually found at universities or academic medical centers. A PhD or PsyD in clinical, counseling, or school psychology that includes training in cognitive-behavioral theories and treatments qualifies you 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
- 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 clinical and counseling psychologists, including cognitive behavioral psychologists, was $102,740 in May 2022.4 The highest salaries for these psychologists are reported in employment services at $128,300.4 Industries with the highest levels of employment for clinical and counseling psychologists in May 2022 include offices of health practitioners, outpatient care centers, offices of physicians, and individual and family services.4
The outlook for clinical, counseling, and school psychology jobs in the US is promising and is projected to grow by 10.4% between 2020 and 2030, amounting to 12,300 new jobs, according to Projections Central. This is much faster than the average occupation growth in the US.5
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. Seek degree programs that include coursework, clinical training, and research opportunities in cognitive-behavioral theories and treatments. 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?
The entire process to become a cognitive behavioral psychologist may take over 10 years after graduating from high school. 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.
Do cognitive behavioral psychologists work with patients?
Yes, many cognitive behavioral psychologists 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 research the effects of CBT techniques and treatments.
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 prepare you for in-person graduate programs that include training in cognitive behavioral psychology.
- American Psychological Association (APA): National organization for psychology students and professionals; provides resources on clinical and research careers and accredits psychology programs.
- APA: Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology Specialty: Provides information about APA’s identified specialty for cognitive behavioral psychologists engaged in clinical practice.
- Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT): National association for students and professionals who practice cognitive behavioral therapy and conduct related research; hosts an annual conference.
- American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), Behavioral and Cognitive Specialty: Offers Board certification for practicing cognitive behavioral psychologists, which can increase job and income opportunities.
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 2022 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