What is the Difference in a Master’s Degree in Behavioral Psychology vs. Holistic Psychology?

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What is Behavioral Psychology?

Behavioral psychology entails the analysis of how a person’s emotions and thoughts affect behavior. For example, how do negative thoughts and preoccupation with imaginary events control behavior? Simply stated, it is the study of how the mind influences behavior. Behaviorism is another term frequently applied to this area of psychology. A common approach in behavioral psychology is cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy with a qualified counselor.

What is Holistic Psychology?

As the name holistic implies, it refers to the whole person-the mind, body, and spirit. From a holistic perspective, psychological health comprises the health of the body and the wellness of the soul. Therefore, a holistic approach considers the mental and physical aspects of the person. From the chemicals in the brain to diet is all part of the diagnosis by the holistic practitioner. Instead of conventional drug therapy, this branch of psychology uses herbs, yoga, acupuncture, and meditation as therapy.

Educational Path

We highlight a master’s degree, as this is generally the minimum level of education to pursue the application of either holistic or behavioral psychology.

Types of Graduate Programs

At this level, one of the significant differences in the two disciplines is the selection of degrees. Choices of schools for holistic psychology are not as plentiful as a master’s degree in behavioral psychology. There is a limited number. A Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis is a common title for this field of study.

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Applied Behavior Analysis is different from other areas in psychology in that it focuses on analyzing and modifying behavior. Examples of coursework are:

  • The relationship between behavioral assessment and behavioral intervention.
  • The theoretical and experimental foundations of programmed instruction and error-less learning.
  • The principles of operant learning examine the theory proposed by eminent psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990). Dr. Skinner believed that all behavior was the result of exposure to external stimuli. The consequences of our experiences directly influence behavior. If the therapist changes your reaction to external stimuli, the response may vary.
  • Within the selection of programs, there are those that prepare the student for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) exam.

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A master’s program in holistic psychology differs in that they are rare. Schools offer a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Holistic Studies. The differences in the two fields of psychology are evident in the coursework. The holistic approach examines not only a theory but also the roles of religious practices and spiritual beliefs.

Counseling is the emphasis on holistic psychology. In this endeavor, there are schools whose program aligns with this objective. A 48-credit master’s degree in holistic counseling prepares graduates for the mental health licensure exam. Most states require a license to work as a mental health counselor. The types of licenses vary by state. More information is available at the American Counseling Association site.

The above license also applies to the treatment of behavioral disorders. Therefore, master’s degree graduates from either specialty can become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). To be eligible for your LPC, you need a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling. The institution must have national or regional accreditation. Your studies must include classes in behavior, therapy, and related topics. An internship is also required. Finally, you need 3,000 hours or more of supervised clinical experience after earning a master’s or higher degree.

Counseling Differences

The methodology for holistic counseling may include yoga instruction, energy healing, massage therapies, spiritualism, meditation, tai chi, and Reiki. The latter is a form of treatment referred to as energy healing. The therapist uses touch to direct and improve the flow of energy around the body. This alternative therapy applies to physical ailments and emotional problems. Energy medicine strives to replace the blocks in one’s physical power, in a similar fashion as acupuncture.  The effectiveness of alternative therapeutic methods relies on the belief of the therapist and the patient that these will work.

Anyone studying behavioral psychology will likely encounter the name-B.F. Skinner. Dr. Skinner was a behaviorist who developed the theory of operant conditioning. The premise is that life’s consequences determine behavior. The events can be reinforcements or punishments coupled with the expectation that the action will occur again. He believed that it is more productive to study the observable behavior of the person, rather than the internal mental events. One of the components Skinner stressed is positive reinforcement.

The approach to counseling using behavioral psychology appears to be a sharp contrast to the holistic method. The respective definitions provide a summary of the differences.

Behavior: It is an action or process, which is measurable and observable. External and internal stimuli affect behavior, as does our conscious and unconscious thoughts and beliefs.

Holistic: This concept relates to the notion that the entire system is as or more important than its parts. A holistic approach examines the individual in her/his biological, emotional, social, and physical entirety.

Additional Resources:

What Are the Different Kinds of Psychology Degrees?

What Government Jobs are there with a Degree in Psychology?

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Psychologist?

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Cognitive Neuroscientist?

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Holistic Counselor?