Choose a DBH of Behavioral Health Degree + Online Option

The purpose of this article is to describe what a doctorate of behavioral health is, how to choose a program in this specialty, and the possible reasons to earn the degree. The article also highlights the strengths of a noted, online doctorate in behavioral health program.

What Is a Doctorate of Behavioral Health?

A doctorate of behavioral health degree is a postgraduate degree that concerns the social and biological foundations of human behavior. This field draws from both sociology and psychology, and from other fields as well. A doctoral program in behavioral health often is the final degree that one earns to become a behavioral scientist, mental health clinician or administrator.

This advanced degree focuses typically on the skills that are needed for mental health counseling, relationship counseling, human services and other types of more people-oriented professions. The degree further provides graduates with the skills and knowledge to provide patients with integrated behavioral care treatment in various primary settings.

It also provides you with training in family and patient-centered care, quality improvement and measurement, such as redesign of primary care services and structures and disease management design.

Some of the typical areas of study in a doctoral behavioral health degree include:

  • Neuropathophysiology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Assessment and behavioral interventions for chronic conditions
  • Behavioral interventions for families and couples
  • Cultural competence and health equity
  • Population health management
  • Legal and ethical issues in healthcare
  • Quality in healthcare

Why Earn a Doctorate of Behavioral Health?

Professionals who earn their doctoral degree in behavioral health have a number of enticing and rewarding job options available to them. First, many who earn their doctoral degree in this field aspire to become college professors or researchers in behavioral health.

Others may use their doctoral degree to work in the following human service-oriented fields. All of the occupations listed below have very strong job demand and fields that are growing quickly in the US:

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors provide counseling services to people who suffer from serious behavioral problems and addictions. The most common are drug addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders and more. With a doctoral degree in behavioral health, you can provide treatment and support to help your patients to recover from these serious problems and to possibly modify their behavior.

Common job duties include:

  • Evaluate the mental and physical health of the client, including their addictions and trouble behavior; assess how ready they are for treatment
  • Assist clients in developing goals for their treatment
  • Review and recommend the various treatment options available
  • Assist clients in developing the behaviors and skills that are needed to recover from the negative behavior or unhealthy addiction
  • Teach the family about behavior and addiction problems; help them to develop effective strategies to deal with the problems

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work with their clients both individually and one on one. Many in this profession will use 12 step programs, such as AA. With a doctoral degree, you will be able to teach your client how to cope with problems and stress in ways that aid recovery. They also can help clients with their professional work relationships and to rebuild their career.

You may work with clients who are required in a legal action to receive addiction treatment. Some also may have a client base in a specific population, such as teenagers or those with disabilities.

All substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors have to have a license. This requires a minimum of a master’s degree, but to practice privately, you must have your doctorate degree. Depending upon the state, you will need 2000-4000 supervised clinical hours to gain your license.

This is a popular field for doctoral students to join; the employment demand in this field will rise by 22% by 2024, which is much faster than average. It is anticipated that the demand for addiction and mental health counseling services are going to be covered by new health insurance policies.

A doctoral degree in behavioral health is popular also because states are more often treating drug offenders instead of sentencing them to many years in prison. It has been found that offenders who receive drug treatment are less likely to reoffend.

The median salary for this profession is only $41,000, but the top 10% with the most education earn more than $65,000 per year.

Social Worker

Some social workers may choose to earn their doctoral degree in behavioral health so that they have a better background in human behavior in their social work occupation. The most common type of social worker with a doctoral degree of this type is a clinical social worker.

Clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose and treatment behavioral and mental health disorders. Clinical social workers offer therapy to couples, groups and individuals. You will work with your patient or patients to determine what the problem behavior is and how to change it for the better. Clinical social workers will use their expert understanding of behavioral health to work in conjunction with other healthcare workers to provide an effective treatment plan.

A clinical social worker may work in private practice but needs to have a doctoral degree, in addition to their master of social work.

Job demand for clinical social workers is strong, with 19% job growth anticipated by 2024. A related field is mental health and substance abuse social workers, which also will see 19% increase in demand. Median pay for top-earning social workers is $78,500.

Online Doctorate in Behavioral Health Option

If you are considering your doctoral degree in behavioral health, a worthy program to consider is at Arizona State University. ASU offers a Doctor of Behavioral Health that is available in two concentrations:

  • DBH Clinical Concentration: Prepares the licensed clinician with a master’s degree to offer integrated behavioral health care and design, and to provide program management services. Appropriate for social workers, counselors, nurses and PAs.
  • DBH Management Concentration: Prepares the licensed clinician with a master’s degree to be able to deliver, design and evaluate integrated behavioral health programs.

The clinical concentration provides you with training in three major areas: medical literacy; evidence based interventions; and entrepreneurship. Graduates of this program are in a strong position to be a change agent in healthcare delivery.

The management concentration provides either current or aspiring managers with the training that clearly addresses integrated behavioral and medical healthcare. The curriculum is focused upon healthcare policies and delivery systems, as well as strategies for quality improvement.

Your required courses in this online doctoral program are:

  • Population Based Health Management
  • Quality and Performance Measurement, Improvement and Incentives
  • Healthcare Systems: Organization, Delivery and Economics
  • Clinical Medical/Pathophysiology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Clinical Neuropathophysiology
  • Brief Interventions in Primary Care
  • Models of Integrated Primary Care


Obtaining your doctoral degree in behavioral health will provide you with the expert knowledge and skills to thrive in a variety of mental health-related fields, including psychology, social work and substance abuse counselor. Having a complete understanding of the motivations of human behavior can make you into a more effective clinician who can major a substantial difference in the lives of patients.