Want to see what's been written lately about issues regarding Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology? Check out the articles below and links to the right.



Benefits of the Board Certification in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology for Private Practice

by Kevin D. Arnold (PDF format)


Board Certification in Psychology: Is It Really Necessary?
by Frank M. Dattilio (PDF format)


Guidelines for Cognitive Behavioral Training
by Robert K. Klepac, George F. Ronan, et al.(PDF format)


Public Description for Behavioral & Cognitive Psychology
by Kevin D. Arnold (PDF format)


The Specialty Practice of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology
by E. Thomas Dowd, Shauna L. Clen, and Kevin D. Arnold (PDF format)




A Definition of Specialty


Kevin D. Arnold, Ph.D., ABPP & E. Thomas Dowd, Ph.D., ABPP


Definition of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology:


Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology is an experimental-clinical approach that provides a framework for understanding and changing human behavior and cognitions. It is empirically based in principles of learning and development including classical and operant conditioning, principles of social learning and multiple causality, and mediational constructs derived from cognitive science.

The specialty of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology, “is distinguished by the use of principles of human learning and development and theories of cognitive processing in promoting meaningful change.” (Dowd, Clen, and Arnold, 2010). The Behavioral and Cognitive psychologist primarily targets maladaptive behaviors and thoughts to ameliorate the patient’s problems through the application of behavioral and cognitive techniques. Behavioral and Cognitive psychologists are active at all levels of the profession: research, education, training, and clinical practice. Specialists apply Behavioral and Cognitive interventions to a wide variety of populations and problems.


Two distinct foci help define Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology: 1) the emphasis on empirically supported treatment approaches and 2) its reliance on behavioral and cognitive theory to “identify relevant variables contributing to a client’s presenting problems and systematically modify and assess these variables in treatment.” (Dowd, et al., 2010).


Specialized Knowledge Key to Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology


Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology roots itself in applied behavior analysis, behavior therapy, and cognitive therapy. The knowledge base of the specialty is derived from experimental psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, biological psychology, and social psychology. Specialists are expected to meet the Education and Training Guidelines established by the Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology Specialty Council.


The American Board of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology can certify specialists. In addition, the Behavior Analyst Certifying Board certifies both psychologists and non-psychologists in applied behavior analysis, while the Academy of Cognitive Therapy certifies psychologists and non-psychologists in cognitive therapy.


Problems Specifically Addressed


A wide range of problems are addressed by empirically supported behavioral and cognitive approaches. These include anxiety disorders (e.g., obsessive compulsive disorder, panic, post-traumatic stress, generalized anxiety, social phobias, or hoarding), depression, personality disorders, substance abuse, health-related problems (e.g., insomnia through cognitive-behavioral Therapy of Insomnia), childhood behavioral and regulatory problems, developmental disorders (e.g., autism spectrum disorders, mental retardation, learning disorders), academic problems, family problems, couples problems, serious mental illness, and public health problems (e.g., seat-belt wearing).




Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology has specialists that address problems of individuals across various age ranges (infancy/toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and older adults). Specialists have at their disposal interventions for various types of clients: individuals, couples, families, classrooms, groups, and organizations/agencies. These can be applied in different settings such as homes, schools, clinics, health-care facilities, work, correctional facilities, or communities.


Essential Skills and Procedures (see also Applied Procedures in Dowd et al., 2010)


Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology relies on approaches that employ human learning and cognitive processing principles that have been subjected to empirical study and scientific support. The specialist is expected to use assessments that address the presenting problem and that uncover behavioral and cognitive factors associated with that problem. Measurement of overt behavior and cognitions is essential to the assessment; while the specific assessment procedures might differ from case to case, the skills in uncovering behavioral and cognitive factors is essential.


A second essential skill is case conceptualization and treatment planning. The specialist can integrate assessment data into a case conceptualization that relies on learning principles and cognitive processing. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologists can translate the case conceptualization into a treatment plan that relies on empirically supported treatment approaches to address each aspect of the conceptualization.


A third essential skill is the application of treatment approaches that have empirical support. Such approaches include behavioral modification (e.g., management of conditions and factors that operate on behaviors), classical conditioning (modification of earlier learned associations—systematic desensitization or exposure therapies), social learning (e.g., modeling, image based rehearsal), cognitive therapy (e.g., cognitive restructuring, modification of constructions or schema), behavioral skills training (e.g., dialectic behavior therapy, assertiveness training, behavioral activation), relaxation therapy, mindfulness strategies, acceptance and commitment therapies, or management of behavioral contingencies in the therapy relationship (e.g., functional analytic psychotherapy).


A fourth essential skill is the use of on-going assessment to test the utility of the interventions. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologists continually test their interventions to determine that progress occurs through meeting measurable goals. When progress does not meet expectations, the specialist can modify the treatment approaches, if appropriate, through the application of this empirical and outcome-oriented approach to psychotherapy.




Dowd, E.T., Chen, S.L., and Arnold, K.D. (2010). The specialty practice of cognitive and behavioral psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41, 89-95.


Send mail to E. Thomas Dowd, PhD, ABPP, FAACBP at with questions or comments about this web site.