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Online Doctor of Behavioral Health (DBH) Degree Programs

The healthcare sector in the US is a vast interlocking system of public and private care providers and insurers, clinical treatment facilities, federal and local agencies, researchers and manufacturers, and other businesses and organizations that account for $3.5 trillion or roughly 18 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. As healthcare costs and health-related expenditures have continued to rise, so have efforts to improve this complex system through technological innovation, policy initiatives, and reforms aimed at increasing efficiency while reducing overall costs. Two key areas of focus for reform are the coordination of various health services and the implementation of preventative care measures through integrated care solutions.

Integrated care solutions are core to the practice of behavioral health, an emerging interdisciplinary field that recognizes the crucial influence of social attitudes and behaviors on the health and wellbeing of population groups. Behavioral health professionals address healthcare from this perspective, develop strategies for integrated healthcare policy and practice, and implement these strategies in clinical settings and administrative capacities.

What is a Doctor of Behavioral Health (DBH) Degree?

A Doctor of Behavioral Health (DBH) degree is a terminal graduate degree that provides advanced training and instruction for professional researchers, practitioners, and policy experts in the field of behavioral health. An interdisciplinary field, behavioral health encompasses clinical and administrative functions and draws on social and behavioral science, organizational science, medical knowledge, and health systems management expertise. DBH degree programs represent a relatively new approach to studying the healthcare system and developing better ways to deliver healthcare services, improve population health outcomes, and increase overall efficiency in the healthcare sector.

Students in a DBH degree program learn about the American healthcare system, population-based health interventions, models of integrated primary care, and the impact of behaviors, social attitudes, and other psychological factors on illness prevention and treatment outcomes. This knowledge is applied to the formulation of evidence-based solutions to an array of public health challenges. Behavioral health interventions address high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, poor nutrition, and medication non-adherence. Professionals in this field also design and implement initiatives to promote healthier behaviors and encourage a more integrated approach to the delivery of preventative and critical behavioral and healthcare services.

Doctor of Behavior Health (DBH) vs. Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) vs. Doctor of Applied Behavioral Analysis

DBH programs incorporate and integrate knowledge and skills from a number of other disciplines and areas of practice, including psychology, sociology, medical science, health administration, and health policy. As a result, a typical DBH curriculum may overlap with the curricula for other types of doctoral programs, including Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) programs and doctoral programs in applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and behavioral psychology (e.g., Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Behavioral Analysis, ABA, and Behavioral Psychology programs).

What distinguishes DBH programs from these other types of programs is a focus on integrated care models and solutions and on using population-based behavioral interventions to prevent illness, improve outcomes, increase efficiency, and decrease cost. DrPH programs may incorporate behavioral health approaches to the development and implementation of initiatives designed to improve public health, but they focus on other aspects of disease causation and mitigation, such as environmental factors. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), in contrast, is related to and generally considered part of psychology. Its focus is on learning processes and the interplay between environmental and behavioral factors, particularly among individuals with emotional, behavioral, and cognitive impairments and disabilities. While a DBH curriculum may include some training in ABA theory and practice, ABA doctoral programs are generally confined to behavioral research and its clinical application.

Online DBH Programs

An online DBH program is a doctoral program with a behavioral health curriculum that offers all or most of its coursework online using distance learning technologies. Students in an online program access lectures and other course materials through a school’s learning management system (LMS), a generic term for Internet-based educational platforms. An LMS typically supports the streaming of live and pre-recorded lectures and virtual classroom sessions, online class discussion groups, messaging between students and instructors, and other instructional activities, including the completion and submission of assignments and exams.

It is important to note that some online DBH program may require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions (which may also be referred to as residencies) and/or complete internships or practicums at a site approved by the program.

How Identifies and Classifies Online DBH Programs researches DBH programs, identifies programs that are offered online, and classifies these programs based on their curricula and other important factors. To be classified as an online DBH program on this site, a program must be offered by an accredited, non-profit college or university; it must confer a doctoral degree; and it must provide interdisciplinary training in clinical behavioral health and/or the management and administration of behavioral health projects and organizations. Finally, to be classified as an online program, a program must offer all or most of its didactic coursework and instruction online. Programs that require students to attend more than two campus visits per year are considered hybrid programs and are not currently included on this site.

What Students Learn in an Online DBH Program

Doctoral training in behavioral health is designed to provide students with a firm grounding in principles of population-based health policy and management and an understanding of the structural components of the American healthcare system. This knowledge serves as a foundation for studying healthcare models that integrate medical and behavioral health services. Students in an online DBH program typically learn about the causes of poor health outcomes, inefficiencies in the healthcare system, and risk reduction and quality control measures. They also focus on the importance of addressing behavioral health issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, substance abuse, and poor nutrition as part a successful integrated care strategy.

Behavioral health doctoral programs may also include coursework in various types of healthcare innovations and entrepreneurship in the healthcare sector, as well as specialized courses in the clinical practice of behavioral health and/or the administration and management of behavioral health programs. In fact, some DBH programs offer separate tracks for clinical and managerial specializations. A clinical DBH curriculum generally covers topics such as psychopharmacology, pathophysiology, and neurophysiology. A management-based DBH curriculum is more likely to include courses in healthcare finance, health information technologies, and healthcare law and ethics. Finally, an online DBH program may include several hundred hours of supervised internship experiences in either a clinical or administrative healthcare setting, as well as an applied research project or doctoral thesis.

Online Doctor of Behavior Health Courses

The table below provides an overview of the types of courses that are commonly part of an online DBH program curriculum. It is important to note that curricula, course names, and course descriptions vary by program.

Course TitleCourse Description
Population-Based Health ManagementAn exploration of the challenges associated with managing the delivery of healthcare services across large population groups.
Quality and Performance Measurement, Improvement, and IncentivesQuantitative and qualitative methods for assessing the quality of population-based healthcare programs, measuring the relative performance of health service delivery methods, and using incentives to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes.
Healthcare Systems: Organization, Delivery and EconomicsAn in-depth exploration of healthcare systems, healthcare organizational structures, economic models for healthcare, and how these factors impact the quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery.
Behavioral Health EntrepreneurshipAn examination of entrepreneurial models for implementing behavioral health programs in the larger healthcare system.
Models of Integrated Primary CareModels for the delivery of primary care services in the context of behavioral health and for improving primary care services through the provision of behavioral health services.
Clinical and Medical PathophysiologyAn overview of common medical and physiological terminology and conditions, the diagnosis and treatment of disease and illness, and the role of behavioral health in this process.
Psychopharmacology for the Behavioral Care ProviderThe use of various drugs and pharmacological protocols for the treatment of behavioral health problems.
Clinical NeuropathophysiologyAn examination of brain and nervous system injuries and traumas that may cause behavioral health problems.
Behavioral Healthcare ManagementManagerial strategies for healthcare organizations and their use in the field of behavioral health.
Healthcare Information ManagementA survey of common healthcare information technology systems, including electronic medical records and systems for tracking treatment outcomes.
Healthcare Legal, Ethical, and Professional IssuesThe laws and ethical guidelines that pertain to organizations and businesses operating in the healthcare sphere.
Financial Management in HealthcareFinancial concerns and fiscal management for healthcare organizations, including the role of insurers and other third-party payers.

Online DBH Program Admissions

Doctoral program admissions policies and requirements vary by school and by program. For example, there are online DBH programs that require applicants to hold a master’s degree in a healthcare field; online DBH programs that admit students who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field; and online DBH programs that are designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. In addition, applicants who intend to pursue an online DBH degree with a clinical specialization may be required to be licensed to practice in a relevant healthcare field, and applicants who intend to pursue an online DBH degree with a management/administrative specialization may be required to have one or more years of professional experience in the healthcare sector.

As part of the admissions process, applicants to online DBH programs are typically required to submit postsecondary school transcripts, an up-to-date résumé or CV, and one or more of the following: a written personal goals statement; professional/academic letters of recommendation (two or three); and answers to one or more essay questions. Some programs may also require applicants to submit standardized test scores from the GRE or GMAT. Most DBH programs have selective admissions policies and may require or prefer applicants to have a minimum score on the GRE/GMAT and/or an undergraduate or master’s program GPA at or above a certain level, typically, 2.5, 3.0, or 3.25 or higher.

Potential applicants should examine a program’s admissions requirements carefully to determine their eligibility and should strongly consider contacting a program representative to discuss the admissions process prior to submitting an application. Admissions to doctoral programs often differs from undergraduate and master’s programs, especially for applicants who are looking to return to school to earn a degree after several years of professional work experience.

Online DBH Program Formats

There a several variations in format and structure for online DBH programs that may impact a student’s overall learning experience and that can be an important consideration for applicants who are concerned about the relative convenience and flexibility of an online program. For example, some programs hold regularly scheduled virtual classes that require students to be logged on to the program’s LMS at specified times (synchronous instruction), while others allow students to stream pre-recorded classes and lectures 24-7 (asynchronous instruction). Students who intend to continue working while earning their degree may want to consider programs that offer part-time or flexible enrollment, while students who would like to complete their degree quickly may prefer programs with a full-time enrollment option.

Finally, some online programs require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions, which may be inconvenient for students who are working full-time or have other significant commitments outside of school. Each of these factors is discussed in greater detail in the sections below.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: These are the two primary modes of online instruction. If a program utilizes synchronous instruction, it means that the program incorporates live online classes that take place at pre-scheduled times during which students must be available. Typically, live sessions are held in the evenings or on the weekends so that students across time zones can attend. In contrast, programs that utilize asynchronous instruction give students the freedom to access pre-recorded lectures and other course materials at their convenience, with no set times they must be online for instruction. However, students are still responsible for completing assignments and meeting other participation requirements by set deadlines in order to pass a course.

Synchronous instruction may work better for students who prefer a structured learning environment, while asynchronous instruction is generally preferable for students who would like more flexibility. However, asynchronous instruction requires an even greater amount of self-discipline and self-motivation, which may be a challenge for some students. It is important to note that online programs are just as rigorous as campus-based programs and that doctoral programs require both hard work and sacrifice. These programs generally take several years to complete and include both coursework and research in the field.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Enrollment: Enrollment options and plans vary by program and can be an important consideration for students who intend to pursue a doctoral degree online. Typically, full-time enrollment requires students to devote up to 40 or more hours per week to classes, coursework, internships, and other instructional activities while school is in session. Part-time enrollment plans vary but typically allow students to earn their degree while devoting 15 to 20 hours per week to schoolwork when classes are in session. Some online DBH programs have flexible enrollment policies, which give students the option of carrying a full-time or a part-time course load each term, although many programs put a cap on the number of years a students can spend working toward their degree. Other programs have set full-time and/or part-time enrollment plans that students are expected to follow.

It is important to note that a student’s enrollment plan will determine the amount of time it takes to complete program requirements. Students who hold a master’s degree may be able to earn a DBH degree online in as few as two years of full-time enrollment or spend three or more years earning the same degree on a part-time basis. For students who have not earned a master’s degree, it can take four to six years to earn a DBH degree.

Campus Visits: While there are many online programs that do not require students to attend any campus-based sessions in order to earn their degree, some programs require campus visits. These on-campus sessions are typically used for orientations, workshops, and other instructional activities, and they can be a valuable addition to an online program, particularly for students who would like the opportunity to meet with instructors face-to-face and/or network with other students. However, these campus visits, which may be referred to as residencies, intensives, or immersion sessions, involve travelling to a designated location for a specified number of days (two or three to as many as seven to ten days), and students may incur expenses that are not typically included in tuition costs and university fees.

Potential applications should note that many programs schedule intensives during the summer, although they may also be scheduled at other points throughout the program, such as during qualifying examinations. Campus visits may also be required for dissertation work in programs that require a qualifying exam and doctoral capstone. does not list online DBH programs that require more than two campus visits per year. Potential applicants to online DBH programs should research program requirements carefully to determine whether or not they will be expected to attend any required campus visits.