How to Become a Health Psychologist

| Courtney Smith-Kimble

How to Become a Health Psychologist

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Health psychologists further patients' physical and emotional health and overall well-being. They work with healthcare professionals in various disciplines to advance psychology through research and public policy.

The field of health psychology has increased in demand since the COVID-19 pandemic, making now a great time to pursue a health psychologist career.

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What Is Health Psychology?

The field of psychology continues to develop, which has led to many subfields. Health psychology is a subfield that explores how biological, psychological, and social factors affect health.

Health psychologists focus on ideal health and recovery from chronic conditions or illnesses. Goals include uncovering causes of illness or disease, developing prevention methods, examining behavioral aspects, and improving health policies.

Health Psychology Salaries

Psychologist
Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
Less than $46,270 $82,180 More than $137,590 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Clinical Health Psychologist
Average Annual Salary
$82,490
Source: PayScale as of November 2021

How Do I Become a Health Psychologist?

Students pursuing a career as a health psychologist earn a bachelor's and master's degree in psychology. These two degrees take around six years to complete with full-time attendance.

Accredited master's programs also require a practicum or internship. Students should anticipate completing at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience. Practitioners interested in a terminal degree and who wish to practice clinically must earn a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or doctor of psychology (Psy.D.).

Education for Health Psychologists

Those aspiring to a health psychology degree begin their education by earning a bachelor's. While majoring in psychology can provide a solid foundation, students may still pursue this career even if they major in something else. Graduates go on to earn a master's degree in health psychology.

Students who did not major in psychology may need to complete some prerequisite coursework. Schools often require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examinations. Graduate programs in health psychology also require clinical hours. Students should research their state's requirements to see how many hours they need to complete.

A Psy.D. or Ph.D. in health psychology is the final step to practice clinically as a health psychologist. Doctoral programs often require six years of study or longer. Students should plan to complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised experience in clinical settings. Learners must also complete an internship, which can require up to 2,000 hours.

All states require students to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology to earn a license. However, passing scores vary by state.

Licensure for Health Psychologists

Students planning a career in health psychology need to identify which state they plan to work in since requirements for licensure vary. For instance, the Ohio Board of Psychology requires a doctoral degree from a regionally or nationally accredited institution with at least 3,600 hours of training under a licensed practitioner. The Ohio board also requires applicants to complete a doctoral internship, and 1,500-2,000 of these hours need to have been accrued within 24 months of applying for a license.

Other requirements include submitting transcripts and the score report from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. Practitioners seeking reciprocity must provide proof of an active license, sign the oral exam manual acknowledgement document, and complete a background check.

Board Certification for Health Psychologists

The American Board of Professional Psychology works closely with the American Board of Clinical Psychology, which provides speciality certification for clinical health psychologists. Board certification serves as an indicator of quality for employers. It can also create more opportunities for practitioners.

To qualify, applicants must earn a doctorate from an institution accredited by the American Psychological Association or the Canadian Psychological Association. Acceptable programs must include an internship. Board certification also requires postdoctoral field experiences under a licensed practitioner.

Qualified applicants must also register with the National Register of Health Service Psychologists or the Canadian Register of Health Service Psychologists. Practitioners may apply for certification a year after completing two years of postdoctoral work.

PreProfessional Experience for Health Psychologists

Students pursuing a career in health psychology must have some professional experience to prepare them for the needs of their patients. Internships and practicums provide students with hands-on experiences early in their educational career. These field experiences can also help students network, which can lead to job offers after graduation.

While working under licensed practitioners offers experience, students may also want to take advantage of other opportunities. This might include research, attending national conferences, and service projects.

Preprofessional experiences for health psychology allow students to apply learned theories. Interns also learn more about intervention, assessment, supervision, cultural diversity, and legal standards. Soft skills gained include communication, empathy, and cultural awareness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are health psychologists doctors?

Clinical health psychologists are doctors. However, health psychologists receive different training and education than medical doctors. A health psychology degree focuses on research or clinical practice within the field of psychology.

What do health psychologists study?

Health psychologists examine the ways psychological, biological, and social factors affect illnesses and health. Other topics may include stress reduction, positive health behaviors, rehabilitation, and weight management.

Where do health psychologists work?

Various facilities benefit from having a health psychologist on staff. Practitioners can find work in hospitals, private practices, primary care organizations, and government agencies.

What Does a Health Psychologist Do?

Health psychologists study the symptoms of patients diagnosed with diseases, along with the factors that influence treatment options. Common responsibilities include doing interviews, surveys, personality tests, and interventions. This role typically requires health psychologists to engage in research and clinical practice.

Practitioners should note that responsibilities vary, as health psychology offers several specialties, such as public health, community health, critical health, and clinical health.

For instance, public health psychologists draw connections between their knowledge of psychology and common public health issues. Critical health psychologists focus on marginalized communities and the inequities that exist in the delivery of quality healthcare. No matter the role, health psychologists can impact entire communities.

Health psychologists often work in hospitals, primary care organizations, private practices, and government agencies. Career options include public health expert and occupational health psychologist, among other roles.

Health psychologists work with patients across the lifespan, healthcare teams, physicians, and nurses. However, health psychologists can also find work with lobbyists and local organizations to influence policy. Practitioners may also choose to pursue a career in academia, educating other aspiring health psychology professionals.

Skills and Competencies

Health psychologists work in many settings, examining factors that influence patients' health and illness. These professionals draw on similar skills and competencies to best serve their clients. Common skills include a strong understanding of health psychology and their role within the profession, critical and analytical thinking, excellent communication and interpersonal abilities, and research skills. Health psychologists also stay up to date on changes within the field.

The best health psychologists value collaboration and seek opportunities to learn from practitioners in other disciplines. Health psychologists establish and maintain trust and rapport with both clients and other professionals in the field. This role also requires strong ethics and standards that allow practitioners to work with individuals and the communities in which they serve.

Health Psychology Resources and Professional Organizations

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