What is health psychology? Health psychology, sometimes called medical psychology, explores the interconnection between physical health and mental well-being. Most health psychologists focus on the impact of illness and injury on mental health to help patients with serious health conditions. Others focus on using applied psychology in health promotion or public health.
Degrees in Health Psychology
To become a clinical licensed health psychologist in any state, you must earn a health psychology doctorate, either a health psychology Ph.D. or a health psychology Psy.D. Note that some states allow health psychology master's graduates to take the licensing exam to practice psychology, but they may not call themselves clinical psychologists.
A health psychology Ph.D. program suits researchers or academic health psychologists, while a health psychology Psy.D. prepares learners to practice as a psychologist. With a health psychology master's degree, you can become a counselor in most states or take on an entry-level role in academia or research.
Bachelor's Degree in Health Psychology
While some schools offer a health psychology degree at the bachelor's level, many do not. Some programs offer a health psychology minor or concentration rather than a health psychology degree. Many aspiring health psychologists earn a bachelor's degree in psychology and specialize in health psychology as part of their master's program.
Whether you earn a health psychology degree or a psychology degree, your program will begin with foundations in psychology courses, such as sociology, biology and behavior, human psychological development, personality theory, abnormal psychology, and research methods in psychology. If your preferred school doesn't offer health psychology courses, you may be able to take them as an independent study.
Master's Degree in Health Psychology
While there are career paths for students with a health psychology master's degree, most students enroll in a master's program to prepare for a health psychology doctorate. Several schools offer online health psychology master's programs. More schools offer master's programs that include a health psychology track or support independent study in health psychology.
Each school's health psychology degree curriculum varies, but typical classes include advanced study in psychological conditions and their treatment, biopsychology, clinical psychology methodology, and applied neuroscience. Most schools require at least a 3.0 GPA for a health psychology degree, though some schools admit students with higher GRE scores.
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Doctorates in Health Psychology
There are two kinds of health psychology doctorates: a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. Typically, students who want to practice as clinical psychologists enroll in a health psychology Psy.D. program, and those who plan a career in teaching or research earn a health psychology Ph.D.
A health psychology Ph.D. program emphasizes research, including advanced courses in methodology, such as conducting case studies, data analysis, and statistics. Ph.D. programs require a dissertation comprising original research.
Health psychology Psy.D. programs include research methodologies with a focus on effective and ethical practice. These courses cover different populations, such as youth or adults, and types of interventions, such as individual and group therapy, cognitive behavioral practice, eating disorder interventions, and weight management interventions. Psy.D. courses typically include more extensive fieldwork.
Frequently Asked Questions About Health Psychology
In general, a health psychology bachelor of science emphasizes research, while a bachelor of arts degree emphasizes practice. However, most health psychology master's programs accept either undergraduate degree.
Most psychology doctoral programs take 5-7 years, with two additional years for those pursuing a health psychology master's degree.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for psychologists is $82,180. School psychologists earn a median $77,560, while government psychologists earn a median $100,360. These figures include all psychologists.
In general, psychologists cannot prescribe medication. In some states, clinical psychologists can prescribe a limited range of medications for mental health conditions. Check your state's specific regulations.
What Does a Health Psychologist Do?
Most health psychologists work as clinical psychologists in hospitals or private practice. In a hospital, you might provide care for people with eating disorders or those recovering from serious health issues or long-term conditions.
However, there are a variety of options other than clinical practice with a health psychology degree. Many, especially those with a health psychology Ph.D., work in academia, teaching and conducting research.
If you want to address health psychology issues on a broader scale, you can work in applied research, improving adherence to medical advice or medication. These professionals work in healthcare settings or in public health agencies or organizations.
What Else Can I Do With a Health Psychology Degree?
While most health psychology doctorates practice as clinical psychologists, you can use a health psychology degree in other fields. For example, you can become a life coach or health coach with a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. Certification is not legally required to become a coach, but many employers require or strongly prefer it.
With an undergraduate health psychology degree, you can enter a master's program to become a counselor, though some states allow you practice with an undergraduate degree. As a coach or counselor, you can work independently, for a healthcare or wellness provider, or for insurance companies.
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