Health Psychology PhD Programs Guide

Health psychologists study how patients' physical health influences their mental state and vice versa. The practice and research conducted in this field help doctors and other medical professionals communicate with patients, manage patients' pain, and ensure that patients follow medical advice. Consider earning a Ph.D. in health psychology if you want to pursue a fulfilling career that aids patients and contributes significantly to the healthcare field.

Continue reading to learn about health psychology Ph.D. programs and how they can help make your career goals a reality.

Earning a Ph.D. vs. a Psy.D.

Prospective graduate students have two options when researching online health psychology graduate programs: the Ph.D. and the Psy.D.

Health psychology Ph.D. programs emphasize academic knowledge, research skills, and communication skills students need to succeed in clinical settings. Ph.D. programs often boast small incoming classes, meaning students can forge strong professional bonds with their peers. Also, many health psychology Ph.D. programs include generous funding opportunities. Professionals can apply their health psychology degrees to either academic or clinical career tracks.

Psy.D. programs appeal to prospective students preparing for careers as licensed psychologists, not academic researchers or postsecondary teachers. In Psy.D. programs, students take fewer courses in statistical methodology, among the other subjects Ph.D. programs emphasize. As a result, Psy.D. graduates can apply to fewer health psychology jobs than Ph.D. graduates.

Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs have similar application requirements, such as test scores and recommendation letters. Due to differences in curricula requirements, typical Psy.D. programs take one less year to complete than typical Ph.D. programs. Finally, both program types qualify graduates to become licensed psychologists in their home states.

Degree Snapshot

Typical Admission Requirements:
GMAT or GRE scores, a bachelor's or master's degree in psychology, 2-3 recommendation letters

Time to Completion:
5-7 years

Average Salary:
$76,305

Why Get a Ph.D. in Health Psychology?

All psychologists gain professional and personal satisfaction by helping their patients overcome or cope with mental disorders. The five benefits below apply to careers exclusive to health psychology Ph.D.s.

  • Health psychologists help patients and students make positive health-related decisions.
  • A Ph.D. in health psychology prepares graduates to work alongside other medical professionals and create treatment plans.
  • Professionals can use their expertise to teach courses that benefit individuals and communities.
  • Health psychologists who work for government agencies serve the neediest individuals.
  • Some of the largest companies in the world hire health psychologists to counsel employees and create programs that increase employees' mental wellbeing.

Example Curriculum

While researching online health psychology graduate programs, pay close attention to required coursework, practica, dissertation, and internship requirements. Your program's requirements may differ from those in the sections below.

Coursework

Many Ph.D. in psychology programs offer health psychology as a specialization. In addition to foundational coursework in psychology, students become experts in health fundamentals and research methodology. Coursework takes 2-3 years to complete, and in some doctorate programs, students write an extended essay or pass an examination before starting their dissertation research.

Practicum

As Ph.D. in health psychology programs prepare students for careers in academia and counseling, typical programs require students to complete teaching and clinical practica. These experiences take place during or immediately after students finish required coursework. During practica, students learn from experienced professors and clinicians.

Dissertation

Regardless of the academic subject or specialization, dissertations demonstrate that doctoral students have become experts and can advance their fields through academic research. In most programs, the dissertation process begins after the third year, when students work with their advisor to select a topic. Performing research and writing the dissertation can take up to four years, and before graduating, students defend their dissertations before a faculty panel.

Internship

In health psychology graduate programs, internships serve two purposes. First, students can explore different health psychology careers. Second, internships allow students to start gaining experience hours that lead to licensure in their home states. Students researching internships should consider only those that possess American Psychological Association (APA) accreditation.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Health Psychology?

With a health psychology Ph.D., psychologists can pursue careers in academia or treat patients. The following section explains the licensure process in greater detail. Outside of these two popular health psychology career paths, health psychologists can obtain positions at companies and organizations that provide mental health services.

Salary: $85,340


Where Do Health Psychologists Work?

Hospitals, clinics, private practices, school districts

Licensure

After earning a health psychology Ph.D., aspiring psychologists must meet other requirements before applying for licensure in their home states. Graduates build on their internship experiences by finding employment under a licensed psychologist. Counselors gain the necessary experience after 1-2 years.

In addition to experience, counselors pass one or more certification tests. Most states use the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Licensure candidates take this multiple-choice exam at approved test centers. Many states also require a second exam that covers laws and regulations applicable to psychologists.

After meeting all application requirements, candidates apply with their states' licensure boards. The application process involves a fee, including exam costs. Earning licensure can cost upwards of $1,000. States charge additional fees for licensure renewal, and psychologists renew their licenses every 1-2 years. Other renewal requirements include earning continuing education hours every year.

Professional Organizations

  • Society for Health Psychology The SHP provides graduate students with valuable resources to help them make the most of their online health psychology graduate programs. Benefits include invitations to the SHP annual convention and a subscription to the SHP journal.
  • American Psychological Association Doctoral students who join the APA receive liability insurance, a private job board, and tools that help new professionals grow their careers. The APA provides visitors with the latest information on states' licensure requirements and APA-approved internship opportunities.
  • American Board of Professional Psychology Licensed psychologists earn ABPP board certification to advance their careers. They first choose a specialty board before passing certification requirements, which include recording therapy sessions with patients and passing oral exams.

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