What is a Health Psychologist?
Health psychologists study the mental and emotional issues that stem from physical injury or illness. Also called medical psychologists, professionals in this field promote general health and wellness by addressing the social, biological, psychological, and behavioral factors that affect individuals facing or recovering from a medical condition. Health psychologists focus less on the illness or disease itself and more on the individual's overall mental health, striving to help patients achieve and maintain a positive outlook in spite of their physical maladies.
Health psychology, a specialty of clinical psychology, offers further specialization in a variety of areas, including public health, community health, and occupational health. Health psychologists often focus their research on healthcare reform, community health education, or advocacy. Many of these professionals work in clinical practice, private corporations, or government agencies exploring methods of pain management, intervention, illness prevention, and behavioral assessment. Others may work as health psychology professors.
While some health psychology careers require only a master's degree, a Ph.D. is the industry standard. Health psychologists must be licensed in their state as clinical psychologists through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), and many also earn board certification in health psychology. To be granted licensure, ABPP requires a doctoral degree, a minimum amount of postdoctoral experience hours, and a passing score on a licensing exam.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Health Psychology
The health psychology field explores the connections between health and behavior. Clinical health psychologists help clients with issues including dealing with illness or injury and improving health habits through interviews, assessments, and interventions. Researchers examine why people refuse to seek or follow medical advice.
Individuals with a health psychology degree can pursue many careers. They may work as community and public health advocates, working with organizations to design and implement interventions at the community and population levels. Others may work in education, training fellow health psychologists and health professionals. Some may work as health researchers, examining the intersection of physical and mental health, while others may work as wellness experts, helping patients make healthy behavioral changes.
Health psychologists assist hospitals and healthcare entities with treatment and prevention strategies. They also inform healthcare policy with data on such topics as controlling healthcare costs and preventing communicable diseases. These psychologists help people struggling with the psychological effects of health issues, such as disease, injury, chronic illness, and obesity.
At minimum, individuals need a master's in health psychology. This degree allows them to become behavioral specialists or research assistants supervised by a licensed psychologist. Those who want to work independently and practice as a clinical psychologist must complete a health psychology doctorate program, along with an internship and licensing exam.
Aspiring health psychologists must first earn a bachelor's degree in health or clinical psychology, which typically takes four years. Master's in health psychology programs usually require two additional years. Health psychology doctorate programs add another 2-4 years. Overall, students spend approximately eight years in school.
Can You Get a Degree in Health Psychology Online?
Learners can increasingly access online health psychology programs. To succeed in earning a health psychology master's or Ph.D., students should possess an unwavering drive and commitment to years of academic study. Online health psychology graduate programs encompass the same curriculum as on-campus degrees, but with added flexibility to accommodate full-time workers and parents with childcare responsibilities. Health psychology degrees are widely available online, with some schools offering specialized programs in clinical health psychology or behavioral health.
Online health psychology graduate programs encompass the same curriculum as on-campus degrees, but with added flexibility to accommodate full-time workers and parents with childcare responsibilities.
Foundation and concentration coursework for health psychology degrees tends to be the same for online and on-campus students. However, completing a practicum is crucial to a health psychology degree in any format, so online students must arrange an approved practicum to meet program requirements near their residence. Learners complete all other coursework online.
Some health psychology and clinical health psychology online programs offer accelerated formats. Some schools allow students to choose from full-time and part-time options. Health psychology online programs also serve learners in rural areas who cannot access campus facilities.
Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online Health Psychology Program?
Whether administered online or on campus, nearly all health psychology degrees require some sort of internship or practicum as a condition of state licensing board regulations for accredited schools. Field requirements ensure that students meet the minimum number of hours of supervised experience. While degree-seekers may pursue an internship or practicum in their particular concentration, some schools cannot accommodate every student's specialization. For example, health psychology graduate students may need to complete an internship in general psychology before finding the right opportunity to practice their specialty.
While health psychology online programs offer great flexibility, distance learners may experience challenges when arranging a practicum. To maximize their choices, students should maintain a high GPA and prepare thoroughly for each interview. Learners should also remain flexible and open-minded. An internship in general psychology instead of health psychology still provides valuable experience and professional connections.
How to Become a Health Psychologist
Clinical psychologists in any specialty must earn licensure through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) to practice in their state. Aspiring clinical health psychologists should budget for a bachelor's, master's, and health psychology Ph.D. as well as a fee of $600 to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which is administered by the ASPPB. In addition to academic requirements, students must complete 1,500-6,000 practicum hours to earn a state license.
Students may also obtain optional board certification in clinical health psychology. Licensed health psychology Ph.D. holders who also possess board certification may hold an advantage over competitors without this credential. Eligibility requires students to complete a Ph.D. in professional psychology and a postdoctoral internship in the health psychology specialty that lasts 1-2 years.
Health psychology online programs often cost less than traditional degrees. Aspiring health psychologists can improve their return on investment by reducing tuition and eliminating housing and transportation costs by choosing to study online, all while potentially earning their degree sooner.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Health Psychology
Online undergraduate health psychology programs introduce students to the broad field of psychology, touching briefly on basic concepts in the specialty of health psychology. Bachelor's degrees in health psychology may also be called clinical health psychology programs or offered as a concentration of a general psychology curriculum.
A bachelor's degree is often viewed as the first step towards a health psychology master's program. Graduates with a bachelor's degree may be eligible for entry-level jobs in research-based occupations. Students looking to earn a graduate degree can often save time and money through an online program.
This course explores the benefits of health and wellness as a preventive measure, touching on various behavioral, social, and environmental factors and their effects on patients. Students develop an understanding of health and its perception in society, exploring evidence-based methods of promoting the concept in practice.
This course introduces students to fundamental, health-related assessment and analysis tools, including observation, surveys, and statistical analysis and interpretation. The course covers techniques that will serve students in graduate study as well as professional practice in health psychology.
Degree-seekers compare diverse cultures in the context of development, emotional health, cognition, socialization, and psychological disorders. The course emphasizes empathy and understanding in practicing psychology cross-culturally and introduces psychology as a tool for exploring and reducing bias in divergent communities.
Students explore the effects of health issues on people at various development stages. The course covers emotional, physical, and cognitive benchmarks from childhood to old age, emphasizing health issues during the end-of-life stage. The course concludes with the critical analysis of a particular socioemotional condition and its ramifications throughout each stage of life.
This course explores the influence of society on an individual's social psychology, including their beliefs and behavior, interpersonally and in groups. Topics explore how stereotyping, discrimination, prejudice, group dynamics, and environmental stress can affect mental health and wellness.
Online Master's Degree in Health Psychology
The health psychology master's dives deeper into foundational concepts. At this level, practicum requirements typically increase to account for a significant portion of the credits required for the degree.
Health psychology graduate programs provide students with more specialized skills than an undergraduate degree. While students need a master's degree to enter a Ph.D. program, students approaching the health psychology master's as a terminal degree may still qualify for a variety of advanced positions in the field, including supervised practice in some hospitals, clinics, and government agencies. Online programs offer students a unique combination of flexible distance coursework and convenient practicum placements.
This course focuses on the primary research methods and principles of biopsychosocial psychology. Topics explore the patient-provider relationship, adapting to illness, coping mechanisms, stress factors, personality disorders, and destructive behaviors. The course culminates with the presentation of a series of comprehensive taskforce papers, a final essay, and field brochure.
In this course, students simultaneously explore neuroscience and foundational psychology to better understand how neurotransmitters in the brain affect human behavior. Learners discuss brain functions, including language and memory, as well as sensory systems, endocrinology, and neural conduction.
This course surveys the history and present conditions of health behavior research, including disease management and prevention. Students explore issues such as stress management, sexual behavior, substance abuse, and diet as they pertain to a particular demographic.
This course offers an in-depth exploration of the numerous theories of the sources of stress, including chronic pain, psychophysiological conditions, medical disorders, trauma, and psychoneuroimmunology. Additional topics include coping mechanisms, stress recognition, and the body's stress response.
This course provides a comprehensive survey of graduate-level research to carry students into postgraduate study and practice of health psychology. Degree-seekers use qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods of evaluation to explore scientific, theoretical, and philosophical research components.
Online Ph.D. in Health Psychology
Aspiring clinical practitioners in this specialty must earn a health psychology Ph.D. to be eligible to apply for licensure in their state. Graduates of a health psychology Ph.D. who do not seek licensure may pursue an advanced, non-clinical occupation, such as college professor.
Health psychology Ph.D. programs typically emphasize intensive research and specialized field practice, culminating in a thesis or dissertation, depending on whether the student pursues a Ph.D. or Psy.D. program. Doctoral candidates may also enter into an independent study project or customize their curriculum (with advisor approval), to accommodate the minimum requirement of clinical practicum hours.
Many schools offer health psychology Ph.D. programs online to allow more flexibility for part-time and full-time students.
Essential for aspiring professional psychologists, this course covers the origins of the code of ethics in the field. Students explore the basics of forensic psychology and psychology in the context of the legal system, preparing them for ethical practice.
This course explores psychophysiological issues specific to the female population, outlining methods of assessment and intervention for women, from childhood to old age. Topics include self esteem, societal roles, self care, sexual health, motherhood, security, and positive aging.
This course covers common disorders, as well as methods of promoting health and wellness among children and adolescents. Topics include anorexia and adolescent obesity as well as treatments for these issues, including diet and healthy exercise habits. Degree-seekers also learn about PTSD, STDs, and addiction among this demographic.
This course trains students to employ multidisciplinary techniques in studying issues currently facing the elderly population. Students explore both traditional and cross-cultural viewpoints on the social, psychological, and physical health of aging patients, discussing the management of cognitive changes, chronic diseases, and sociability issues specific to this demographic.
This course builds on previous study of quantitative research, exploring advanced statistical methods of data analysis, including mediation, logistic regression, ANOVA, and MANOVA. The course emphasizes problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as building technical skills in statistical software and applications.
Required Licenses and Internships to Become a Health Psychologist
Aspiring health psychologists must meet the guidelines for clinical psychology licensure according to the American Psychological Association (APA). In addition to institutional accreditation, health psychology online programs may be accredited by an organization such as the APA or ASPPB, demonstrating that the program qualifies graduates for the licensure process. To obtain a license as a clinical psychologist in a health psychology specialty, individuals need a doctoral degree. They must also complete 1,500-6,000 supervised practicum hours, pass the EPPP, and pass a jurisprudence exam (if required in that state).
Students must complete the required field experience hours to be eligible for a license to practice clinical psychology. State requirements vary, though the APA estimates that states require an average of 4,000 supervised clinical hours to earn licensure, consisting of roughly 2,000 internship and 2,000 postdoctoral hours. Learners typically complete a rigorous field-hour rotation schedule while pursuing a master's degree, eventually lightening their load slightly during the doctoral program to continue fulfilling credentialing requirements. While not required, students may pursue separate certification in a clinical health psychology specialty.
Careers for Health Psychology Degree-Holders
Graduates of health psychology programs qualify for a variety of unique careers beyond clinical practice. Aspiring professionals in this specialty can become health psychology college professors, community health advocates, and specialists in disciplines that combine psychology and science, such as occupational health. While psychologists in any specialty must possess excellent communication, listening, and critical thinking skills, health psychologists are particularly well-suited for positions requiring holistic knowledge of the relationship between physical and mental health. Generally, clinical health psychologists with current licensure as well as optional certification in the specialty can pursue the largest variety of jobs in the field.
These psychologists promote mental health and wellness and employ several methods of prevention against chronic illness and disease. They possess an acute understanding of the relationship between physical and psychological wellness and address the full scope of their patients' behavioral, social, biological, and emotional needs. Psychologists in this specialty practice in healthcare facilities, including nursing homes, pain clinics, and community healthcare centers.
These professionals advocate for a safe and healthy workplace for employees and for the environment, inspecting commercial facilities to ensure they adhere to their industry's rules and regulations. This occupation suits professionals with the advanced research and data analysis skills typically included in a health psychology graduate program. Most jobs require only a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions, though some employers may require additional on-the-job training.
Also sometimes called mental health counselors, these professionals counsel clients with mental health issues, often diagnosing and treating moderate to severe conditions or disorders using psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, and behavior modification techniques. While some refer to therapists and psychologists interchangeably, psychologists typically earn a more advanced degree.
These professionals promote health and wellness in the community by educating the public about health issues and services. They may work to advocate for communities in need of greater access to healthcare facilities, focus on disease analysis and prevention for an organization like the CDC, or specialize in environmental hazards or substance abuse. Jobs typically require a master's degree. Some employers prefer candidates with advanced data-collection and data-analysis skills, as well as strong communication abilities.
These professionals keep their community informed of all available healthcare services and wellness programs. By collecting statistical data and conducting evaluations within the community, health education specialists promote a positive lifestyle and healthy habits through nutrition education, exercise programs, disease prevention, and public service resources. Entry-level practitioners need at least a bachelor's degree and certification from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing.
Salary for Health Psychology Degree-Holders
Mental health psychologists' salaries vary based on their level of education and experience, as well as area of specialty and location. Additional credentialing, such as the clinical health psychology certification, and specialized experience beyond the minimum requirements can increase earnings. Salary varies depending on the position.
Clinical health psychologists, who must earn a terminal degree and a state license for entry-level opportunities, earn the highest median annual salary. Public health analysts bring in the second-highest salary, eligible for jobs with a minimum of a master's degree and specialty skills.
|Position||Average Annual Salary|
|Occupational Health Technician||$57,584|
|Mental Health Therapist||$44,527|
|Community Health Specialist||$47,183|
|Public Health Analyst||$61,771|