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 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 health care 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 become health psychology professors in a higher education setting.
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.
Can You Get a Degree in Health Psychology Online?
Health psychology online programs are increasingly accessible to students. The process of earning a health psychology master’s or Ph.D. is best suited for students with an unwavering drive and commitment to years of academic study. Health psychology graduate programs offered online encompass the same curriculum as on-campus degrees, but with added flexibility to accommodate full-time workers and single parents with limited time to put toward their education. Health psychology degrees are now widely available online, with some schools offering specialized programs in clinical health psychology or behavioral health.
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 degrees that are online offer accelerated programs. Students may also be able to choose between full-time and part-time options. Health psychology online programs also serve students in rural areas who do not have access to 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 students may pursue an internship or practicum in their particular concentration, some schools cannot accommodate every student with their choice of specialization. For example, a health psychology graduate student may need to complete an internship in general psychology before finding the right opportunity to practice their specialty skills.
Health psychology online programs offer maximum flexibility for distance learners, but arranging a practicum can be challenging. To ensure a wide selection of choices, students should maintain a high GPA and prepare for each interview, as you want to appear as the most qualified candidate. It’s imperative to remain flexible and open minded, even if you complete an internship in general psychology rather than in health psychology, you will still gain experience and professional connections.
What Do You Need to Be 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. Students looking to become clinical health psychologists should budget for a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a health psychology Ph.D., as well as a fee of $600 to sit for the Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology, which is administered by the ASPPB. In addition to academic requirements, students must complete between 1,500 and 6,000 practicum hours to earn a state license.
Students may also obtain additional board certification in clinical health psychology. Though not required, licensed health psychology Ph.D. holders who also have board certification may hold an advantage over competitors without this credential. Eligibility requires students to complete a Ph.D. in professional psychology and a one to two-year postdoctoral internship in the health psychology specialty.
Whatever your career path, health psychology online programs can provide substantial savings over a traditional degree. 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 taking less time to complete their degree.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Health Psychology
Undergraduate health psychology online 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.
While often viewed as a stepping stone on the path to 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 may be able to 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. Techniques covered in this course will continue to serve students in graduate study as well as professional practice in health psychology.
In this course, students 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 in this course explore the effects of health issues on people at various stages of development. 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 must hold 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 like 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. Students 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. Students 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, a candidate must possess a doctoral degree, complete between 1,500 and 6,000 supervised practicum hours, pass the EPPP, and pass a jurisprudence exam (if required in that state).
Students must complete a field experience to be eligible to earn 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. Students 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 degree 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 are eligible for the widest variety of jobs in the field.
- Clinical Health Psychologist
- Clinical health psychologists promote mental health and wellness and employ several methods of prevention against chronic illness and disease. These professionals possess an acute understanding of the relationship between physical and psychological wellness and address the full scope of behavioral, social, biological, and emotional needs of their patients. Psychologists in this specialty practice in health care facilities, including nursing homes, pain clinics, and community health care centers.
- Occupational Health Specialist
- Occupational health specialists advocate for a safe and healthy workplace for employees and for the environment, inspecting commercial facilities to ensure they adhere to current rules and regulations in their industry. 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 additional on-the-job training may also be required.
- Mental Health Therapist
- 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.
- Public Health Analyst
- Public health analysts promote health and wellness in the community by educating the public about health issues and services. These professionals may work to advocate for communities in need of greater access to health care facilities, focus on disease analysis and prevention for an organization like the CDC, or specialize in environmental hazards or substance abuse. Jobs in this occupation typically require a master’s degree. Employers prefer candidates with advanced data-collection and data-analysis skills, as well as strong communication abilities.
- Community Health Education Specialist
- These professionals keep their community informed of all available health care 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 must possess 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. As shown below, salary varies widely depending on the type of position, and the requirements inherent to each job. Clinical health psychologists, who must earn a terminal degree and a state license for entry-level opportunities, earn the highest median annual salary among all professionals on our list. Public health analysts bring in the second-highest salary, eligible for jobs with a minimum of a master’s degree and specialty skills.
|Position||Median Annual Salary|
|Occupational Health Specialist||$35,090|
|Mental Health Therapist||$42,570|
|Community Health Education Specialist||$46,401|
|Public Health Analyst||$60,343|
|Clinical Health Psychologist||$74,464|