Becoming a Health Psychologist

Career Plan: a step by step approach…

Clinical health psychologists help people improve their mental well-being and thus their physical well-being as well. If you want to become a part of this evolving profession, you’ll need a doctorate degree in psychology. The following tips and resources can help you get started.

  1. Take college prep and advanced placement classes in high school.

  2. Select an undergraduate program. It may be in psychology or a related field. Look ahead to know if the graduate programs you favor have a preference regarding undergraduate degree.

  3. Seek out undergraduate experiences that will increase your skills and make you more competitive. You can look for research opportunities, either through your department or through a related health department like physical therapy. Join Psi Chi if there’s a chapter at your school. Meanwhile, keep your grades up.
    The APA Health Psychology Division recommends taking classes in health policy and epidemiology; you may also consider summer courses offered by the NIH.

  4. Explore doctorate programs. If you want to work with patients, you will need a clinical or counseling psychology degree with an emphasis in health psychology. There are both PhD and PsyD degrees available. PsyD degrees may include a practical project as opposed to a dissertation. (Be aware that some states, like Washington, do specify a dissertation under licensing requirements.) Look up state licensing requirements in advance. The APA Guide to Graduate Study can help you explore more subtle differences between programs.

  5. Complete post-doctoral level training. Training opportunities are available through the NIH, VA, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among others. You will find a list on the APA Division 38 site. Make sure your fellowship is accredited by the APA or CPA. In some cases, the internship can be combined with post-doctoral training.

Personality Traits: The BLS cites emotional stability, compassion, and perseverance as important qualities for psychologists.