Career in Health Psychology

Discover how health psychologists are positively impacting health care today

Health psychology is a specialty of clinical psychology. It focuses on using psychology to contribute to the study of illness and health. A patient’s thoughts, feelings, and coping abilities are all important part of the healing process. Social and psychological factors can influence a person’s health and contribute to illness or health problems, so health psychologists work with them to achieve optimal health and to overcome any health problems.

What is the role of a health psychologist?

Most health psychologists work in a clinical environment, treating patients directly. Some work in research or in public policy. Clinical work can include behavioral assessment, interviews, surveys, psychological tests, and working with patients to promote healthy psychological behaviors. Researchers can focus on any type of health-related topic, such as how to help people deal with illness, cope with pain, stop smoking, or cope with cancer. They can work in a variety of health care settings, or in colleges, universities, government agencies, or for companies. There are sub specialties for this field as well. You could pursue a career in occupational health psychology, public health psychology, or community health psychology.

The average salary for a clinical health psychologist as of 2011 is $70,000, and the outlook is very good. It is a field that will continue to grow and develop, as research has demonstrated newer ways of viewing illness as the melding of biological factors, behavioral factors, and social condition.

Should I pursue a degree in general or health psychology?

If you are beginning your undergraduate degree, you have the option of pursuing general psychology and holding off on health psychology specialization until you are at the graduate level, or you can enroll in an undergraduate health psychology program. These undergraduate health psychology programs are not as common but are available at some universities. Coursework in undergraduate programs like this will cover topics such as anatomy and physiology, psychopharmacology, behavior therapies, and social psychology. You will gain a strong foundation in psychology, as well as statistical training and biological training.

Potential career options after completion of studies

Health psychology majors will have a variety of job options and career flexibility. They can enter health care research, management or administration, or pursue graduate study in public health, social work, or psychology. And while you will need a doctorate to practice clinical psychology, there are also plenty of psychology-related job options for the graduate with a bachelor’s in health psychology. Some examples are patient education specialist, research assistant, or treatment coordinator. You could also work as an assistant in mental health centers, rehabilitation centers, or correctional programs.

Earning a doctorate is the final step if you are interested in practicing in clinical health psychology. Internships are an important part of this process, as they are required before earning your doctorate and also offer clinical training. All health psychologists must be licensed and board certified by the American Board of Clinical Health Psychology (ABCHP). But first pursue your degree in psychology or health psychology, and you too can contribute to this growing field.

To learn more about becoming a health psychologist, you can contact schools that offer related psychology programs or learn more by reading the career plan discussion on becoming a health psychologist. If you are still trying to determine the right career choice, take some time to explore additional careers in health care.