Health Psychologist

Health psychology, as its name suggests, deals with the relationship between psychological and behavioral processes and physical health, illness, and healthcare treatments. Health psychologists attempt to understand how psychological and behavioral factors contribute to a persons health and develop psychological treatments to help improve health. For example, research has revealed that people struggling with depression are more prone to experience physical health problems. Health psychologists attempt to address the psychological factors causing depression in order to improve a person's physical health. When making diagnoses, health psychologists evaluate an individual's mental state, sociological factors, environment and physical well-being. They then develop treatment strategies to assist their patients.

Health psychologists work directly with individual patients, indirectly with large public health programs and as educators who train other healthcare workers and professionals (e.g., nurses, doctors, etc.) who treat patients. Health psychologists often work as members of healthcare teams, alongside physicians, at hospital, in public health departments, at universities and as researchers.

Health psychology started out as branch of clinical psychology. Today, there are four different branches within the field of health psychology. These include clinical health psychology, public health psychology, critical health psychology and community health psychology.

  • Clinical Health Psychology (CIHP)
    CIHP is a subspecialty within the field of clinical psychology. Within the field of clinical psychology CIHP focuses on education, techniques for modifying behavior, and psychotherapy. In a few countries (currently not in the U.S.) clinical health psychologists may obtain a medical license and prescribe medications.

  • Public Health Psychology (PHP)
    The objective of PHP is to explore the causal relationship between psychological factors and overall health of a population. Public health psychologists perform research designed to yield information that can be used by educators, health care provideres and policy makers to improve public health. PHP is closely associated with other public health disciplines such as epidemiology, biostatistics and nutrition. A lot of PHP today focuses on at-risk populations such as pregnant women who abuse drugs, undereducated populations, lower income people, etc.).

  • Community Health Psychology (CoHP)
    CoHP focuses on exploring and analyzing the psychological factors that contribute to the overall health of individuals that live within a specific community. The aim of much of what community health psychologists are involved in focuses on community-level interventions designed to fight disease and improve mental health.

  • Critical Health Psychology (CrHP)
    CrHP is probably the most unique and interesting branch of health psychology. It investigates the impact of power differentials on health, health policy and health care systems. It focuses on social justice, health inequalities and the right to health for individuals of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, races and genders. One of the leading organizations within this area of study is the International Society of Critical Health Psychology.

As is the case with most branches of applied psychology, health psychology is both a theoretical and applied science. It employs randomized experiments, time-series designs, case-control studies, longitudinal studies, action research, and qualitative research in its attempt to better understand psychological and behavioral processes as they related to human health.

Notwithstanding all the research that has been performed in this field, health psychology is still a fairly new science, and people entering this profession will more than likely encounter some difficulties. Most people know little about health psychologists, so they may be hesitant to consult with one. As more people learn about how mental duress and physical health are related, health psychology will become more accepted by the general public.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Health Psychologist
The requirements for becoming a health psychologist are similar to those for becoming any other type of psychologist. To get started, students should earn a bachelor's degree in general psychology, or health psychology. A bachelor's degree will be sufficient for a few entry-level career positions in psychology, but a graduate degree is typically necessary.

After completing a bachelor's degree in psychology, students will need to complete a master's degree or Phd in psychology. A master's degree in psychology is recommended for individuals seeking upper-level career opportunities in business, consulting and the health care system. A Phd in psychology, with a focus on health psychology, is necessary in order to teach at a university or perform research. A Phd is also required to become a licensed health psychologist. More and more public community health organizations and private corporations are seeking candidates with a Phd level education.

Average Salary for Health Psychologists
As with most occupations, a health psychologist's earning potential is influenced by many factors including education, location and experience. Typically, those who earn a graduate degree in psychology will earn more than those who settle on an undergraduate degree. Salaries also tend to be higher for health psychologists working in major metropolitan areas.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists working in hospitals have a median annual salary of just under $92,000. Those working in counseling centers and healthcare clinics make just under $74,000. An those working in research and development average over $100,000 a year.

Health Psychology Resources
For students and aspiring psychologists serious about a career in health psychology, we recommend exploring the following resources:

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