How to Become a Public Health Psychologist

Public health psychology is a subspecialty of health psychology. A public health psychologist works on health at the population level, rather than at the individual level. For instance, a public health psychologist may focus their work on at-risk groups, such as low-income immigrants, to prevent critical health problems that affect the entire community. (

Public health psychology also investigates how psychological factors, thought processes, and social influences can affect a population’s health. Researchers and healthcare professionals have discovered that physical health can be altered to a certain degree by psychological well-being.

Public health psychology takes techniques that combine behavioral and psychological factors, along with genetics and biological processes, to understand their role in disease and illness.

If you are intrigued by a career in public health psychology, please read more information below about job demand, how to become one, licensure, and more.

What Is Public Health Psychology?

Public health psychology focuses on how social, biological, and psychological factors influence illness and health. They explore ways to get people to embrace better health behaviors and illness prevention. This specialty area looks at how biological, social, and psychological factors affect the choices people make about their health.

Public health psychology also investigates the factors that allow people to live healthier lives, recover from illness, or deal with a chronic health problem. They are the experts on the intersection of behavior and health, and are in higher demand today as a vital part of healthcare delivery teams. (

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What Do Public Health Psychologists Do?

A public health psychologist investigates major psychological factors and how they affect the health of specific populations. They utilize their knowledge of psychology to understand the connection between public health issues, behavior, and emotional factors. (

For instance, a public health psychologist may study psychological factors that cause more heart disease in low-income populations. Public health psychologists also focus on the needs of an entire population as opposed to just one person’s problems.

The duties of a public health psychologist can vary based on where they are employed. Some public health psychologists might focus on certain populations, such as disabled veterans or low-income pregnant women. They also may work on health-related psychological issues that affect that population. Regardless of the population that the public health psychologist works with, a lot of their work involves conducting, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting research studies.

Some public health psychologists use the information they uncover in research to work with politicians to develop public policies and laws that can help to prevent disease. For instance, they might work with government agencies to attempt to address unfair healthcare practices, or influence public policies that are related to health issues.

Where Do Public Health Psychologists Work?

Many public health psychologists work in clinical settings to assist groups or individuals to prevent sickness and promote behaviors that lead to good health. Some of the places that public health psychologists work in are:

  • Clinical work: Public health psychologists may work in medical facilities and perform behavioral assessments, clinical interviews, and personality tests. Other tasks could involve doing interventions with groups or individuals.
  • Research: Many public health psychologists perform research on many health-related issues. Researchers may focus on what causes health problems, effective preventative measures, health promotion techniques, and how to help people deal with illness or pain.
  • Public policy: Some in this field work in government or private agencies to influence policy on public health issues. This work can involve lobbying government agencies, talking about healthcare inequality, or advising governmental bodies about how to improve the healthcare system.

What Is the Job Outlook for Public Health Psychologists?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment for all psychologists will rise by 14% through 2028, which is much faster than average.

Employment for clinical and counseling psychologists will rise because of more need for psychological services in schools, mental health centers, hospitals and social service agencies. There also will be increased demand for psychologists trained in public health as their work can help to improve health and wellness for entire populations, which can lead to lower healthcare costs. (

Another occupation to examine is that of health educators and community health workers. This field is projected to grow by 11% by 2028, much faster than average when compared to other occupations. Growth is coming from efforts to boost health outcomes and to lower healthcare costs by teaching people better behaviors that lead to good health.

Governments, social service providers, and healthcare providers want to find better ways to enhance the quality of care and health outcomes while lowering costs. This will boost demand for community healthcare workers and health educators as they teach people how to live a healthier lifestyle and how to avoid expensive medical procedures and diseases. (

How Can You Become a Public Health Psychologist?

To work in private practice as a public health psychologist, you need to have a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology, public health psychology, or health psychology. The Ph.D. is a mostly research-oriented degree that you earn after you take an examination and write a dissertation on original public health psychology research. A Psy.D. is a more clinical degree that is based on practical public health clinical work instead of a dissertation. (

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What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

To work as any psychologist, you must earn a license in your state of practice. Licensing laws vary by state and position. Most clinical, counseling and public health psychologists must have a doctoral degree in psychology, a clinical internship, and one or two years of professional experience in public health psychology. You also are required to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

To enhance your career options, you can earn a certification in public health psychology offered by the American Board of Professional Psychology.

The public health psychology field is a growing one as governmental bodies are understanding the importance of focusing on good health practices at the community level to improve people’s health and to lower healthcare costs. If you are interested in a public health psychology career, be sure to review our online degree programs so you can get a jumpstart on your public health psychology career.