What is Clinical Health Psychology?

Most people who want to become psychologists do so because they want to help people overcome their mental health and relationship challenges so they can have more productive lives. As our understanding of psychology has improved, there is a better grasp of the connection between mental and physical health.

That is why clinical health psychology is a growing specialty in the field. It is understood if a person’s physical health is improved, their mental health also may improve. Psychologists who specialize in this field focus on preventing, treating, and managing disability and stress so that mental health is improved.

If you desire an occupation where you can enhance the mental and physical well-being of your patients, you may want to consider the clinical health psychology specialty. Below is more information about clinical health psychology as a career.

Clinical Health Psychology Overview

Clinical health psychology investigates and implements clinical services across diverse settings and populations to enhance health and well-being. Clinical health psychology also intends to prevent, treat, and manage disability and illness. (APA.org)

A clinical health psychologist views health as the intersection of psychological, social, cultural, and biological factors, and applies this understanding to psychological services including:

  • Research
  • Clinical services
  • Consulting with, supervising, and educating other psychologists and healthcare providers
  • Advising institutions, organizations, policymakers, and the public

Clinical health psychology has evolved as a subspecialty of practice and knowledge with its foundations in health psychology. This is the field of psychology that addresses interactions of social, psychological, cultural and biological elements as they pertain to health and well-being.

Clinical health psychologists possess detailed knowledge of how memory, learning, perception, cognition, and motivation affect health behaviors and lead to physical illness, injury, and disability. Some of the issues that clinical health psychologists address are:

  • Managing weight
  • Use of tobacco
  • Pain management
  • Adjusting to serious and chronic illnesses
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How Does Clinical Health Psychology Help the Patient?

Clinical health psychology helps the patient because it can help them improve their quality of life and address serious health problems. Clinical health psychologists are involved in much prevention work around serious issues, such as preventing obesity, keeping a positive outlook, preventing depression and anxiety, and generally trying to boost the quality of life of patients. (Psychcentral.com)

Clinical health psychologists play a major role in the US military as they help soldiers and military veterans with PTSD, adjusting to regular life, and preventing suicide. These specialists also help patients deal with psychological issues such as depression, stress, and anxiety. Unlike conventional clinical psychologists, clinical health psychologists are trained to understand the disease processes and physiology, and how the body and mind can work as one on a specific illness.

For example, a person with insomnia may work with a clinical health psychologist in creating a good bedtime routine, such as reducing caffeine intake and working on relaxation techniques before they go to bed.

A person with chronic pain can benefit from working with a clinical health psychologist, too. While the specialist will not just advocate the patient to stop taking pain medication, there are many things that can be done behaviorally to manage pain more effectively without pain drugs. For instance, stress management techniques can be used to reduce chronic pain and cope better with stress.

How Can You Become a Clinical Health Psychologist?

The first step is to complete your bachelor’s degree in psychology or a similar specialty. With your bachelor’s degree, you can apply to various online or on-campus master’s in psychology programs. Getting into a master’s in psychology program is competitive, so it is important to keep your GPA as high as possible. You may also need solid scores on the GRE or GMAT.

It is possible to work on a limited basis in clinical health psychology with only a master’s. But for the best career and salary potential, you will eventually want to earn your Ph.D. or Psy.D. in clinical health psychology. Doctoral clinical health psychology students complete coursework in areas such as:

  • Research design
  • Assessment and intervention
  • Statistics
  • Psychopathology

You also may take electives in specialties as pediatric or family psychology. Most students are required to complete a clinical health psychology internship.

The next step is to complete one or two years of post-doctoral training so you can earn your clinical health psychologist license. Each state has its own rules on how to get a license in clinical health psychology. Typically, you need a doctoral degree, complete an internship, have at least one or two years of supervised experience, and pass a licensing examination.

What Do You Need to Apply to the Program?

Every admissions office has different expectations, but most will require most of the following to apply for a doctoral program in clinical health psychology:

  • College transcripts: You will need your bachelor’s and master’s degree college transcripts. It is difficult to get into a psychology doctoral program, so you will need to have a good GPA of 3.0 or higher in most cases.
  • Letters of recommendation: Doctoral programs are competitive, so you will need excellent recommendations from past professors.
  • Prerequisites: If you have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology, you probably will have the prerequisites you need to be admitted to a doctoral program.
  • Personal essay: How well you write is critical to be admitted to a psychology doctoral program.
  • Application: Generally, the application is online. Be sure that you submit the application by the deadline and provide all the information that is requested.

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

To become a psychologist, you need to complete your master’s or doctoral degree in psychology and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology or EPPP. Passing this test will allow you to practice as a psychologist in all 50 states. Getting your licenses involves earning your degree, having sufficient hours of supervised clinical practice, and then passing the test.

Is The Job Outlook for a Clinical Health Psychologist Good?

People in the United States are living longer than ever, and as they age, they want to take advantage of the advanced healthcare system to lead more productive lives. As a result, there is more demand for all healthcare services, including mental health and psychological help.

Employment for clinical health psychologists and related professionals is rapidly rising, with 14% growth in jobs expected by 2028. This is much faster than average when compared to other occupations. Employment of clinical health and counseling psychologists will rise because of the greater need for psychological services in hospitals, schools, social service agencies, and mental health centers.  (BLS.gov)

Demand for clinical health psychologists is growing because there is a better understanding of the link between mental health and physical health. Patients who are in good physical condition are more likely to be able to overcome their mental health challenges. The clinical health psychologist will work with the patient to overcome both physical and mental health problems so they are able to live happier, more productive lives.

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Further Resources for Candidates in Clinical Health Psychology

Do you need more information to learn more about clinical health psychology? Here are some sources you may find helpful:

Now that you have a better idea of what clinical health psychology is and how you can help people once you have your degree, all you need to do is get started!