What is Health Psychology?

People who want to be psychologists want to help patients deal with their mental health and personal issues so they can lead happier and healthier lives. As we have a better understanding of psychology in the last decade, there is increased awareness of the link between mental and physical health.

That is why health psychology is growing in popularity. We understand that if the physical health of an individual is improved, their mental state may also improve. Psychologists who specialize in health psychology are focused on treating, preventing, and managing illness and stress so the patient’s mental health is enhanced.

If you want to work in a field where you can improve the mental and physical health of patients, health psychology is a good specialty to consider. Below is detailed information about health psychology as a career.

Health Psychology Overview

Health psychology is the study of how patients deal with illness, why some people will not follow medical advice and the best ways to reduce pain and alter poor health habits. Health psychologists devise healthcare strategies that encourage emotional and physical well-being, which improves mental health. (APA.org)

Health psychologists work in clinical settings conducting research and ways to influence healthcare policy. They also measure the effects of behavior on health and come up with ways to help patients make better behavior choices that lead to good health and reduce illness.

Health psychology is essential in clinical settings where the professional can perform clinical interviews and behavioral assessments. They also may do interventions with individuals and groups, such as working in programs to help patients lower stress, stop smoking, or avoid poor eating habits.

There will always be a strong need for research in health psychology. Reducing healthcare costs is a priority for healthcare decisionmakers and politicians. These are areas where health psychologists can make meaningful contributions. They may do studies on what causes health problems and how they can be prevented. Or, they may study why certain groups of people do not get care when they need it. Health psychologists may also assist patients to understand and learn how to deal with a diagnosis.

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How Does Health Psychology Help the Patient?

Health psychology helps people because it can help them enhance their quality of life and deal with health problems that are causing them serious symptoms and issues. Health psychologists are heavily invested in work on serious health problems, such as preventing obesity, stopping smoking, ending depression and anxiety, and generally attempting to improve life quality for patients. (Psychcentral.com)

Health psychologists play an active role in the military as they assist soldiers and veterans suffering from PTSD. Health psychologists often help these patients adjust to civilian life and prevent them from committing suicide. These psychologists also help patients handle depression, stress, and anxiety. Unlike a regular clinical or counseling psychologist, health psychologists are trained to understand the processes and physiology of diseases, as well as how the mind and body can work together to overcome an illness.

For instance, a person who has trouble sleeping at night may work with a health psychologist to devise an effective, stable bedtime routine so that they get a good night’s rest. Such a routine may include eliminating caffeine after dinner and engaging in relaxation techniques before lying down for the night.

A person suffering from long-term back pain can be helped by working with a health psychologist. While the psychologist will not only tell the patient to stop with pain drugs, there are several things they can encourage behaviorally to help the patient manage their pain without medication. For instance, teaching stress management techniques can help to lower pain and help the patient manage stress more effectively.

How Can You Become a Health Psychologist?

The first thing you need to do is get your bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. Next, you will need to earn your master’s in psychology; there are many on-campus and online programs that are available today so you can earn your degree while still working, if you choose.

You can work in health psychology with a master’s but for the best career path, you probably will want to get your Ph.D. or Psy.D. in health psychology. Some of the coursework you may take in a Ph.D. in Health Psychology program are: (UNCC.edu)

  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to Health
  • Introduction to Health Psychology
  • Practicum in Health Psychology
  • Research Methodologies in Behavioral Sciences
  • Health Behavior Change
  • Health Care Systems and Delivery
  • Health Policy and Planning in the US
  • Psychology of Aging
  • Psychology of Personality

After you earn your Ph.D, you need one or two years of post-Ph.D. training so you can get your health psychologist license. Every state has different standards, but you usually need your Ph.D., complete a health psychology internship, and have one or two years of supervised health psychology work experience. The final step is to pass your licensing examination.

What Do You Need to Apply to the Program?

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

  • College transcripts: You will need your bachelor’s and master’s degree college transcripts. It is difficult to get into a health 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 in health psychology 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 health psychology doctoral program.

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

To become a health psychologist, you must complete your master’s or doctoral degree in psychology and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology or EPPP. Passing this examination lets you practice as a psychologist in all states. Getting your health psychology license involves getting your Ph.D., having enough hours of clinical practice, and then passing the EPPP.

Is The Job Outlook for a Health Psychologist Good?

People in the US are enjoying longer and healthier lives. As they get older, many Americans want to use the healthcare system to live a more enjoyable life. It is for that reason there is a higher demand for all types of healthcare services, including mental health care.

Employment for clinical and health psychologists will rise by 14% by 2028, which is much faster than average. Employment of health psychologists will increase because of higher need for mental health services in schools, hospitals, social services agencies, and mental health centers.  (BLS.gov)

The need for health psychologists also is increasing because we have a better understanding of how physical and mental health are connected. Patients who are in good physical health are more likely to be able to deal with mental health problems. The health psychologist works with the patient to deal with mental and physical challenges so they can lead more productive lives.

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Further Resources for Candidates in Health Psychology

Want more information about the health psychology field? Below are additional resources:

Now that you have a better understanding of what health psychology is and how you can help people once you have your Ph.D., all you need to do is get started!