Health psychology is a relatively new, but rapidly growing field. Health psychologists specialize in the ways that psychological, biological and social factors affect health. They help clients deal with illnesses and promote healthy living.
Undergraduate degrees in psychology and the sciences provide a good foundation for those planning to pursue advanced degrees in health psychology. Master’s and doctorate programs in health psychology usually follow a clinical or research oriented track depending on the student’s interest. Programs with a clinical concentration entail several hours of practicum work, while a research oriented focus requires a thesis. All advanced degrees in health psychology require a significant amount of research work due to considerable overlap with the medical field.
Master’s degrees take two to three years to complete. A doctorate degree in health psychology is usually a five to seven year commitment. Health psychologists will also need to obtain certification and licensure from their state of residence.
Health psychologists study the interaction of psychological, behavioral, biological, social and environmental factors on health and illness. They draw from principles and processes used in biology, health and other psychology fields to promote health and quality of life in their clients.
Health psychologists are trained to:
Health psychologists work in a variety of environments. Many health psychologists work in research institutes, investigating and developing theories regarding the relationship between physical and mental health. Some work in hospitals and health care facilities, counseling patients and their families who are struggling with an illness, and pinpointing what role mental factors play in physical illness and visa versa. Many work in government settings, formulating health policy. Others take teaching positions with universities.
Health psychologists’ salaries vary depending on training and focus. Those with doctorate degrees enjoy higher salaries and better job opportunities.
A 2007 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) reported an overall median salary of $90,000 for psychologists in 11-12 month research positions. Psychologists working in clinical positions earned a median salary of $85,000. A 9-10 month faculty position yielded a median salary of $71,000 in 2007.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, psychology jobs are expected to increase by 15 percent from 2006 to 2016. Jobs in health care are plentiful right now, and expected to increase even more. Positions in health psychology should grow alongside these upward trends in the health care industry.