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Health Psychology Degree Guide

Clinical health psychology, or health psychology, has been recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a specialty since 1997.1 Clinical health psychology examines the interrelationships between behavioral, emotional, cognitive, social, and biological sources in humans to promote good health, to prevent illness and disability, and to improve the healthcare system. An advanced degree such as a doctoral degree is typically required to become a health psychologist. Jobs can be found with a master’s degree in health psychology, but people with these jobs typically work under a licensed psychologist, so those with a doctoral degree will find the most opportunities.

Degree Requirements and Coursework

A bachelor’s degree is required to enter an advanced degree program in health psychology, and some undergraduate study in psychology or a related field is preferred if not required for admission. In a health psychology program, students will learn about development, implementation, and design and evaluation of prevention and treatment interventions with the goal of improving the physical and mental health of individuals, families, and communities. Typical requirements for entrance into an advanced health psychology degree program include high GRE scores, a minimum GPA of 3.5, official transcripts, three references, a personal statement, and a current resume. Sample coursework may include:

  • Cognitive Assessment
  • Clinical Research Methods
  • Ethics and Professional Issues
  • Health Psychology
  • Human Behavior Change
  • Personality Assessment
  • Physiological Psychology
  • Practicum in Clinical Psychology

Profiles of Health Psychology Programs

Master’s Programs

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology: The Chicago School offers a Master of Art (MA) in counseling psychology with a health psychology concentration. The program seeks to teach students how biological, psychological, and social factors can affect illness and overall health. Graduates of the program will be able to help individuals make positive health decisions and engage in positive behaviors that lead to good health and increased longevity. Graduates will be prepared to sit for professional counselor licensure (LPC and LCPC) in the state of Illinois and other states. Sixty total credits make up the program, including a 700-hour fieldwork requirement during the second year. Most students can complete the program in two years if they attend full-time. A bachelor’s degree with coursework in psychology and statistics or research methods (grade of C or better) is required for entry, along with an essay, a resume or CV, and three letters of recommendation. Sample courses include Wellness, Health, and Prevention; Biopsychosocial Aspects of Medical Conditions; and Psychology of Aging.

Doctoral Programs

University of California Los Angeles (UCLA): UCLA’s Psychology Department offers a health psychology combined program that includes a master’s degree awarded after two years and a doctoral degree upon completion of the program. While both degrees are granted in the five-year full-time program, only students seeking the PhD are considered for entry. Part-time students are also not accepted. Health Psychology is one of eight specialty areas offered by UCLA’s Psychology Department. Admission requirements include three letters of recommendation, unofficial GRE scores, unofficial transcripts showing a minimum GPA of 3.0 (with 3.82 being average), a statement of purpose, and lastly interviews with faculty area admission committees. The program boasts a diverse student body and the program’s major focus is the intersection of psychological processes and physical health and disease. Careful consideration is given to applicants’ statements of purpose, research experience, and letters of recommendation, in order to ensure that the student body stays diverse and successful.

University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte: UNC Charlotte offers a PhD program in health psychology, which focuses on the development, implementation, and evaluation of prevention and treatment interventions. Collaboration with other colleges and departments at the university is encouraged. Doctoral candidates in health psychology can choose between three program concentrations: clinical psychology, community psychology, or general health psychology. For clinical health, 84-87 credit hours are required and for the community and general concentrations, 78 hours are required. Research opportunities for students to work with faculty include areas such as cognition and mental health, obesity, pain, sleep behavior, and traumatic brain injury. A master’s thesis or second-year research project, a written comprehensive exam, a dissertation, and a year-long pre-doctoral internship (for clinical students only) are required for successful completion of the degree. Full- and part-time students are accepted into the program, and minimum requirements include at least 18 hours of coursework in psychology, a course in statistics, excellent GRE scores, and an undergraduate degree with excellent grades (average GPA for admitted students is 3.5). Undergraduate degrees in psychology, gerontology, public policy, or related disciplines are preferred.

University of Colorado (CU) Denver: CU Denver offers a PhD program in clinical health psychology. The six components of the doctoral program are core courses and electives; a master’s thesis; a clinical practicum; comprehensive clinical competency evaluation (CCCE); doctoral dissertation; and pre-doctoral internship. Ambitious students can finish the program in five years. Required courses include Personality Assessment, Diversity in Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy, Ethics and Professional Issues, and Multivariate Statistics, among others. Admission is competitive and requires an undergraduate degree with a GPA of 3.5 or higher, GRE scores, and the completion of specific undergraduate courses related to the degree. Average successful applicants have a GPA of 3.69 and score in the top 50 percentile or higher on the GRE. Potential students are asked to identify one to three core faculty members as a potential research mentor in their personal statement. They must also include a resume or CV, three letters of recommendation (including two from academic referees), transcripts and GRE scores with their application.

Online Programs

University of Florida (UF) Health: UF Health’s College of Public Health and Health Professionals offers a PhD program that can be partially completed online. The program includes a PhD in clinical and health psychology and a Master of Public Health (MPH) in one, offered jointly by the Department of Clinical Health and Psychology and the MPH program in the College of Public Health and Health Professions. The collaborative degree adds only one year to the time it would take to complete the PhD. Up to 15 credits of the MPH core courses may be taken online and nine credits of PhD courses may be applied to the MPH. While courses in the two programs can be taken concurrently, the recommended course of study is to devote the third year of study to the MPH coursework (48 credits). Applicants must be accepted by both programs, and students will choose one of six MPH concentrations: Biostatistics, Environmental Health, Epidemiology, Public Health Management and Policy, Public Health Practice, or Social and Behavioral Sciences. An MPH internship is also required as part of the dual program, which is usually completed toward the end of the program.

Health Psychology Job Description

Health psychologists are usually clinical psychologists who focus on how psychological factors affect health and illness. They focus on promoting healthy living strategies with their patients and develop programs to help solve social health issues like teen pregnancy. In their day-to-day work, they may be engaged in academic research, professional practice, and education and training. Clinical health psychologists may conduct clinical interviews and behavioral assessments. They may organize or participate in interventions with individuals or groups, helping people to try to reduce stress, quit smoking, or become more active. They may also evaluate and treat patients with acute health problems and positively impact serious diseases like AIDS, cancer, and diabetes.

What Jobs Can You Get with This Degree?

The type of job title you can get with a degree in health psychology depends largely upon the type of degree you obtain. Titles available to graduates of advanced degrees in health psychology include:

  • Clinical health psychologist*
  • Counseling psychologist*
  • Health case manager
  • Health consultant
  • Health psychologist*
  • Professor*
  • Researcher

*Usually requires a doctoral degree.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get a degree in health psychology?

Doctoral degrees in health psychology take an average of five years, while master’s degrees take around two years to complete.

What kind of degree do I need to get a job in health psychology?

Most people in the field have a doctoral degree in health psychology, since that is considered the terminal degree. Some do have a master’s degree, but they tend to work in more supportive roles, under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Clinical health psychologists require a doctoral degree.

Health Psychology Salary and Job Outlook

In May 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that general psychologists earned a median annual salary of $69,280.2 The category of “all other psychologists,” under which health psychologists fall, earned a median salary of $90,020 during the same year.2 According to the APA’s 2009 salary survey, health psychologists working in direct human services earned an average of $80,000 per year, and others working in large universities or health systems earned even more.3

The outlook for health psychologists appears to be positive, with Projections Central predicting a growth of 10.7% for “all other psychologists” through 2022, about the same as average for all professions.4

Additional Resources

  • Society for Health Psychology: The APA’s organization for health psychology (Division 38) seeks to improve clients’ lives and to further professional development of its members by offering access to the latest research, ideas, and resources.

Resources:
1. American Psychological Association, Clinical Health Psychology: http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/health.aspx
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-5
3. American Psychological Association, Pursuing a Career in Health Psychology: http://www.apa.org/action/science/health/education-training.aspx
4. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm