Health psychology students study the mind-body connection. They explore how patients respond differently to illness and why they have poor health habits, turn to substance abuse, or seem unable to stick to medical advice. In clinical settings, health psychologists conduct interviews and assessments, offer patient education and counseling and perform interventions. In the research setting, health psychologists may explore specific clinical populations to understand treatment obstacles and trends.
The BLS reports that most states require psychologists to hold a doctorate in psychology, have completed an extensive internship, and have accrued at least two years of professional experience in the field as part of a post-doctoral program. In addition to holding a mandatory state license, health psychologists can also obtain voluntary certification from American Board of Professional Psychology.
Associate Health Psychology Degree Programs
A two-year associate degree program in psychology provides the basic, introductory coursework in the field in theory and methodology. Associate degrees in psychology come with associate in arts (AA) and associate in science (AS) designations. They won’t qualify anyone for a job as a health psychologist, but for those who want to go on to graduate school, an associate degree can be instrumental in building core skills toward a career.
The associate degree provides students with an introduction to psychology and a general education in the arts and sciences required by most institutions for a bachelor or four-year degree. During the program, students develop communication and analysis skills vital for college-level work in the major.
Bachelor’s Degree Health Psychology Programs
Completing a bachelor’s degree in health psychology can be the next step for the aspiring professional. Many programs either require or offer voluntary internships through which students gain practical experience essential for qualifying for many graduate school programs. Many graduate schools offering advanced degrees leading to licensing in health psychology do not insist that applicants hold an undergraduate degree in the field. Consequently, many who go on to earn a specialist or doctoral degree hail from undergraduate programs in fields such as psychology, sociology, nursing, biology, philosophy, or a related field if coupled with job or voluntary experience. And while there are institutions that offer a bachelor of science degree in health psychology, students should note that the degree will not qualify them for work as licensed psychologists. They may find entry-level roles at community and mental health clinics.
Differences in Bachelor’s Degree Types
In deciding on an arts or sciences designation, students should examine the career goals. The two degrees offer a different educational emphasis. The arts designation may be more suited to clinical or social service aspirants, while the science focus may apply more distinctly for psychological researchers and analysts. Because the profession is considered to be “biosocial” in nature, (APA), professionals are expected to prepare for both clinical activities and research.
The B.A. in psychology typically favors a liberal arts approach in social sciences and humanities.
The B.S. in psychology puts a heavy influence on sciences such as anatomy and physiology, biology, and information systems.
Master’s Degree Health Psychology Programs
Although full licensure requires applicants to hold a PhD or PsyD in health psychology, earning a master’s degree in the field or related psychology specialty may prepare graduates for doctoral work or to take jobs as supervised practitioners and research assistants. Master’s programs offering health phycology degrees are distinguished by the clinical, research, and advocacy focus of the school.
Time to Degree
2 years beyond the bachelor’s degree
Bachelor degree in psychology or related field. Graduate school (GRE) test scores.
Coursework in the Major
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Graduate Multivariate Statistics and Experimental Design
- Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine
- Health Promotion
- Behavioral Epidemiology
- Students deepen their understanding of theories and concepts within their specialization.
- Students understand and apply methodologies in research design, measurement, and data analysis.
- Graduates apply advanced clinical and research knowledge at their current institution or through a new role in psychology.
- Students have completed much of the graduate-level coursework applicable to doctoral-level degrees.
- Students may qualify for pre-doctoral internship placements to build hours toward licensing or to satisfy PhD admission requirements.
Specializations at the Master’s Degree Level
The area of specialization gives graduate students en-route to their doctorates an opportunity to deepen their preparation for a special area in the PhD. One or more health psychology specializations set the trajectory of a student’s career. These include:
- Public/General Health (research and administration)
- Community Health (leadership and policy development)
- Critical Health (research and advocacy)
- Clinical Health (prevention and intervention)
Master’s degree programs in health psychology may offer two options based on the career goals of the graduate student. A MS thesis program may be best suited for students preparing themselves for a PhD program. Students receive credit for research hours and complete and defend an empirical thesis. The non-thesis mater’s pathway is more appropriate for grad students planning to pursue a doctorate in another health-related field or advance in their profession with a specialization in health psychology.
Sample courses from the Master’s Degree in Health Psychology Curriculum:
Year 1 Year 2 Master’s Statistics Cross-Cultural Psychology Psychopharmacology Organizational Climate and Culture Sensory Neuroscience Physiological Basis of Abnormal Behavior Language & Conceptual Development Conflict and Negotiation Clinical Research Design Leadership and Strategic Change Developmental Psychopathology Physiological Basis of Abnormal Behavior Theories of Personality Internship Physiological Basis of Behavior Thesis
Doctorate Degree Health Psychology Programs
Doctoral degree health psychology programs culminate with the awarding of a PsyD or PhD degree. Entry requirements and graduation outcomes of these doctoral programs vary. Prospective doctoral students should examine program application requirements along with the professional certification and licensing requirements in their state. Some doctoral programs require applicants to complete a one-year pre-doctoral internship in addition to a master’s degree for admission. Others may admit applicants with only a bachelor degree in psychology who have extensive supervised experience in the professions.
Time to Degree
Master’s or bachelor degree in psychology, pre-doctoral internship, professional recommendations.
- Graduates are distinguished research scientists in the field of health psychology.
- Students complete doctoral-level studies in the biopsychosocial bases of health and illness.
- Graduates are experienced in methodological and statistical methodologies using univariate and multivariate techniques.
- Students can undertake pre and post-doctoral internships funded by grants and fellowships.
- Graduates that have completed all required supervised doctoral internships may be qualified for licensing.
The time it takes to complete a doctoral degree in health psychology varies based on the student’s satisfaction of graduation and supervised internship requirements of the doctorate program and the number of acceptable graduate-level courses the student has completed in the major upon entry to the program. For programs incorporating the master’s degree program, the doctorate is comprised of:
- Core Courses & Electives
- Master’s Thesis
- Clinical Practicum/Seminars
- Comprehensive Clinical Examination
- Doctoral Dissertation
- pre-Doctoral Internship
Here is a list of courses selected from current doctoral degree programs in health psychology:
- Research Design and Quantitative Methods
- Advanced Developmental Psychology
- Ethical and Professional Issues in Psychology
- Advanced Psychopathology
- Diversity Issues in Health Psychology
- Practicum in Community Psychology
- Advanced Biological Bases of Behavior
- Multivariate Statistics
- Pre-doctoral Internship
- Supervision and Consultation
Differences between the PsyD and PhD Degree
The type of doctoral degree in Health Psychology may influence everything from the kinds of work the graduate may legally perform to the types of employment and employers that hire. The PsyD degree is generally considered to be a clinical doctorate, with the weight heavily placed on practice and practice-related research. Coursework is coupled with field work and a dissertation. The PhD degree may be better suited for health psychologists building a career in education and institutional research. The PhD program places weight on independent scholarly research over the hours otherwise required for clinical practice.
Post-doctoral Health Psychology Fellowships
Doctoral graduates seeking supervised internship hours to fulfill licensing requirements from the ABPP can apply for post-doctoral fellowships with their current universities or with other university medical centers, health psychology programs, or health centers. The National Institutes for Health (NIH) sponsors post-doctoral training and clinical residency grants to support health psychologists.
About Clinical Health Psychology Certification
The American Board of Professional Psychiatry (ABPP) is the nation’s primary board offering the voluntary Clinical Health Psychology Certification. The credential is may be required (in addition to licensing) in the state in which a newly minted PhD in Health Psychology intends to perform clinical practice or conduct research.
Applicants must hold a doctoral degree in professional psychology from an institution accredited by the APA or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). In addition, applicants must have completed a one-three year APA/CPA accredited Clinical Health Psychology postdoctoral fellowship, depending upon their specialty.
Resources for Health Psychology Students
The following organizations, associations and institutions support the ongoing development of qualified health psychology professionals. Students will find the links useful for conducting research, developing peer and mentor communities, seeking grants, and learning about significant findings in the professions.