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Degrees in Health and Wellness Psychology: Program Info

Health and wellness psychology is an interdisciplinary field that analyzes emotional, social and biological well-being through a combination of psychological methodology and study of the natural sciences. Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs are available in a variety of health and wellness areas.

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Essential Information

Bachelor's degree students in a health psychology or related program of study get a foundational knowledge of how psychological factors can affect physical well-being. Courses cover topics such as human sexuality, bioethics and medical terminology. Students gain practice in research and data analysis through classroom, lab and fieldwork assignments. Admission to a bachelor's program requires a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Master's degree students must have a bachelor's degree and a solid academic background in psychology. Some programs offer a general health psychology curriculum, but others allow students to specialize in sports psychology. Courses and research cover topics such as substance abuse, eating disorders and occupational health. Clinical internships may be required, and most programs call for a thesis.

Doctoral programs offer training for careers in research or in clinical practice. Students learn to analyze, treat and prevent behavior-linked health conditions. They are allowed to tailor their course plans to focus on a specialty area such as weight reduction or treating chronic pain. Teaching or a clinical internship may be required, and most programs call for a dissertation.

Many states require licensing for counselors and psychologists. Most types of counselors, including genetic counselors and marriage counselors, must have a master's degree, while psychologists must hold doctoral degrees. There are other requirements that vary by state.

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Health Psychology

Through a B.S. program in health psychology, students study the basic relationship between physical health and human behaviors, feelings and thoughts. Students may examine the use of psychological interventions in preventing illnesses, as well as the applications of psychological research in promoting healthy lifestyles.

This program can integrate practical training in statistical measurement techniques and principles of psychological research. Targeted fieldwork and research design can also help students gain methodological skills. The program may also incorporate topics in nutrition, herbalism and biology or focus on a premedical science track.

Education Prerequisites

Students should have a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Undergraduate coursework may also be required in the natural sciences or other general education areas, such as anatomy or English. Some B.S. programs may require that a minimum GPA be maintained while completing these particular courses.

Course Topics

The health psychology program touches on topics in biology, chemistry, mathematics, healthcare, psychological methodology and behavioral science. General topics in psychology and abnormal psychology are also common program features. Topics may include:

  • Bioethics
  • Developmental psychology
  • Disease concepts
  • Human sexuality
  • Learning and memory
  • Medical terminology
  • Nutrition
  • Social psychology

Popular Career Options

Students with a B.S. in Health Psychology are eligible to pursue entry-level careers in fitness and wellness, social services, human resources and public health. Possible titles include:

  • Community health educator
  • Research assistant
  • Volunteer organizer

Continuing Education Info

Completion of a B.S. program qualifies students for graduate study not only in psychology, but also in physical and occupational therapy, nutrition and social work. Additionally, students who concentrate their health psychology studies in the natural sciences may choose to apply to medical school or biomedical science graduate programs.

Master's Degree in Health Psychology

Master's degree programs, such as the Master of Arts (M.A.) in Health Psychology or M.A. in Counseling with a specialization in sport and health psychology, train students to be proficient psychological researchers, as well as practical promoters of physical and mental wellness among health organizations, athletic groups, businesses and communities. Programs may cover substance abuse, eating disorders, exercise promotion, preventive clinical techniques and rehabilitation.

Some programs integrate studies in sports psychology, as well as require community service or other psychological practice. Program requirements may also stipulate that students complete a master's thesis to graduate.

Education Prerequisites

Students must have a bachelor's degree and letters of recommendation. Undergraduate transcripts should demonstrate a background in introductory psychology, abnormal psychology, statistics and research methods, as well as meet the minimum GPA requirement in undergraduate or graduate coursework. Students may also need to submit their GRE score.

Course Topics

M.A. coursework generally enhances students' abilities in statistical measurement, research and psychotherapy. More specific topics in health psychology may include:

  • Biological and psychological bases of health
  • Exercise physiology
  • Intervention and rehabilitation
  • Occupational health
  • Preventive measures for health and wellness
  • Psychopharmacology

Doctoral Degree in Health Psychology

Doctoral degree programs, including the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in health psychology and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biological and Health Psychology, train psychological researchers and clinical practitioners, respectively. These programs focus on how psychological methods and behavioral research are applied to the analysis, prevention and treatment of disease.

Specific focus areas may include cardiovascular diseases, obesity and weight regulation, physiology of chronic pain, genetics and behavioral oncology. Doctoral students generally compose and defend a dissertation to finish their degree, while some programs also include a separate and additional master's thesis requirement.

Students may also be required to teach courses or complete an internship in an approved healthcare setting. Programs generally require least a bachelor's degree, as well as undergraduate coursework in psychology. Some programs may also require related research experience and interests.

Course Topics

Doctoral coursework examines addictive behaviors, diseases and related psychological treatments. Additionally, programs at this level usually focus on psychology's relationship with medicine. Possible course topics include:

  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Behavioral medicine and intervention techniques
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Lifestyle decisions
  • Psychopharmacology and addiction
  • Psychophysiology

Career Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists health psychology as one possible specialization area for psychologists ( Graduates with a master's degree may find psychological assistant positions. Psychologists were predicted to see a 12% growth in total employment from 2008 to 2018. The BLS noted that psychologists with a doctorate and a specific background in health would have the best career prospects during this time period.

Many psychologists with a doctoral degree work in clinical practice or psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals. In May 2010, the BLS reported that the average salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $72,540.

Licensure and Certification Info

Psychologists who provide patient care must be licensed by the states in which they practice. Although licensure standards vary by state, they usually stipulate that psychologists have a doctorate, several years of professional experience and an approved internship experience. Most states require a written licensing examination. Some states also require additional oral exams and responses to essay questions. Continuing education may also be needed to periodically renew licensure.

The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers certification in specific areas of clinical psychology ( Candidates must have a doctoral degree and a state-issued license. Additional requirements include postdoctoral training, experience and endorsements, as well as the ABPP's board examination.

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