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. Common fields include health psychology, counseling, clinical psychology, and biological and health psychology. Specializations available often include sports psychology, weight reduction, or chronic pain treatment.
Lab or field work, teaching or a clinical internship, community service, and/or a master's thesis/doctoral dissertation may be required. In terms of admissions, for bachelor's programs, a high school diploma or GED, some prior coursework and a minimum GPA may be required. For a master's degree program, a bachelor's degree, letters of recommendation, prior coursework in field, and GRE scores may be required. For doctoral programs, a bachelor's or master's degree, and prior work or research experience could be required.
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.
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:
- Developmental psychology
- Disease concepts
- Human sexuality
- Learning and memory
- Medical terminology
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.
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
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 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
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.
Career Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists health psychology as one possible specialization area for psychologists (www.bls.gov). Graduates with a master's degree may find psychological assistant positions. Psychologists were predicted to see a 3% growth in total employment from 2019 to 2029. 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 2020, the BLS reported that the median salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $79,820.
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.
Health and wellness psychology degrees can often be found at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. In order to practice as a psychologist, graduates will need to become licensed by the state in which they intent to work, pass an examination and maintain continuing education.