Health Psychology Degree and Training Program Overviews

Health psychology programs are primarily offered at the graduate level. Graduate certificates may be available in both health psychology and occupational health psychology.

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Essential Information

While both master's and doctoral programs have research and clinical experience requirements, only a doctoral program typically leads to work as a licensed psychologist. Earning a master's degree can prepare students for work as psychologist assistants. Graduates of certificate programs may qualify for work as assistants, counselors, or therapists, depending on prior education and experience.

In order to enroll in a master's degree program, students will need to have completed a bachelor's degree featuring at least 18 credit hours work of psychology coursework, including an introductory course, psychology statistics, and research methods in psychology. High GRE scores are also required, as well as a 3.0 GPA minimum. Both doctorate and graduate certificate programs will require students to have a master's degree. Some doctorate programs will accept a bachelor's with 24 credits worth of psychology courses, such as introductory psychology, research methods in psychology, abnormal psychology, and psychological statistics. A 3.5 GPA in all psychology courses and an overall 3.0 may be necessary.

Throughout each program, students will likely need to complete some form of clinical experience or research project in order to graduate. For a master's program, these are likely a thesis and clinical internship. Doctorates will typically feature fieldwork, a research project, and a clinical experience, while certificates usually feature either an internship or clinical experience.


Master of Health Psychology

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master's program in health psychology may prepare an individual to work in a clinical setting as an assistant to psychologists, who typically have a doctorate degree, or for work in a similar healthcare setting (www.bls.gov). Master's degree programs in health psychology focus on assessment and design of treatments to solve medical and psychological issues. This type of program examines research methods and explores the relationship between the body and mind. Many schools design their master's programs as a foundation for further study into health psychology at the doctoral level. Some course topics may be:

  • The biology of behavior
  • Treatments in health psychology
  • Experimental design and statistics
  • Health psychology assessment
  • Ethical and legal issues in health psychology

Doctorate in Health Psychology

The doctoral degree program in health psychology trains and develops clinicians and researchers in the field, as well as preparing students to teach the subject in a college setting. These programs may be offered as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or as a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. Some schools focus more on research in their Ph.D. programs while others have a clinical focus for the Ph.D. The Psy.D. degree traditionally has a stronger focus on clinical experience. Some of the topics that may be explored in doctoral programs include the link between school-based health programs and obesity prevention, the link between chronic stress and health problems during pregnancy, and the impact of positive psychology and spirituality on overall health. Training and coursework in a doctoral program prepares individuals to be both scientists and practitioners in health psychology. Some course topics include:

  • Developmental psychology
  • The effect of medication on psychology
  • Family theory and family therapy
  • Group dynamics in psychology
  • Cognitive, social and learning therapies

Health Psychology Certificate

A variety of certificate programs in health psychology are available. A few certificate programs are also available in occupational health psychology, which is a fairly new area that examines the role of stress and other psychological issues on workplace injury and illness. Typical certificate programs have coursework focused in psychology and health. Some course topics include:

  • Biological and psychological factors in health
  • Optimal health for older adults
  • The interaction of psychology and health
  • The effect of drugs on the central nervous system
  • Age-related changes in learning and memory

Career Options

Psychologists who have their own practices or operate as research clinicians should have a Ph.D., according to the BLS. However, a master's degree in health psychology may prepare an individual to work under the supervision of a psychologist in conducting assessments and interventions in health psychology. A master's degree in psychology also may be useful to a number of other career areas, such as a teacher, a nurse, or a medical doctor.

Completing a certificate program in health psychology may be useful training for a psychologist or psychologist assistant. Other occupations that might benefit from health psychology training are:

  • School counselor
  • Physical therapist
  • Teacher
  • Occupational therapist
  • Nurse

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS predicts employment for all psychologists will grow by 19% from 2014-2024, faster as average for all occupations. Job prospects were expected to be best for those with a doctorate degree in a specialty, such as health or school psychology. In May 2015, the BLS reported the median annual salary for clinical, counseling or school psychologists to be $70,580.

Continuing Education, Licensing and Certification

The American Psychological Association provides information and resources on all types of psychology, including health psychology (www.health-psych.org). Continuing education information plus a list of approved health psychology doctorate programs are available on the organization's website.

Depending on the schools involved, some coursework in the certificate program may transfer to the master's degree program. Several higher-education institutions have master's degree programs in the health psychology field.

Those who hold a doctorate degree in psychology may become licensed and certified as practitioners. Licensing requirements vary depending on the state, according to the BLS, but all usually involve passing a national exam. Some states also allow psychologists to prescribe medicine, if certain standards are met.

To become board certified in psychology, an individual must apply to the American Board of Professional Psychology (www.abpp.org). The board certifies psychologists in many different areas, including health psychology. Eligibility requirements involve having a doctorate degree from an approved program and meeting the experience requirements. In addition to an exam, an applicant must go through an assessment process to be certified. Continuing education is also required to keep both licensure and the certification active.

Graduate programs in health psychology can lead to a variety of career options, such as psychology assistant and school counselor. Licensure and a doctorate are typically required to work as a psychologist and continuing education credits are needed to maintain licensure.

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