June 24, 2024

A health psychologist is a type of psychologist who specializes in looking at how biological, social, and psychological factors influence health and illness. The mind and body are connected in many ways, and health psychologists seek to understand this connection to help people live healthier, happier lives.

For example, a health psychologist might design programs to promote healthy behaviors or use behavior change models to help people overcome unhealthy behaviors.

At a Glance

If you are dealing with a health problem that is affected by psychological or emotional factors, talking to a health psychologist may help. If you are interested in becoming a professional health psychologist, it can be helpful to learn more about what these professionals do, where they work, and how much they make each year.

What Do Health Psychologists Do?

Health psychologists engage in many different tasks related to health and wellness. Some of the functions they might perform include:

  • Design and implement a program to promote healthy behaviors such as eating a balanced diet or getting regular exercise
  • Help people quit smoking
  • Teach stress-management techniques
  • Help people who are coping with chronic health issues
  • Educate people about the emotional and psychological effects of illness
  • Create and implement workplace wellness programs
  • Help employees with problems related to stress, burnout, and work-life balance
  • Work with people to improve treatment adherence
  • Create public health initiatives to combat or prevent illness
  • Research how different psychological factors may impact health or the course of illness

Many health psychologists also research a variety of health-related issues. For example, researchers may focus on the causes of health problems, effective preventative measures, the best health promotion techniques, how to best help people cope with pain or illness, and how to get people to seek treatment for medical conditions.​

Where Do Health Psychologists Work?

Health psychologists work in a wide variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Health care clinics
  • Private corporations
  • Universities

Some health psychologists work in settings that specialize in a particular area of health care, such as oncology, pain management, women’s health, and smoking cessation programs.

Other health psychologists work in government settings, often administering community health programs or influencing public policy.

How Much Do Health Psychologists Earn?

Salaries for health psychologists typically depend on several factors, including geographic location, work setting, educational background, and job experience.

The median annual salary for all psychologists in any field was $85,330 in 2022. Those employed in government settings had a median salary of $106,690, while those working in local, state, and private hospitals had a median salary of $101,030.

According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey, health psychologists in direct human services earn around $80,000 annually. Those employed by health systems or universities often make more.

How to Become a Health Psychologist

Most licensed health psychologists hold a doctorate-level (PhD or PsyD) degree in psychology. In many cases, health psychologists pursue an undergraduate degree in general psychology and then specialize in health psychology in graduate school.

Some programs offer degrees specifically in health psychology. The emphasis in these programs can vary. Some focus on preparing students for clinical careers, while others emphasize the role of research.

To be licensed in clinical or counseling psychology, you must complete a minimum of a one-year internship after earning a doctorate. The American Board of Professional Psychology also offers board certification in health psychology.

While a doctorate is usually required to become a licensed health psychologist, some employment opportunities exist for those with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.

Employment at the bachelor’s level is limited, but some find work in community mental health offices or correctional facilities. Those with a master’s degree enjoy more employment opportunities, although they typically work under the supervision of a licensed clinical psychologist.

Subfields Within Health Psychology

Many health psychologists work directly in clinical settings to help individuals or groups prevent illness and promote healthy behaviors. Others conduct research on health-related issues or influence public policy on healthcare issues.

The specific type of work that a health psychologist does daily may depend on their work setting or specialty area. Health psychologists often focus on areas including:

Clinical Health Psychology

This subfield of health psychology is strongly linked to clinical psychology and involves activities such as psychotherapy, behavior modification, and health education.​

In clinical and medical settings, health psychologists often conduct behavioral assessments, clinical interviews, and personality tests. Other tasks often involve participating in interventions with individuals or groups.

Such interventions may involve educating people about stress reduction techniques, offering smoking cessation tips, and teaching people how to avoid unhealthy behaviors.​

Community Health Psychology

Individuals working in this subfield of health psychology often focus on developing interventions and prevention techniques at the community level. These professionals may conduct assessments of communities or work with groups to encourage healthy behaviors or promote behavior change.​

This can include researching a community’s health issues and developing health initiatives and programs. Such programs may encourage community members to access available services or provide programs to address health concerns.

Public Health Psychology

These health psychology professionals focus on understanding health at the population-level and often offer advice to healthcare professionals, government agencies, and health educators.​

Some health psychologists work in government or private agency settings to influence public policy on health issues. This work might involve lobbying government agencies, addressing inequalities in healthcare, or advising governmental bodies on healthcare reform.

Occupational Health Psychology

Health psychologists may also work with organizations to improve the health and well-being of people in the workplace. This is an emerging subfield within health psychology that incorporates industrial-organizational psychology and related disciplines.

Occupational health psychologists focus on understanding how workplace issues are linked to both physical and mental illness.

They may help address health and safety concerns in the workplace, create wellness programs, and support individuals who are dealing with workplace stress or burnout concerns.

Job Outlook for Health Psychologists

According to APA Division 38 Health Psychology, the job outlook for health psychologists is strong, partly due to the increased hiring of psychologists by hospitals and other medical establishments.

The U. S. Department of Labor also suggests that jobs in psychology will continue to grow. Employment for psychologists is expected to grow by 6% between 2022 and 2032.

Fortunately, health psychologists have a diverse range of employment areas to choose from, including colleges and universities, private practices, rehabilitation centers, government agencies, and mental health clinics.

Should You See a Health Psychologist?

So what are some of the reasons you might decide to see a health psychologist? These professionals can help people cope with the stress and emotional turmoil of coping with a medical condition. They can also help people learn to manage health issues, overcome unhealthy behaviors, and accomplish health-related goals.

Health psychologists can also be helpful if you are trying to avoid unhealthy behaviors and adopt healthier ones. So if you are trying to stop smoking, stick to a weight loss plan, or manage your stress levels, consulting with health psychology may be helpful.

Takeaway

Health psychologists are a focus on helping people live healthier, happier lives. If you feel that you might be able to improve your health and wellness with the help of health psychology, as your primary care physician to refer you to a professional in your area. You may also be able to find a health psychologist through health programs, wellness clinics, and other medical settings in your community.


By Kendra Cherry, MSEd

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the “Everything Psychology Book.”

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