What does a health psychologist do?

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What is a Health Psychologist?

A health psychologist specializes in the study of how psychological factors influence an individual's overall health and well-being. They focus on the psychological, behavioral, and social aspects of health and illness, aiming to promote healthier lifestyles, prevent illness, and improve the quality of life for individuals facing health challenges.

From working in clinical settings to conducting research and influencing healthcare policy, health psychologists measure the impact of behavior on health and find ways to help people make the behavior choices that promote good health and prevent illness. Their mission is to improve strategies for care, especially in the area of prevention.

What does a Health Psychologist do?

A health psychologist conducting a clinical interview and behavioral assessment of a patient.

Duties and Responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of a health psychologist can vary depending on their specific work setting and the population they serve. However, here are some detailed duties and responsibilities commonly associated with this role:

  • Assessment and Evaluation: Health psychologists conduct thorough assessments and evaluations to understand the psychological factors contributing to an individual's health condition or illness. They may administer psychological tests, conduct interviews, and analyze medical records to gain a comprehensive understanding of the patient's mental and emotional well-being.
  • Treatment Planning and Interventions: Based on their assessments, health psychologists develop customized treatment plans and interventions. They use evidence-based techniques to address psychological issues related to health conditions, pain management, lifestyle changes, and treatment adherence. These interventions may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, stress management techniques, relaxation training, and biofeedback.
  • Patient Support and Counseling: Health psychologists provide counseling and emotional support to individuals coping with health challenges. They help patients manage stress, anxiety, depression, and other psychological difficulties that may arise due to their health conditions. They also assist patients in adjusting to lifestyle changes, dealing with grief and loss, and improving overall well-being.
  • Collaborative Care: Health psychologists work as part of a multidisciplinary team, collaborating with medical professionals, nurses, and other healthcare providers. They contribute their expertise to the development of integrated care plans, ensuring that psychological and behavioral factors are considered alongside medical treatments. They communicate and coordinate with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care for patients.
  • Health Promotion and Education: Health psychologists engage in health promotion and education activities, both at the individual and community levels. They develop and implement programs that encourage healthier behaviors, such as smoking cessation, weight management, and stress reduction. They may also conduct workshops, seminars, and educational sessions to increase awareness about the psychological aspects of health and well-being.
  • Research and Evaluation: Health psychologists contribute to the field through research aimed at understanding the impact of psychological factors on health outcomes. They design studies, collect and analyze data, and publish their findings in scholarly journals. They may also evaluate the effectiveness of interventions and treatment programs to inform evidence-based practices in healthcare.
  • Advocacy and Policy Development: Some health psychologists engage in advocacy efforts and contribute to policy development. They may work with organizations, government agencies, and community groups to promote policies and practices that support the integration of psychological services into healthcare systems and improve access to mental health care.

Types of Health Psychologists
Health psychologists specialize in various areas within the field, focusing on different aspects of health and well-being. Here are some common types of health psychologists:

  • Clinical Health Psychologists: Clinical health psychologists work directly with patients to provide psychological assessment, counseling, and intervention for individuals with health conditions. They help patients cope with the psychological challenges associated with chronic illnesses, pain management, adjustment to medical treatments, and improving overall well-being.
  • Pediatric Health Psychologists: Pediatric health psychologists specialize in working with children and adolescents facing health issues. They provide psychological support and interventions to help young patients manage their health conditions, cope with medical procedures, and promote healthy behaviors. They may also work with families to address the impact of a child's health condition on their emotional well-being.
  • Behavioral Medicine Specialists: Behavioral medicine specialists focus on the intersection of psychology and physical health. They help individuals adopt healthier lifestyle behaviors such as weight management, smoking cessation, and adherence to medical regimens. They may also work with patients to manage stress, improve sleep, and develop coping strategies to enhance overall health and well-being.
  • Public Health Psychologists: Public health psychologists work at a broader population level, focusing on health promotion and prevention. They collaborate with public health organizations, community agencies, and policymakers to develop and implement programs that address health disparities, promote healthy behaviors, and improve overall population health outcomes.
  • Rehabilitation Psychologists: Rehabilitation psychologists work with individuals who have experienced injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions that require rehabilitation. They help patients adapt to their new circumstances, manage pain and psychological distress, and develop strategies to maximize independence and improve their quality of life.
  • Occupational Health Psychologists: Occupational health psychologists focus on the psychological well-being of workers and the impact of work environments on health outcomes. They address issues such as workplace stress, burnout, work-life balance, and organizational interventions to enhance employee well-being, job satisfaction, and productivity.
  • Geriatric Health Psychologists: Geriatric health psychologists specialize in the mental health and well-being of older adults. They address psychological issues related to aging, cognitive decline, chronic conditions, and end-of-life care. They provide counseling, support, and interventions to promote healthy aging and improve the overall quality of life for older adults.

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What is the workplace of a Health Psychologist like?

The workplace of a health psychologist can encompass a variety of settings, each with its own unique characteristics. One common workplace for health psychologists is hospitals and medical centers. Within these settings, health psychologists collaborate with healthcare teams to provide integrated care. They may work alongside physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to address the psychological aspects of patients' health conditions. Health psychologists in hospitals may conduct psychological assessments, provide counseling and therapy to individuals receiving medical treatments, and offer support to patients managing chronic illnesses.

Another potential workplace for health psychologists is private practice. In private practice, health psychologists have the opportunity to establish their own independent practices. This allows them to provide individual counseling, therapy, and psychological assessments to clients dealing with health-related issues. Private practice offers health psychologists the flexibility to specialize in specific health conditions, pain management, lifestyle changes, or general well-being. It also grants them more autonomy in their work, allowing for customized treatment approaches and personalized care for their clients.

Many health psychologists also work in research institutions and academic settings. They may be employed by universities or research institutions, where they conduct studies focused on the psychological aspects of health and well-being. In these settings, health psychologists contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the field by investigating topics such as health behaviors, treatment adherence, psychosocial interventions, and health promotion. They may also teach courses related to health psychology, mentor students, and supervise research projects.

Additionally, health psychologists can be found in public health agencies and community organizations. In these roles, they utilize their expertise to design and implement health programs and interventions at the community or population level. Health psychologists collaborate with other professionals to address health disparities, develop health education materials, and advocate for policies that support psychological well-being and overall health within the community.

Other potential workplaces for health psychologists include rehabilitation centers, where they provide support and counseling to individuals with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions, helping them adjust and improve their quality of life. Some health psychologists work in corporate and organizational settings, focusing on employee well-being, workplace health, and stress management. They may be involved in conducting employee assessments, developing wellness programs, and promoting psychologically healthy work environments.

Frequently Asked Questions



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The Biopsychosocial Model

The biopsychosocial model in health psychology recognizes that health and illness are influenced by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. It emphasizes that our physical well-being is not solely determined by our biology but also by our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, relationships, and the broader social context in which we live.

According to this model, our biology (such as genetics and physiological processes) interacts with our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to impact our health. For example, stress and negative emotions can affect our immune system and make us more vulnerable to illnesses. Additionally, our social environment, including factors like our access to healthcare, socioeconomic status, and cultural influences, also plays a role in shaping our health.

By considering these multiple factors together, the biopsychosocial model helps health psychologists gain a more comprehensive understanding of health and illness. It guides them in assessing individuals' overall well-being and developing treatment plans that address the biological, psychological, and social aspects of their health. This approach allows for more holistic and effective interventions that take into account the complexity of human health.

Health Psychologists are also known as:
Medical Psychologist