What is a Health Psychology Degree?

A Health Psychology degree focuses on the intersection of psychology and health, exploring how psychological factors influence physical health, illness, and health-related behaviors. Health psychologists study the biopsychosocial model of health, which considers the interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors in determining health outcomes. They apply psychological principles and research methods to understand health behaviors, promote wellness, prevent illness, and improve the quality of life for individuals and communities.

In a Health Psychology program, students typically study a variety of topics related to psychology, biology, and public health. Here are some common components of a Health Psychology degree:

  • Biopsychosocial Model of Health: Students learn about the biopsychosocial model, which emphasizes the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors in determining health and illness. They explore the role of genetics, physiology, cognition, emotions, behaviors, social support, and environmental influences in shaping health outcomes.
  • Health Behavior Change: Health Psychology programs provide training in theories of health behavior change, such as the transtheoretical model, social cognitive theory, and health belief model. Students learn strategies for promoting healthy behaviors, such as physical activity, healthy eating, smoking cessation, stress management, and adherence to medical treatments.
  • Stress and Coping: Students study the psychological aspects of stress and coping, including the impact of stress on health outcomes and the effectiveness of coping strategies in managing stress-related challenges. They explore individual differences in stress responses, resilience factors, and interventions to promote adaptive coping and stress management skills.
  • Health Promotion and Disease Prevention: Students learn about strategies for health promotion and disease prevention, including community-based interventions, health education programs, and policy initiatives aimed at improving population health. They explore the role of health psychologists in designing, implementing, and evaluating health promotion efforts in diverse settings.
  • Psychological Aspects of Chronic Illness and Pain: Students gain knowledge of the psychological aspects of chronic illness, pain, and disability, including the impact of psychological factors on disease management, treatment adherence, and quality of life. They learn to assess and address psychosocial issues in patients with chronic conditions and to collaborate with interdisciplinary healthcare teams to provide comprehensive care.
  • Patient-Provider Communication: Health Psychology programs emphasize the importance of effective communication between patients and healthcare providers in promoting positive health outcomes. Students learn communication skills, patient education techniques, and strategies for enhancing patient-provider relationships to improve patient satisfaction, treatment adherence, and health outcomes.
  • Health Psychology Research Methods: Students receive training in research methods used in health psychology research, including experimental design, survey research, qualitative methods, and program evaluation. They learn to collect, analyze, and interpret data related to health behaviors, health outcomes, and interventions aimed at improving health and well-being.
  • Health Disparities and Social Determinants of Health: Students explore health disparities, inequities, and social determinants of health that contribute to inequalities in health outcomes among different populations. They examine the impact of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors on health disparities and learn strategies for addressing health inequities through policy, advocacy, and community-based interventions.
  • Health Psychology Ethics and Professional Practice: Health Psychology programs emphasize ethical principles, professional standards, and legal regulations governing the practice of health psychology. Students learn about confidentiality, informed consent, cultural competence, and ethical decision-making in working with diverse populations and healthcare settings.
  • Applied Experiences and Internships: Many Health Psychology programs include supervised practicum experiences or internships in healthcare settings, community organizations, or research labs, where students can apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings under the guidance of experienced professionals.

Program Options

Program options for a Health Psychology degree can vary depending on the institution and its specific offerings. Here are some common program options you might encounter:

  • Bachelor’s Degree (B.A. or B.S.) in Health Psychology: Some universities offer undergraduate programs specifically focused on Health Psychology, providing students with foundational knowledge in psychology, biology, and public health as they relate to health and wellness. These programs may include coursework in health behavior, stress management, chronic illness, and health promotion, as well as opportunities for hands-on research or practical experiences.
  • Master’s Degree (M.A. or M.S.) in Health Psychology: Master’s Degrees in Health Psychology typically provide advanced training in the psychological aspects of health and illness, including coursework in health behavior change, psychosocial factors in health, patient-provider communication, and research methods in health psychology. These programs may prepare students for careers in health education, health promotion, community health, or further doctoral study in Health Psychology or related fields.
  • Doctoral Degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in Health Psychology: Doctoral programs in Health Psychology are designed for individuals seeking advanced training and specialization in the field. These programs typically include coursework, research, clinical training, and a doctoral dissertation focused on a specific area of health psychology, such as chronic illness, health disparities, or behavioral medicine. Doctoral graduates are prepared for careers in academia, research, clinical practice, or applied settings within the healthcare industry.
  • Combined Programs: Some universities offer combined or integrated programs that allow students to earn both a Master’s and Doctoral Degree in Health Psychology or a related field. These programs may streamline the coursework and training requirements, allowing students to complete both degrees more efficiently than pursuing them separately.
  • Dual-Degree Options: Some Health Psychology programs offer dual-degree options, allowing students to earn a degree in Health Psychology along with a degree in public health, social work, nursing, or another related field. These dual-degree programs provide interdisciplinary training and prepare students for careers at the intersection of psychology and healthcare.
  • Online or Hybrid Programs: There are also online or hybrid options available for studying Health Psychology, which may offer flexibility for students who need to balance their studies with work or other commitments. Online programs may include virtual coursework, remote research opportunities, and in-person residencies or internships in local healthcare settings.
  • Certificate Programs: Some universities offer certificate programs in Health Psychology or related areas, providing specialized training in specific topics such as health behavior change, behavioral medicine, or health coaching. These certificate programs may be designed for individuals seeking additional training in health psychology to complement their existing education or professional experience.

Here is an overview of the kinds of courses that comprise a health psychology master’s curriculum:

Advanced Qualitative Methods in Health Psychology

  • Introduction to qualitative methods in health psychology
  • Phenomenology – the study of phenomena as they manifest in our experience, of the way we perceive and understand phenomena, and the meaning phenomena have in our subjective experience; in short, the study of an individual’s lived experience
  • Thematic analysis – a qualitative data analysis method that involves reading through a data set (such as transcripts from in depth interviews or focus groups), and identifying patterns in meaning across the data
  • Methodologies and methods – interviewing, focus groups, naturalistic and online data sources, data from the media, ethics
  • Interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) – uses structured interviews to gather verbal and nonverbal information about how a person understands his or her personal and social worlds and gives meaning to particular experiences, events, and states
  • Social constructionist approaches – social constructionism is the theory that people develop knowledge of the world in a social context, that much of what we perceive as reality depends on shared assumptions

Advanced Quantitative Methods in Health Psychology

  • Psychometrics – the branch of psychology concerned with the quantification and measurement of mental attributes, behavior, performance, and the like, as well as with the design, analysis, and improvement of the tests, questionnaires, and other instruments used in such measurement
  • Measures of quality of life and their applications
  • Planning, implementing, and evaluating an intervention
  • Advanced quantitative methods including mediation and moderation

Health Promotion and Behavior Change

  • Mediators of health and health behaviors
  • Psychological principles and techniques of behavior change
  • Health promotion theory, models, and approaches
  • Health promotion in contexts such as the healthcare system, the education system, and broad social, cultural, and economic factors
  • Design and evaluation of health promotion campaigns

Living with Long Term Conditions

  • Incidence and range of long term conditions
  • Diagnosis of and adjustment to long term conditions
  • Coping and long term conditions: individual and social factors
  • Outcomes: measures
  • Interventions: psychological
  • Caregiving: stress, gender roles, and spousal, familial, and non-familial caregiving
  • Stigmatized conditions and identity: mental illness and physical disability
  • Long term conditions across the lifespan
  • Breaking bad news: dying, death, and bereavement

Professional Skills in Health Psychology

  • Health psychology teaching and training
  • Dissemination and communication
  • Professional development planning
  • Consulting in the health psychology field
  • Behavior change competencies
  • Formative assessment planning and feedback / health policy
  • Health practice ethics
  • Social and ethnic diversity
  • Respect and trust in healthcare

Psychology of Health and Illness

  • Contexts, perspectives, and socio-demographic factors in health and illness
  • Understanding and predicting health and health behavior
  • Models of health behavior
  • Attribution factors – locus of control (the extent to which an individual feels in control of the events that influence his/her life), personal control and healthcare, learned helplessness, self efficacy (the belief of an individual in his/her own abilities to meet the challenges ahead)
  • Biological and physiological aspects of stress – models of stress, coping with stress
  • Personality factors associated with health and illness
  • Psychological aspects of pain and pain management
  • Psychoneuroimmunology – the study of interactions between behavior, the brain, and the immune system; the links between stress and the immune system

Research Project in Health Psychology

  • Systematic reviews and meta-analysis (examination of data from a number of independent studies of the same subject, in order to determine overall trends)
  • Psychological measurement tools, scale development, and psychometrics
  • Research proposals and development of study materials
  • Research ethics and research governance
  • Writing for publication and oral and poster presentations

Doctoral Degree in Health Psychology – Four to Six Year Duration
This graduate degree may be offered as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or as a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Health psychologists who work in clinical settings diagnosing and treating patients must hold a doctoral degree. They normally pursue a Psy.D., which at most schools has a stronger clinical focus. The Ph.D. in the field is generally more attractive to doctoral candidates planning on a career in health psychology academic research and/or teaching. In most cases, both degrees qualify graduates for state licensure.

The typical doctoral level curriculum is comprised of core and research courses similar to those described above in the master’s degree section, courses in special areas of interest, a teaching practicum and/or a clinical experience, dissertation writing courses, and completion of the doctoral dissertation.

Skills You’ll Learn

In a Health Psychology program, students develop a diverse set of skills that are essential for understanding the complex relationship between psychological factors and health outcomes, as well as for promoting wellness and addressing health-related challenges. Here are some of the key skills you can expect to learn:

  • Health Behavior Change Techniques: Students learn evidence-based strategies for promoting health behavior change, such as motivational interviewing, cognitive-behavioral techniques, and stages of change models. They develop skills in assessing individuals’ readiness to change health behaviors, setting realistic goals, and implementing effective behavior change interventions tailored to individuals’ needs and preferences.
  • Health Assessment and Screening: Health Psychology programs provide training in conducting health assessments and screenings to evaluate individuals’ health status, risk factors, and health-related behaviors. Students learn to administer standardized health assessments, interpret health data, and provide feedback to individuals about their health risks and opportunities for improvement.
  • Biopsychosocial Assessment: Students gain expertise in conducting biopsychosocial assessments to understand the interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors in influencing individuals’ health and well-being. They learn to collect comprehensive health histories, assess psychological functioning, identify psychosocial stressors, and formulate holistic treatment plans that address multiple dimensions of health.
  • Health Promotion and Education: Health Psychology programs emphasize the importance of health promotion and education in improving population health outcomes. Students learn to design and implement health education programs, develop health promotion materials, and deliver evidence-based health education interventions to individuals, groups, and communities.
  • Patient Communication and Counseling: Students develop strong communication and counseling skills to effectively engage with patients and clients in healthcare settings. They learn to communicate health information clearly and sensitively, facilitate shared decision-making, provide emotional support, and empower individuals to take an active role in managing their health and well-being.
  • Crisis Intervention and Stress Management: Health Psychology programs prepare students to respond effectively to crises and stress-related challenges that impact individuals’ health and well-being. Students learn crisis intervention techniques, stress management strategies, and resilience-building techniques to help individuals cope with acute and chronic stressors and navigate difficult life circumstances.
  • Research Design and Methodology: Students receive training in research design and methodology relevant to health psychology research. They learn to formulate research questions, design empirical studies, collect and analyze data using quantitative and qualitative methods, and interpret research findings to advance knowledge in the field of health psychology.
  • Program Evaluation and Outcome Assessment: Health Psychology programs emphasize the importance of program evaluation and outcome assessment in determining the effectiveness of health interventions and initiatives. Students learn to design program evaluations, develop outcome measures, collect and analyze evaluation data, and use findings to make evidence-based recommendations for program improvement.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Students develop skills in interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork to work effectively with healthcare professionals, researchers, policymakers, and community stakeholders to address complex health issues. They learn to communicate across disciplines, integrate diverse perspectives, and leverage collective expertise to promote positive health outcomes and advance population health initiatives.
  • Cultural Competence and Health Equity: Health Psychology programs promote cultural competence and sensitivity to diversity in healthcare delivery. Students learn to recognize and respect individuals’ cultural beliefs, values, and health practices, and to tailor interventions to meet the unique needs of diverse populations. They explore the social determinants of health and advocate for health equity and social justice in healthcare policy and practice.

What Can You Do with a Health Psychology Degree?

A Health Psychology degree opens up a variety of career opportunities in healthcare, public health, research, education, and community settings. Here are some potential career paths for individuals with a degree in Health Psychology:

  • Clinical Health Psychologist: Health psychologists specialize in applying psychological principles to understand how biological, psychological, and social factors influence health and illness. They conduct research, assess patients’ psychological and behavioral health needs, and develop interventions to promote health, prevent illness, and improve patients’ quality of life. Health psychologists may work in hospitals, clinics, private practice, academic institutions, or research settings.
  • Health Educator: Health psychologists can work as health educators, developing and implementing educational programs and interventions to promote healthy behaviors and lifestyles. They may work in schools, community organizations, healthcare settings, or public health agencies, delivering workshops, classes, and outreach activities on topics such as nutrition, physical activity, stress management, and disease prevention.
  • Health Promotion Specialist: Health psychologists may work as health promotion specialists, designing and implementing health promotion campaigns, initiatives, and policies aimed at improving population health outcomes. They collaborate with community organizations, government agencies, and healthcare providers to address health disparities, promote health equity, and empower individuals and communities to adopt healthier behaviors and lifestyles.
  • Behavioral Health Consultant: Health psychologists can work as behavioral health consultants, providing consultation and support to healthcare teams, primary care providers, and specialty clinics to address patients’ behavioral and psychosocial needs. They may conduct psychosocial assessments, provide brief interventions, and collaborate with interdisciplinary teams to integrate behavioral health services into primary care settings and improve patient outcomes.
  • Researcher in Health Psychology: Health psychologists can pursue careers in research, conducting studies to advance knowledge in the field of health psychology and inform evidence-based practice. They may work in academic institutions, research institutes, or healthcare organizations, investigating topics such as health behavior change, stress and coping, health disparities, patient-provider communication, and psychosocial interventions for chronic illness.
  • Public Health Analyst: Health psychologists may work in public health agencies or organizations, analyzing population health data, identifying health trends and disparities, and developing strategies to address public health priorities. They may conduct needs assessments, program evaluations, and policy analyses to inform public health interventions and initiatives aimed at improving community health outcomes.
  • Corporate Wellness Coordinator: Health psychologists can work in corporate settings, designing and implementing workplace wellness programs and initiatives to promote employee health, productivity, and well-being. They may develop wellness workshops, employee assistance programs, health screenings, and incentives to encourage healthy behaviors and create a supportive work environment.
  • Health Policy Advocate: Health psychologists may work as advocates for health policy change, promoting policies and initiatives that address social determinants of health, reduce health disparities, and improve access to healthcare services. They may work for advocacy organizations, government agencies, or nonprofit organizations, lobbying for legislative changes and advocating for public health priorities at local, state, and national levels.
  • Health Communication Specialist: Health psychologists can work as health communication specialists, developing health communication campaigns, materials, and messaging to educate and empower individuals and communities to make informed health decisions. They may work in healthcare marketing, public relations, or media organizations, using effective communication strategies to promote health literacy and behavior change.
  • Community Health Coordinator: Health psychologists may work as community health coordinators, collaborating with community organizations, schools, and healthcare providers to address health needs and priorities within local communities. They may develop community health assessments, mobilize community resources, and facilitate partnerships to implement community-based health promotion initiatives and improve health outcomes for residents.


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