In recent years, you may have seen Instagram posts or heard from friends about how closely physical and mental health are tied. Although we don’t always treat these two types of health the same, it’s hard to deny how one affects the other. Stress affects sleep, trauma to the body can cause changes in the mind, and the way that we feel on the inside often reflects the way that we look on the outside.
But we don’t have all of the answers about the link between physical and mental health. In fact, it was only a few decades ago that psychologists started to look at how mental health impacts physical health (and vice versa.) Health psychology is a relatively new field of study, but it’s one that is already making a difference in the decisions that we make regarding food, sleep, and other healthy habits.
If the links between psychology and physical health interest you, you may want to think about pursuing a career in health psychology!
What does a Health Psychologist Do?
A health psychologist studies the decisions and thought processes that have to do with health, from why we make certain healthy decisions to how our mind affects our physical health. Their goals include improving both mental and physical health by identifying healthy habits to creating a better healthcare system.
Health psychologists aren’t just found in research labs or teaching college courses. They are doing clinical work, consulting with businesses, and advocating for better public policies to improve how humans engage with healthy decisions. Although this is a relatively new branch of psychology, health psychology is becoming more popular and healthcare facilities are considering adding more psychologists to their teams.
Health psychology is a branch of psychology, so the requirements to become a health psychologist are similar to sports psychologists, forensic psychologists, or clinical psychologists. In order to become a health psychologist, you will need to obtain a doctorate degree (PsyD or Ph.D.) from an accredited university. Along the way, you will need to complete a program that specializes in health psychology.
This may be all that you need if you want to go into research or public policy, but if you are interested in working with patients directly, you may need to take some extra steps. Counselors and clinical psychologists specializing in health psychology must complete an internship, pass an exam, and meet all of the necessary requirements to become board certified by American Board of Professional Psychology.
When you have studied a niche field that makes such a serious impact on people and the entire world, you’re going to be in demand. Health psychologists can make six figures earlier in their career. Salaries vary based on your employer, how long you have been working in your field, and where in the country you are located. These resources give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect to make as a health psychologist in the United States:
Health Psychologist Reported Salary
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Schools for Health Psychology Degrees
If you want to be a health psychologist, you’re going to have to go to school for health psychology. Fortunately, there are plenty of programs that offer graduate degrees in this field. Consider these schools while applying to health psychology programs:
- University of California - Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
- East Carolina University (Greenville, NC)
- University of North Carolina - Charlotte (Charlotte, NC)
- University of Connecticut (Mansfield, CT)
- Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA)
- Touro College (New York, NY)
- University of Colorado - Denver (Denver, CO)
- University of Florida Health (Gainesville, FL)
- Chicago School of Professional Psychology (Chicago, IL)
- University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)
Companies That Hire Health Psychologists
It’s no secret that health psychologists work at health care facilities, including clinics and hospitals. Health psychologists may also work with insurance companies to elevate healthcare and provide the best coverage. But you may also find yourself looking at openings for health psychologists in:
- Government agencies
- Telehealth providers
- Medical staffing companies
- Research facilities
- Colleges and universities
Interviews from a Health Psychologist
What do health psychologists do every day? Watch this video and find out!
There are plenty of interviews with health psychologists online that you can watch or read to get a grasp on what this career involves. Dr. Andrew Block talks about his journey online and how he became a health psychologist. Dr. Brian Luke Seaward talks about health, emotions, and stress and how you can elevate your mental health. There are so many ways to help people practice healthy habits through the field of health psychology!
Famous Health Psychologists
Where many fields of study in psychology have been around for over 100 years, health psychology is relatively new. William Schofield is one of the first figures in health psychology. His 1969 report, The Role of Psychology in the Delivery of Health Services, made a point about how psychology focuses on mental health, but rarely considers the nuances of how the mind affects physical health.
Eight years later, Joseph Matarazzo established a division of the American Psychological Association devoted to health psychology. He is credited as doing much of the early work in the field.
Today, many figures in personality and positive psychology, such as Edward F. Diener and Martin Seligman, study the ideas of well-being. Well-being is often defined as both physical and mental health.
Health Psychology Examples
Health psychologists may find that their job and areas of focus change over time as the field develops. Day-to-day, you might be doing different things, including:
- Conducting research on how different behaviors and messages could reduce smoking
- Hosting training sessions with health trainers to help them work more effectively with clients
- Consulting with a new weight management center about their methods and strategies
- Publishing a report on how receiving different diagnoses affect physical health
- Assessing patients and providing strategies for improved health