Health Psychology Degree Programs & Schools

Health psychology is the study of the link between our mental and physical health. More specifically, those studying health psychology may be concerned with topics including body image, treating those with chronic pain, drug addiction and abuse, and the link between stress and physical well-being.

License Requirements for Health Psychologists

Many with a degree in health psychology do not need to attain licensure. However, those who choose to work in a mental health setting often do. For example, some health psychologists may work as clinical psychologists diagnosing and treating those with psychological disorders such as anorexia nervosa. These individuals will be required to seek state licensure.

Although each state has specific requirements to become a licensed clinical psychologist, all states require certification or licensure to practice as a clinical psychologist. Clinical psychologists should examine the specific requirements for the state they plan to practice in as early as possible in their academic career to ensure they are completing these requirements.

Read more about how to become a health psychologist.

Bachelor’s Degree in Health Psychology

Students pursuing a degree in Health Psychology usually complete a curriculum covering a number of core psychology subfields, including:

  • History of Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology (which can focus on Child, Adolescent, or Adult)
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Abnormal (Clinical) Psychology
  • Psychology Statistics / Research Methods

Examples of other psychology electives may include: Personality psychology, educational psychology, evolutionary psychology, or other special psychology topics.  General coursework in other areas—such as math, science, art, composition, and literature—often are also required.

Because so many psychology courses are required when applying to graduate programs in health psychology, many undergraduate students interested in health psychology will choose to major in psychology. Alternatively, students may choose a major that compliments their graduate program and career objectives, such as human development or biology.

Every graduate program has a variety of psychology prerequisites which all accepted students must complete prior to enrolling. Failure to complete these perquisites often leads to students being rejected by graduate programs. Other times, graduate school applicants will be required to complete their missing courses before enrolling.

Master's Degree in Health Psychology

A master’s degree in health psychology can prepare students for careers including:

  • Research coordinator or lab manager
  • School psychologist
  • Therapist
  • Community or technical college instructor
  • Associate to a psychologist
  • Public policy consultants

One major difference graduate students often notice is that they are not required to take general electives outside of their focus area. This is because graduate school is aimed to teach students what they will need to know in their respective careers.

Master’s level coursework in health psychology includes a variety of courses, including:

  • Developmental psychology
  • Advanced statistics
  • Psychological assessment
  • Social psychology and health
  • Pediatric health psychology
  • Drugs and behavior
  • Community interventions

PhD in Health Psychology

Most often, those with a doctoral degree in health psychology will become college professors or researchers. Getting a doctorate in health psychology takes a minimum of eight years—four years of an undergraduate bachelor’s program, and four-to-six years of doctoral study. In addition, most students choose to earn their master’s before applying to Ph.D. programs, which can add another two years to the timeline. Students may also complete a short paid position after their doctoral program, called a postdoctoral fellowship (or “postdoc”).

Students who choose to earn their doctorate in health psychology will take much more specialized classes than when they were undergraduates. Coursework can include:

  • A series of statistics classes—each statistics class is focused on one concept, such as ANOVA, multivariate methods of analysis, or psychometrics.
  • Advanced neuroscience classes, which focus on the structure and functioning of the brain.
  • Other specialized topics depending on the student’s degree focus. For example, a student studying health psychology may take courses that focus on developmental psychology, advanced statistics, psychological assessment, social psychology and health, pediatric health psychology, drugs and behavior, and/or community interventions

Because most employers prefer to hire those who attended an accredited degree program, it is important for any doctoral program to be accredited. In addition to the college or university having accreditation overall, doctoral programs can also seek accreditation by the American Psychological Association. Click here to view APA accredited programs in health psychology.

Postdoctoral Fellowships and Internships

As the job market in psychology becomes increasingly competitive, more and more individuals are seeking postdoctoral positions (or “postdocs”) to help bolster their credentials. Although not required, health psychologists who have research-focused careers (instead of teaching-focused or clinical) usually apply for postdoctoral fellowships. Postdoctoral fellowships generally last one or two years and usually involve work on grant-funded research at a large university.

Alternatively, health psychology students who hope to work in an applied setting, such as a private practice or government agency, may seek internships in these types of settings after attaining their degree. These positions can offer even more specialized training than students received in graduate school alone, and can also help make individuals more competitive job applicants.

Read more about psychology internships.

Continuing Education for Health Psychology

In order to stay up-to-date with trends and advances in the field of health psychology, as well as for professional development opportunities, graduates should consider continuing education. In many states, sources for continued education credits include:

  • Workshops and seminars offered by educational institutions
  • Seminars, courses and workshops sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Membership in societies and subscribing to industry journals