Becoming a Health Psychologist
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What Is Health Psychology?
We all get sick at some point in our lives. Illnesses, diseases, and other physical ailments are simply a part of life. Some of these problems are caused by micro-organisms and some by genetic factors. During the last century, however, scientists and doctors are finding that some physical maladies may also be caused or worsened by mental, emotional, and social factors.
Health psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on how mental, emotional, and social factors affect a person's physical well-being. This field, also sometimes referred to as medical psychology, also focuses on a patient's mental and emotional reaction to an illness or recovery from an illness.
Medical doctors are the health professionals that typically treat a person with a physical malady. They may perform diagnostic tests, for instance, and administer medication to treat the symptoms of a disease or the disease itself. Professionals in the field of health psychology, on the other hand, are less interested in the actual illness, and more interested in the person suffering from the disease.
In general, the health psychology field covers many areas. Professionals in this field may try to understand how an illness affects the emotional and mental wellbeing of a patient. The reasons why people seek healthcare and the ways that they interact with their medical doctors are also covered under the broad field of health psychology.
Although certain aspects beliefs of health psychology were recognized since the beginning of the psychology movement, it wasn't until the late 1970's that it was recognized as a separate branch of psychology. It was around this time that Stephen Weiss, Joseph Matarazzo, and several other psychology professionals sponsored a petition to create a new health psychology division in the American Psychology Association (APA). Because of their efforts, over 600 other psychology professionals signed the petition, and in 1978, Division 38 of the APA - the Health Psychology Division - was created.
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Why Do We Need Health Psychology?
Health psychology has several practical purposes in life.
First of all, it can help medical doctors better care for their patients' health. By understanding the mental, emotional, and socioeconomic factors that might lead to certain illnesses, doctors can also have a better understanding of how to prevent these illnesses.
Health psychology also plays a role in helping medical professionals understand the mental and emotional effects of certain illnesses. This not only refers to the effects of certain symptoms on patients, but also the behavioral, social, and economic ramifications that illnesses might have as well.
Research conducted in the field of health psychology can also help improve the relationships between medical doctors and their patients. Improving communication between these two sets of people - the professional and the layperson - can lead to a higher percentage of patients following through with their treatments and less physical illnesses.
What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Health Psychologist??
Considering health/medical psychology falls under the broader subject of psychology, it, like is subject to strict rules and regulations about who can be licensed as a health/medical psychologist. In all 50 states, psychologists are required to have earned at least a Master's degree in the subject. But in order to practice clinically and call yourself a clinical psychologist, you need a doctoral degree. There are two ways to enter the field of health/medical psychology. The first is to get either a PhD in Psychology or a PsyD degree. A number of universities offer doctorates in the field of health/medical psychology such as schools like Mercer University, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
After getting the doctorate, it is often a requirement to get a master’s degree or certificate in psychopharmacology.
The other way is to go to medical school to become a medical doctor. Many medical schools offer medical psychology integrated into a medical degree program.
All health/medical psychologists need to be licensed and certified before practicing. After getting a doctorate, the candidate must take an exam and going through a supervised internship.
A Master’s degree opens up positions, working under a licensed psychologist, as a research assistant or behavior specialist. But most jobs require a doctorate.
Professional organizations for the field include the Academy of Medical Psychology, and the American Psychological Association, Division 38, Health Psychology.
What Does a Health Psychologist Do?
The jobs of those pursuing health psychology careers might vary widely from one professional to another. Ultimately, the duties and responsibilities of these psychology professionals will depend on their specialties.
In general, there are four main types of health psychology careers - clinical health psychology, community health psychology, occupational health psychology, and public health psychology.
- Clinical health psychology is an area of health psychology that focuses on treating individuals. Professionals pursuing clinical health psychology careers often focus on how an individual's lifestyle and behavior might affect his overall health. Clinical health psychologists will also usually work with individuals to help change bad habits or overcome lifestyle problems that may be affecting their physical health.
- Community health psychology focuses on the health of a community as a whole. Individuals pursuing community health psychology careers will typically study the prevalence of diseases in certain communities, and what might cause them.
- Occupational health psychologyfocuses on the individual's job and his overall state of health. Professionals working in this area might work with companies and businesses to help create happier and healthier employees. This might involve restructuring workplace policies or counseling individual employees.
- Public health psychology is concerned with public and government health policies and programs. These types of professionals might work with low-income individuals, influence government health policies, or help organize public health awareness campaigns.
Where Do Health Psychologists Work?
Individuals interested in health psychology careers will often find that there are a number of employment opportunities in a variety of different organizations.
Healthcare facilities - like hospitals and clinics - will often hire health psychologists, for instance. Non-profit organizations and government sectors might also employ health psychologists, as will large corporations and universities. These professionals might also be able to find positions in government and private research facilities.
What Is the Average Salary of a Health Psychologist?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), health psychologists providing direct patient care earned an average salary of $87,450 as of May 2019. The top industries in which health psychologists work (and their average salaries) included:
- Offices of other healthcare practitioners: $100,300
- Individual and family services: $85,140
- Offices of physicians: $95,960
- Outpatient care centers: $99,870