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What does a Health Psychologist do?

By Christina Whyte
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A health psychologist is a type of psychologist who focuses on behavioral and psychological factors related to disease, disability, and other health issues. He or she may work to prevent negative health behaviors, like smoking, or may help patients cope with health challenges. A health psychologist must be qualified and licensed as a psychologist, and can work in many different areas either as an employee, a consultant, or as a self-employed person.

There are several sub-fields within health psychology. Clinical health psychology usually involves using clinical psychotherapy methods to help people cope with health problems, such as disability, cancer, or terminal illness, or make the necessary changes to prevent future health problems, such as decreasing stress to avoid another heart attack in a patient with existing heart issues. Community health psychology promotes positive behavior and discourages negative behavior in the community and is related to public health psychology, which does the same work but at the population level. Occupational health psychology targets workplace issues and helps workplaces to improve employee mental health.

Within these sub-fields, a health psychologist may choose to work in research either private or academic, directly with patients and consumers, or as an adviser to governments, non-profits, or corporations. Many health psychologists do more than one of these, for example working as a clinician in a hospital but also belonging to a research team, or working as a researcher but sometimes offering expert consultant services to the government. Most health psychologists also have areas of special interest, such as helping chronically ill children adapt to the illness or improving workplaces to be less psychologically stressful, and may perform both research and clinical work in the area of interest.

A health psychologist's daily schedule will depend on his or her place of employment and specialty, and health psychologist job descriptions may look quite different from each other. Tasks may include conducting psychological assessments and developing plans for change, as well as collaborating with team members and presenting findings and recommendations to supervisors or clients. A relatively high proportion of psychologists are self-employed.

The term psychologist may only be used by people who have certain credentials, usually a Doctorate but sometimes a Masters degree. A health psychologist must usually hold a Doctorate degree in psychology with a focus on health psychology, and be registered with a licensing board. Job and salary prospects are generally quite good for a licensed health psychologist, but salary can vary widely depending on experience level, country of practice, area of focus, and industry.

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Discussion Comments

By anon350082 — On Oct 01, 2013

I've been searching for information on ways in which psychology can improve mental health in my community. Where can I get sources that may have this information I'm looking for?

By SarahGen — On Sep 18, 2012

@fBoyle-- Are you a health psychologist?

I'm looking into careers in psychology and I think I want to be a health psychologist. I have a sister who is suffering from bulimia. I want to be a health psychologist so that I can help her and people like her get better.

By fBoyle — On Sep 17, 2012

@turkay1-- Absolutely. Health psychologists don't just concentrate on psychology, but they also look at various factors that affect psychology. This could be biological things going on with the body, or the environment, the circumstances a person is dealing with at that time. So they look at everything that affects health.

Addictions are definitely something that health psychologists are trained to work on. For example, if someone is addicted to smoking, there might be different factors involved in that addiction. The individual is physically addicted to the substance in the cigarettes, but might also have a psychological addiction, a habit that prevents him or her from quitting.

Or the individual might give in to smoking because of social pressure to do so from friends and family. Or the individual might do it because he or she is feeling stressed or feeling down.

Do you see how many different components there are? A health psychologist will try to look at all of these issues and work on them with the individual to beat the addiction step by step.

By candyquilt — On Sep 16, 2012

This is the first time I'm hearing the terms "health psychologist" and "clinical psychologist." I thought that there were just psychologists and that's it.

Do health psychologists also work with people with addictions, like drug addictions or alcohol addictions? Having read their job description, it sounds like health psychologists would be very beneficial to people trying to give up addictions.

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