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Society for Health Psychology

Competencies in Research for Health Psychologists

Education & Training, Health Research

The following lists describe the suggested competencies that are taught in many programs in health psychology without reference to clinical training. Of course, not all health psychology programs require all of the same competencies from all of their graduates. It is the unique feature of research oriented PhD programs to provide sufficient flexibility to allow the developing scientist to acquire a unique set of skills. Similarly, different health psychology programs have different research emphases ranging from epidemiological studies, to exploring mechanisms of disease, to developing individual or population based interventions. Nevertheless, it is appropriate at this time for our academic colleagues to ask about the competencies that help to define health psychology researchers and for health psychology programs to emphasize such competencies in their curriculum. The list of competencies described are intended to cover in a general way the broad field of health psychology research as it exists today.

A. Knowledge base: The entry-level health psychologist researcher should have knowledge of:

  • The historical relationship of health psychology to the basic sciences, public health and clinical investigation.
  • Scientific foundations and methods of psychology and exposure to allied health disciplines (e.g. epidemiology, physiology, genomics, bioinformatics)
  • Biobehavioral, social-environmental, and psychological factors associated with health behaviors, illness, and disease.
  • Mechanistic and mediational pathways between contextual, psychosocial and biological phenomena as they relate to disease progression, health promotion and illness prevention.
  • Biological, psychological, behavioral and sociocultural tools (e.g., psychophysiological assessment, interview techniques, assessment development, observational coding, focus groups, web-based informatics tools) relevant to individuals and systems.
  • Dynamic interactions between populations and contextual variations (age, gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, etc.) on health behavior and health outcomes.
  • Pathophysiology of disease and the implications for development of biopsychosocial treatments.
  • Appropriate methods and procedures to develop a program of research.
  • Strengths and potential pitfalls of role relationships that characterize interdisciplinary collaborative research.
  • Regulatory and ethics competence in relation to interdisciplinary research.

B. Applications: The entry-level health psychologist should be able to:

  • Evaluate biopsychosocial findings related to physical health or illness/injury/disability.
  • Assess biopsychosocial and behavioral risk factors for the development of physical illness, injury, or disability.
  • Assist in assessment of new and emerging health technologies.
  • Develop health psychology research protocols and evaluate their effectiveness and quality.
  • Evaluate biopsychosocial and cognitive assessment tools appropriate to understanding physical illness, injury, or disability.
  • Design and evaluate empirically supported health promotion, prevention and other interventions appropriate to target populations in the context of an interdisciplinary team.
  • Apply diverse methodologies to address contextual, psychosocial, and biological processes as they relate to disease progression, health promotion, and illness prevention.
  • Select, apply, and interpret data analytic strategies that are best suited to the diverse research questions and levels of analysis characteristic of health psychology.
  • Work toward translation of research findings to applied settings.
  • Translate issues presented by professionals from other disciplines into research questions and appropriate methods for investigation.
  • Integrate the talents and skills of professionals from different disciplines and different levels of training (e.g., masters, doctoral) to optimize research.
  • Integrate within and lead in the formulation of interdisciplinary research teams.
  • Accurately and efficiently communicate research findings in a manner that is consistent with the highest standards within the profession in ways that can be understood by fellow psychologists, professionals from other disciplines, and lay audiences alike.
  • Write a research proposal of a quality sufficient to be submitted to a granting agency.
  • Publish in peer reviewed journals in the area of health psychology.
  • Understands the bounds/limits of one’s research competence.
  • Obtain proficiency in a traditional area of psychology such as psychophysiology, psychometrics, statistics, affect and cognition or social psychology.
  • Obtain knowledge, exposure and competency outside of an area of traditional psychology (e.g., epidemiology, genetics, neural imaging, body imaging, assaying biomarkers, nutrition, exercise, sleep).
  • Demonstrate adequate training and evidence of skill as a teacher, and have the requisite knowledge to develop and implement an undergraduate health psychology course.
  • Understand the role and responsibilities of an effective mentor, and have the ability to promote the development of research and teaching competencies in graduate and undergraduate students.