The Education and Training Council promotes high-quality education and training in Health Psychology at the graduate, internship, and postdoctoral levels. The council also is supportive of continuing education for Health Psychologists and for those interested in the field.
The members of the Education and Training Council currently represent doctoral programs with varying emphases and perspectives (e.g., clinical and non-clinical programs, research-focused and scientist–practitioner, and professional programs).
Question #1. What are the graduate training options in health psychology?
Answer: Health psychologists typically hold a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology.
A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree program in health psychology prepares individuals to conduct independent basic and/or applied research examining the biological, psychological, behavioral, social, cultural, and environmental correlates of health and illness. The emphasis in Ph.D. programs is on the development of strong research and data-analytic skills. Health psychology training in Ph.D. programs lay the foundation for additional training and specialization in health psychology that can be obtained in postdoctoral fellowships.
There are two general types of Ph.D. programs that train health psychologists, one that includes a focus on research training and one that includes a focus on both research and service delivery (i.e., providing clinical interventions).
- A Ph.D. from a program with an emphasis in health, but which does NOT include training in service delivery (i.e., not a practice degree). These Ph.D. training programs typically involve four to five years of training beyond an undergraduate degree, and are often tracks within social, experimental, or developmental psychology programs. Individuals who obtain this type of Ph.D. in psychology are prepared for careers designing and conducting research in academic, medical, health, governmental, and corporate settings.
- A Ph.D. from a program with an emphasis in health and that includes training in both research and provision of clinical interventions. Both clinical and counseling Ph.D. programs in psychology include training in health-relevant research AND practice. A clinical or counseling psychologist is trained to both conduct research and provide health-related clinical services. In addition to the research training, individuals in clinical or counseling psychology Ph.D. programs are required to complete a one-year clinical internship to obtain a Ph.D. Clinical and counseling training programs typically involve five to six years of training beyond an undergraduate degree. Typically, a clinical psychology Ph.D. program includes training in the treatment of individuals with more severe mental health issues (e.g., psychosis, bipolar disorder), whereas a counseling psychology Ph.D. program focuses training on the treatment of less severe psychological problems (e.g., stress, psychological adjustment to life transitions). Individuals who obtain a clinical or counseling Ph.D. in psychology are prepared for careers designing and conducting research in academic, medical, health, governmental, and corporate settings, as well as for careers that include providing health services and supervising other clinicians delivering clinical care.
In addition to the Ph.D. degrees described above, the Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree offers another option for a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. The graduate training associated with a Psy.D. generally provides students with greater emphasis on clinical training and lesser focus on training to conduct research than does the training in a clinical or counseling psychology Ph.D. program. Some Psy.D. programs will provide an emphasis in health psychology as part of the general clinical training. Normally, Psy.D. programs involve four to five years of training beyond an undergraduate degree and also require completion of a one-year clinical internship. These programs primarily train individuals to work as clinicians in a wide variety of clinical and service-oriented settings. However, some Psy.D. graduates may function in administrative positions and some may enter academia, with teaching and research responsibilities similar to those of Ph.D. graduates. Individuals with Psy.D. degrees with a health psychology emphasis will often work in interdisciplinary settings such as medical hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, primary care settings, other medical specialty clinics or health care centers or even in government agencies. Those with private practices specializing in clinical health psychology may work closely with physicians and other health care professionals who refer patients to them when psychological treatment is necessary.
MASTER’S DEGREE IN HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY
A master’s degree in health psychology can serve a number of different purposes, depending on the goals of the student and the program selected. Individuals often elect to pursue a master’s degree in health psychology 1) because it can serve as a mechanism through which research experience or clinical experience can be enhanced in preparation for application to a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. program (as well as for medical school and for doctoral programs in public health); or 2) to obtain a degree from a program that will provide the appropriate training and degree that will meet state licensing requirements to provide clinical services as a psychological associate or with a limited license in psychology. (Note: states often do not grant licensure to practice psychology with a master’s degree). A master’s degree program typically requires one to two years of training beyond an undergraduate degree. Individuals with a master’s degree in health psychology can be employed in research settings, for example, serving as research study coordinators. Opportunities in public health and government-related activities might also be pursued. It is important to note that individuals with a terminal master’s degree in health psychology would not be considered health psychologists.
Question #2. Are all Health Service Psychologists also Health Psychologists?
Answer: No. Most Health Service Psychologists are not Health Psychologists. Most Health Service Psychologists provide services directed at mental health, not physical health.
To answer this question, we need to understand what constitutes a) health psychology and b) health service psychology. We also need to understand who is a health psychologist and who is a clinical health psychologist.
What is Health Psychology?
On 4/24/14, the Division 38 Executive Committee endorsed the following definition of Health Psychology.
Health Psychology is “[t]he field of psychology that addresses the interactions of psychological, social, cultural, and biological influences, mechanisms, and consequences as they relate to the development, prevention, treatment and management of illness and disability and the promotion of health and well-being. The field of Health Psychology produces and evaluates rigorous health research, products, and services, and translates the research for the purpose of enriching empirical knowledge, public understanding, clinical practice, program design, and policy across diverse populations and settings.”
What is Health Service Psychology?
According to Belar (2014), “[a]lthough [health service psychology] includes the specialty of clinical health psychology, with its distinctive focus on physical health problems, it also is relevant to the other specialties more focused on traditional mental health issues. [Health Service Psychology] encompasses the foundation for psychology as a primary care profession and as a specialty care profession” (p.3).
Simply put, Health Service Psychology encompasses the practice-oriented (i.e., service delivery) aspects of specialties in Professional Psychology such as Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, and School Psychology.
Belar, C.D. (2014). Reflections on the health service psychology education collaborative blueprint. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 8, 3-11. doi:10.1037/tep0000027
Who is a Health Psychologist?
On 4/24/14, the Division 38 Executive Committee endorsed the following definition of a Health Psychologist.
A Health Psychologist is “[a] graduate of a doctoral program in psychology who has obtained specialized education and training and supervised research experience in the biological, psychological, social and cultural influences on health, illness, and disability. Health Psychologists work in a variety of contexts across diverse populations and settings, often as part of interprofessional teams. They are involved in the production of relevant health research; the provision of clinical services; the rigorous evaluation of health research, programs, and interventions; the education, training and development of future health professionals; the education of the public; and advocacy for law and policy to promote health and well-being.”
Who is a Clinical Health Psychologist?
On 4/24/14, the Division 38 Executive Committee endorsed the following definition of a Clinical Health Psychologist.
A Clinical Health Psychologist is a “[m]ember of a professionally recognized specialty who focuses on the clinical application of health psychology research to individuals, families, groups, and systems with health-related concerns. Clinical Health Psychologists are educated and trained at the doctoral level with supervised postdoctoral training and experience, in accordance with the standards set forth by ABPP certification. They function in diverse settings and contexts, often as part of interprofessional teams, demonstrating expertise in professional functions such as assessment, intervention, health promotion, consultation, research, supervision, education and training, advocacy, and administration.”