Education & Training Council

Society for Health Psychology

Council Focus

The Education & Training Council illustrates choices, education and training issues and career options, and the many different (and personal) roads to health psychology. We also promote high-quality education and training in health psychology at the graduate, internship, postdoctoral, and continuing education levels.

Health Psychology Training FAQ

The SfHP Education & Training Council has developed answers to frequently asked questions about education and training in health psychology for trainees at all levels.

Q: What are the graduate training options in health psychology?

A: Health psychologists typically hold a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) in psychology. Traditionally, PhD programs tend to emphasize training to conduct empirical research, whereas PsyD programs tend to emphasize training in practice. Some programs also offer a master’s degree in health psychology. Each of these types of programs is described in more detail below.

Potential applicants for any program will benefit from examining the particulars of various programs (including specific curriculum requirements, faculty interests, and practicum opportunities) to determine which program characteristics match best with their own interests and background. Increasingly, graduate programs make this type of information available on their web sites. For individuals interested in PhD and PsyD programs, a good place to start is the APA Guide to Graduate Study, an excellent compendium of graduate programs (available online through most university libraries).

APA also provides resources to prospective graduate students at:

PhD Programs

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 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 PhD programs is on the development of strong research and data-analytic skills. Health psychology training in PhD 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 PhD 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).

1. A PhD from a program with an emphasis in health research, but which does NOT include training in service delivery (i.e., not a practice degree).

  • These PhD 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.
  • These programs tend to prepare students for careers centered on health psychology research rather than patient care.
  • Individuals who obtain this type of PhD in psychology are prepared for careers designing and conducting research in academic, medical, health, governmental, and corporate settings.

2. A PhD from a program with an emphasis in health and that includes training in both research and provision of clinical interventions.

  • Both clinical and counseling PhD programs in psychology include training in health-relevant research AND practice. This training area is often called “clinical health psychology.” 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 PhD programs are required to complete a one-year clinical internship to obtain a PhD. Clinical and counseling training programs typically involve five to six years of training beyond an undergraduate degree.
  • In general, a clinical psychology PhD program includes training in the treatment of individuals with more severe mental health issues (e.g., psychosis, bipolar disorder), whereas a counseling psychology PhD 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 PhD 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, or some combination of research and practice.
  • Note that licensure to practice psychology occurs at the state level, and typically requires passing a licensure exam and some level of postdoctoral clinical practice that is supervised by a licensed psychologist.
PsyD Programs

In addition to the PhD degrees described above, the PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree offers another option for a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. The graduate training associated with a PsyD 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 PhD program. Some PsyD programs will provide an emphasis in health psychology as part of the general clinical training.

Normally, PsyD 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 PsyD graduates may function in administrative positions and some may enter academia, with teaching and research responsibilities similar to those of PhD graduates.

Individuals with PsyD 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 Programs

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 elect to pursue a master’s degree in health psychology for several different reasons:

  1. It can serve as a mechanism through which research experience or clinical experience can be enhanced in preparation for application to a PhD or a PsyD program (as well as for medical school and for doctoral programs in public health).
  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.


Q: What kinds of experiences should I be looking for as an undergraduate student, graduate student, postdoc, or beyond?

A: Opportunities for training in health psychology vary for trainees at different levels.

Undergraduate Training

Most undergraduate psychology programs offer coursework in health psychology. However, interested undergraduates can enhance their didactic experiences by seeking out or cultivating other opportunities. For instance, most faculty members with active research programs welcome undergraduates on their research teams. Such research participation is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with certain areas of health that may be of special interest to you and to actually participate in the full spectrum of research activities (from study conceptualization to dissemination of results), which will prepare you for graduate study.

Additional opportunities to get involved in health-related research may also be available through other departments (e.g., medicine, nursing, physical therapy, etc.) In addition, if your undergraduate program has a Psi Chi chapter or psychology club of some sort, get involved. Many of these groups provide exposure to health psychology topics and learning experiences. You might even talk with one of your favorite faculty members about starting a health psychology interest group at your school.

Furthermore, great preparation for graduate work in health psychology would include a broad psychology background (e.g., social, abnormal, cognitive neuroscience, developmental and definitely psychobiology) but also biology, anatomy, and even a public health course if that is possible in your university.

The APA website offers information on how to identify training programs that fit with your interests and career goals at:

Graduate Training

At the doctoral level, training should be broadly-based. This means that you’ll want to take advantage of a variety of practicum opportunities focused on different areas of clinical or counseling psychology, including (but not limited to) health psychology. Take advantage of training opportunities in a variety of different health settings (e.g., inpatient, outpatient, community health) with a broad diversity of clients and presenting concerns. In addition, at each site, seek to acquire a broad a range of skills by immersing yourself in as many supervised activities as are available to you (e.g., assessment, intervention, report writing, consultation/liaison, community outreach etc.). Such a broad-based foundation will prepare you to more finely hone your skills on internship and perhaps during post doctoral training.

If your graduate program does not have a health psychology focus, you can still pursue training in health psychology. Here are some tips for maximizing your exposure to health psychology:

  • Taking public health and nursing classes (e.g., epidemiology, health policy) are good options.
  • Go to conferences (and watch for health psych preconferences at larger, more general conferences) and also seek out those summer courses that are offered from time to time on related topics by NIH and other organizations.
  • Even if your clinical, counseling, or other psychology doctoral program does not offer formal health psychology training, it may be that some faculty are engaged in health psychology research and may welcome the involvement of interested students. Or, perhaps, in consultation with current faculty, you can develop a dissertation with a health emphasis or a health-related dimension.
  • If you are enrolled in a clinical psychology doctoral program, you might consult your Director of Clinical Training about the possibility of health-relevant practica or other opportunities s/he may recommend. Having acquired as many health-relevant training experiences as possible at your current site, you will be better prepared to pursue pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral training in clinical health psychology.

Finally, many pre-doctoral internship sites offer opportunities for students to gain experience in a variety of clinical health psychology rotations with the amount of exposure to health-related experiences varying across training sites. The Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers offers a searchable directory that allows trainees to search specific criteria such as agency types (for example, medical centers) and training opportunities (for example, primary care, health psychology or HIV).

Postdoctoral Training

There are increasing numbers of post-doctoral training opportunities in health psychology:

  • NIH supports a number of training grants that are appropriate for health psychologists, and these tend to provide opportunities for both pre and post-docs (
  • The VA and military branches provide post-doctoral training (
  • Individualized post-docs with health psychology professors are also possible, and these are sometimes funded with the National Research Service Award (NRSA) mechanism within NIH.

The Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers also provides information about postdoctoral training sites with health psychology opportunities.

Licensure and Board Certification

Psychology licensure requirements vary from state to state. For more information on how to access state, specific requirements, visit the APA website.

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards provides information about the licensure/certification process and licensure examination. Additionally, they provide contact information for state, provincial and territorial agencies responsible for the licensure and certification of psychologists throughout the United States and Canada.

Board certification is a mechanism through which psychologists can demonstrate their competence in specialized areas of psychology (such as clinical health psychology). Read more about board certification in health psychology here.


Q: What about debt and starting salaries for health psychologists?

A: The APA website offers some information about average debt and starting salaries for doctoral level psychologists.

APA also posts information regarding programs that are available to help individuals within some professions, including psychology, repay their education debts.

Interested in joining the Education & Training Council?

Connect with health psychologists

The members of the Education & 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). We are always looking for new members! Please contact us to learn more or join us.


Education & Training Resources

Primary Care Training Opportunities

Primary Care Training Opportunities

It can be difficult to find psychology training opportunities specifically focused on primary care. Fortunately, the APA has compiled a list of doctoral, internship and postdoctoral programs that offer training in primary care psychology! We hope that this will make...

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Council Members

  • Crystal Park, PhD
    Education & Training Council Chair
  • Maria Anastasiades, PsyD
    ECP Associate Chair
  • Shawn M. Bediako, PhD, MPA
  • Yelena Chernyak PhD, DBSM
  • Layne A. Goble, PhD
  • Matthew Henninger, EdM
  • Sylvia Malcore, PhD, ABPP
  • Danielle Miller, MS
  • Madhu Suresh, PhD
  • Alyssa Vela, PhD
  • Peggy Zoccola, PhD