A health psychologist is a psychologist who specializes in the behavioral and psychological aspects of disease, disability, and other health problems. He or she may help patients cope with health challenges or work to prevent negative health behaviors such as smoking. A health psychologist must be qualified and licensed as a psychologist, and can work as an employee, consultant, or self-employed in a variety of settings.
Within the field of health psychology, there are several sub-disciplines. Clinical health psychology typically entails using clinical psychotherapy methods to assist people in coping with health issues such as disability, cancer, or terminal illness, or making the necessary changes to avoid future health issues, such as reducing stress to avoid another heart attack in a patient who already has heart problems. Community health psychology encourages positive behavior in the community and is related to public health psychology, which does the same thing but at a population level. Occupational health psychology focuses on issues at work and assists employers in improving employee mental health.
A health psychologist can work in private or academic research, directly with patients and consumers, or as an adviser to governments, non-profits, or corporations within these sub-fields. Many health psychologists do a combination of these things, such as working as a clinician in a hospital while also being a member of a research team, or working as a researcher while also providing expert consultant services to the government. Most health psychologists have areas of special interest, such as assisting chronically ill children in adjusting to their illness or making workplaces less psychologically stressful, and they may conduct both research and clinical work in these areas.
The daily schedule of a health psychologist varies depending on his or her place of employment and specialty, and health psychologist job descriptions can be quite different. Conducting psychological assessments and developing change plans, as well as collaborating with team members and presenting findings and recommendations to supervisors or clients, are some of the tasks that may be assigned. Self-employed psychologists make up a sizable percentage of the profession.
Only people with certain credentials, usually a Doctorate but occasionally a Masters degree, are allowed to use the term psychologist. A health psychologist should have a doctorate degree in psychology with a focus on health psychology and be licensed a state board. A licensed health psychologist’s job and salary prospects are generally good, but pay varies greatly depending on experience level, country of practice, area of focus, and industry.