Health psychology graduate programs are designed to prepare students for a successful career helping people live a healthier lifestyle or to cope with physical disease, illness and other conditions. These professionals can work in a variety of areas, from schools to hospitals, private practice to government and community sectors. Health psychologists can work with children, adults, athletes, disabled persons - basically any and everyone. It would be common for health psychologists to work with people who abuse drugs or alcohol, smoke, are obese, have hereditary illness or deformities, or have other serious diseases or conditions.
Defining Health Psychology
Health psychology is the study of how psychological factors work with biology and other scientific factors to influence physical health, health behaviors and illness. Of course, many health problems and illnesses are inherited or caused by distinctly biological factors. However, many physical ailments have large psychological components, and one can arguably say that every illness or physical disorder carries with it some level of psychological repercussions. Thus, the field of health psychology concerns itself with examining how psychological factors influence health, and how health can be improved through psychological counseling.
As with all areas of psychology, the ultimate goal of health psychology is to help people to deal with the issues that life presents them. This means that a health psychologist is one who is trained to understand a variety of human physical conditions as well as psychological issues and coping strategies. Essentially, a health psychologist is a medically knowledgeable counselor. The emphasis of such counseling is always on promoting good health, as well as treating and dealing with emotional problems that result from disease and illness.
Careers in Health Psychology
A wide variety of careers can be open to a person with a degree in health psychology. Sometimes, positions for health psychologists can be advertised as "medical psychology" or "behavioral medicine." Whatever term is used, a health psychologist works in an area concerned with the interaction between physical health and psychological health, most likely focusing on how to improve one by improving the other.
A health psychologist can work in research, either in primary research where they actually conduct experiments or in secondary research where they review literature and write about the psychology of health issues. In fact, health psychology is an excellent degree choice for someone interested in writing for psychology journals or websites.
Education in Health Psychology
A health psychologist needs to study in a well developed and well rounded psychology program, preferably one that specifically offers a specialization, concentration or emphasis in health psychology. Such programs can allow a student to work towards a master's degree, or preferably either a PhD or a PsyD, with doctoral level degrees being the most valuable degrees in the field of psychology.
Coursework towards a health psychology degree should include a variety of required "core" courses which provide some foundational biology and physiology courses, specifically courses which teach the student about genetics, hereditary diseases, acquired disease, basic pharmaceuticals and drug related issues and the like. Of course, significant coursework should focus on psychology, ensuring a basic overview of psychology and detailed work in counseling, stress and anxiety, and psychology research.
Choosing a Health Psychology Graduate Program
As with many specializations within psychology graduate education, there are many options for a student interested in health psychology graduate programs. Choosing between health psychology graduate programs is an individual decision, and one that requires a bit of research. These programs are available at the master's and doctoral level, and can be done through traditional on-campus learning or modern internet based courses.
When it comes to choosing a degree level, often in the field of psychology a PhD or PsyD is desirable for access to the most jobs. While there are positions available for those holding a masters degree, a doctorate degree is much more highly sought and usually will earn one a higher salary.
Choosing whether to attend a traditional or virtual school is another major decision. Brick and mortar psychology programs, those where students actually attend class on campus, can be a better choice for students who have little previous psychology experience and are not currently working in the field of psychology. Often, such healthy psychology graduate programs encourage their students to attend full time and not hold an outside job of any kind. But such schools can often also help students find internships or work studies towards the end of their program, helping them earn some practical experience. Online universities are often a better choice for those who are already employed or have prior experience in the field of psychology, or have families, making such obligations easier with the flexible schedule of online learning.