Someone who holds a masters in health psychology is at the forefront of preventing disease, coping with chronic illnesses and maintaining overall wellness. They have incredible responsibilities, which is also reflected in the educational requirements needed to become a health psychologist. If it is a field that interests you, then the following information can provide you with everything you need to know about this fascinating career.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated that a psychiatric aide earns a median salary of $26,710 per year. Those who hold a masters in health psychology, however, earn a median salary of $72,540, nearly three times as much. Naturally, salaries will vary depending on the organization someone works for and their geographical location.
About Health Psychology
Getting sick is part of our daily life. We deal with various illnesses, different diseases and a range of physical impairments. Some of these issues are caused by viruses and other micro-organisms invading our bodies. Others are caused by genetic factors. In the last 100 years or so, however, doctors and scientists are starting to understand that there are also many psychological factors at play. Indeed, mental, social and emotional factors have the ability to worsen a physical illness or make it better.
As a health psychologist, your focus will be on how these factors are of influence on the overall well-being of a person. Health psychology is also often referred to as medical psychology. This is because the emphasis is on measuring the emotional response to illnesses and to recovery.
A medical doctor is charged with treating the physical symptoms of a certain illness. They will diagnose their blood, administer drugs and create physical treatment plans that address the symptoms or, sometimes, the cause of a disease. Meanwhile, someone with a master’s in health psychology has less interest in the actual illness that the patient is dealing with. Rather, they want to know how the person feels and thinks as a result of that illness.
The field of health psychology is very broad. You may focus on understanding the impact of a certain illness on the mental and emotional well-being of a certain patient. You may also look into why people seek help for certain problems, but not others, or you may try to assess how they interact with their doctors.
Many psychological beliefs have been recognized for over a hundred years or so. However, it wasn’t until some 40 years ago that health psychology became officially recognized as a discipline in its own right. Joseph Matarazzo, Stephen Weiss and some other professionals created a petition to ask the American Psychology Association (APA) to recognize health psychology as a separate discipline. Some 600 signatures were received on this petition, which led to the Division 38 of the APA in 1978, which is the health psychology division.
In order to become a health psychologist, you will need to have a high school diploma or equivalent. This will allow you to get to work as a psychological aid. While on the job, you will be trained to further your knowledge and you will take part in various certification programs, including psychiatric rehabilitation technician, for instance. From thereon, you can study towards your master’s degree. Most will opt for clinical psychology and specialize in healthy psychology. If you are interested in policy or research, you could choose experimental health psychology. To become licensed to practice as a health psychologist, however, you will need to obtain your doctorate degree, as this is a requirement from the American Board of Clinical Health Psychology.
What Jobs Does This Lead To?
If you feel you have an interest in how health and psychology combine, then a position as a psychiatric aide may be suitable for you. Studying towards a master’s in heath psychology and on towards your doctorate would be the other option. Once you have completed your degree, you can get to work in long-term care facilities, hospitals, private homes or mental health clinics for instance. You could also seek employment in rehabilitation facilities, private practices, acute care facilities and so on. To start your own private practice or to work in research or other academic positions, you will need your doctorate degree.
There is a very wide range of jobs available for those with a masters in health psychology. Your specialization and knowledge will greatly determine what you will actually be doing. However, there are four broad options available to you once you obtain your master’s in health psychology. These are:
- Clinical health psychology – where your focus will be on delivering patient treatment. Your focus will be on the lifestyle of your patient and how this and their behavior influence their health in general. You will also ensure they are able to address certain bad habits and overcome various lifestyle issues that may cause problems to their overall physical health.
- Community health psychology – where your focus will be to improve the health of entire communities. You will learn about disease prevalence in various communities and try to find out why these are present and whether there is a psychological factor leading to the illness or caused by the illness.
- Occupational health psychology – where your focus is on the state of health of a person who is at work. You will likely be employed by businesses or companies who want to ensure their employees have excellent mental well-being at work. You will, for instance, help to design new workplace policies, help in restructuring an organization and provide counseling and guidance to employees.
- Public health psychology – where your role is to work at government level in the development, implementation and monitoring of public health programs. Here, you will often work with people in disadvantaged and low-income communities, develop public health awareness campaigns and create new national and local health policies. There is generally some overlap with community health psychology.
If you were to work as a psychiatric aide, however, you will work one on one with patients who have significant emotional and mental problems. Here, your role will be to assist them with their day to day needs, while at the same time observing how they behave. You could also be developing various group activities, take them to therapy and organize outings. You will assist these people in terms of preventing disease and encouraging their overall wellness. This is particularly common in people who have a chronic illness and have to adjust their lives around the treatment they received.
Finally, it has been noted by the APA that end-of-life care is becoming an important field of health psychology. This is because it is now recognized that this is a traumatic time that can be alleviated somewhat through proper counseling and therapy. As a health psychologist, you will speak with patients and their families to determine what the best options are for continuing care. This includes grief counseling and designing living wills.
The salary you can expect as a health psychologist will vary depending on a number of factors. The more advanced your degree is, the more likely you are to earn more. Where you work, both in terms of the type of organization and the geographical location, are also influencing factors.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated that psychologists in hospital settings can expect to earn $91,810 annually. Those in counseling and clinical positions earn less, with the median was calculated to be $73,090. Those who work in research, who will generally hold a Ph.D., can expect to earn around $100,790.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be significant growth in the field of health psychology. Psychiatric aides can expect to see a 6% growth by 2018, which is around the national average. Those working as psychologists can expect a 12% growth by the same period, which is above the national average.