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Overview of Graduate Degree Programs to become a Health Psychologist

Higher Education Articles January 1, 2016

This article talks about graduate degree programs in health psychology and their education requirements, coursework, and job and wage outlook.

Graduate Degree Programs to become a Health Psychologist

The coping strategies of a person during physical and mental hardships are studied by health psychologists, who look at the individual’s personality or general attitude and see how it affects their physical health. This knowledge allows them to help patients improve their mental outlook thereby enhancing their quality of life. Research, classes and clinical experiences are in the master’s and Ph.D. programs in this field of study. Master’s degree program graduates can seek work as counselors among several other job options; however, to obtain licensure as a psychologist, interested individuals would need a doctoral degree in most states.

Master’s Programs in Health Psychology

The focus of a two-year master’s degree program in health psychology is on the causal link between a person’s mental state and her or his physical welfare. Health centers are the main employers of health psychologists who are required to assist people with illness, preventing health complications via social interaction and reinforcing a positive outlook. These professionals are expected to be adept at dealing with a patient’s hopelessness, illness, and resistance to assistance. Health psychologists are required to harbor a genuine desire to assist others, welcome challenges and maintain an optimistic outlook in the face of negative circumstances.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Applicants to some programs must obtain a passing grade in specific courses relating to psychology. Schools commonly also require the submission of a personal statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation from faculty members.


Full-time students can complete the master’s degree program in health psychology within two years culminating in a thesis presentation. A year of relevant hands-on experience is a requirement at some schools. The focus of program coursework is mainly on mental health and research. Core coursework may cover topic areas such as:

•Research methods and statistics
•Thesis research
•Basics of human biology
•Illness and Mental health
•Ethics in health

Ph.D. Programs in Health Psychology

Master’s degree program graduates can seek careers as assistants or opt for other jobs supervised by a licensed psychologist. Licensure norms in most states require the completion of a Ph.D. by applicants. Students may need to perform 5-7 years of study and research to complete a Ph.D., culminating in a dissertation. The focus of most Ph.D. school work is on the dissertation research of a student. Although, courses focused on physical and mental health often predominate. Students are often required to do practical work in an approved location such as a clinic.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field, though individuals would find it useful to have a master’s degree. Specific classes may have to be passed by incoming students to a Ph.D. program. A personal statement may have to be presented by applicants, in addition to letters of recommendation from professors and a resume highlighting prior experience in the field.

Job and Wage Outlook

Over the 2012 – 2022 decade, all psychologist jobs are expected to see a faster-than-average growth of 19% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). This growth is due to an increasing need for healthcare-related psychology owing to outpatient care, unhealthy lifestyles, and an aging population. In May 2012, clinical, school and counseling psychologists brought in an average annual wage of $74,030 (BLS). The BLS states that positions requiring only a master’s degree are limited; the largest number of openings will be for graduates with a Ph.D.

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In 2017, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma*.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics

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