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Becoming a health psychologist
What do health psychologists do?
What they do
Health psychologists work in a relatively new field of applied psychology. Psychological principles are used to promote changes in people's attitudes, behaviour and thinking about health and illness. The breadth of the discipline is far-reaching, including:
- the use of psychological theories and interventions to prevent damaging behaviours (such as smoking, drug abuse, poor diet), and the change health-related behaviour in community and workplace settings.
- promoting and protecting health by encouraging behaviours such as exercise, healthy dietary choice, teeth brushing, health checks/self examination
- health-related cognitions; investigating the processes which can explain, predict and change health and illness behaviours.
- processes influencing health care delivery; the nature and effects of communication between health care practitioners and patients, including interventions to improve communication, facilitate adherence, prepare for stressful medical procedures and so on;
- psychological aspects of illness; looking at the psychological impact of acute and chronic illness on individuals, families, and carers. Psychological interventions may be used to help promote self-management, facilitate coping with pain or illness, to improve quality of life, and to reduce disability and handicap.
Where they work
Health psychologists are represented in a number of settings, such as hospitals, academic health research units, health authorities and university department. They may deal with problems identified by health care agencies, including NHT Trusts and Health Authorities, health professionals such as GPs, nurses and rehabilitation therapists, and organisations and employers outside the health care system.
Psychology graduates can also use their skills in clinical audit in health services (also called quality improvement). The work is with health clinicians and health service managers, in putting research evidence into practice. Staff are supported in measuring their activities and implementing appropriate improvements.
How do I become one?
To become a Chartered Member of the Society through the health psychology training route, you will need the following qualifications:
- Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC). This is achieved by completing a Society accredited degree or conversion course
- Society accredited Masters in Health Psychology
- Stage 2 of the Society’s Qualification in Health Psychology (two years supervised practice)
Some Universities offer a Doctorate programme. After completion, this qualification will make you eligible to become a Chartered Member of the Society .
In order to use the title Health Psychologist, you will need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This will involve completing Stage 2 of the Society's Qualification in Health Psychology or equivalent qualification that has been approved by the HCPC. Contact the HCPC for more information on the entry requirements for their register.
What is relevant work experience and how do I get it?
The universities offering the accredited Masters in Health Psychology will decide upon the type and nature of experience, if required. Identify the courses you are interested in and then approach the course tutors directly to see if they can provide you with a profile of they type of experience a successful applicant will have gained.
How much will I get paid?
Over the past ten years there has been a significant increase in the number of lectureships in health psychology in universities and medical and nurse training schools. This is also reflected in the considerable growth in research into social and behavioural factors in health. Health psychologists may not necessarily stay with the same type of employer, an individual may move from a university to a health authority, and vice versa. There may also be joint appointments between universities and health services or units.
Research contracts are frequently paid on University Academic and Related Staff Scales, with Grade A scales currently starting at approximately £13,287 amd Grade B pay ranging from £19,340 to £29,211 (2005 figures - see the University and College Union website for updates)
Where are jobs advertised?
- In Psychologist Appointments, which is part of The Psychologist, the Society's monthly publication.
- In the National Press (e.g. The Times, The Guardian, The Independent).
- In specialist publications from the Health Service Journal and Department of Health website.
What if I'm a mature student?
Mature students often ask us if their age will prevent them from succeeding in a psychology career. You can find out more information under the Change of Career section.
Where do I find out more?
- Accredited Psychology Courses: Contact courses direct for more information about content, entry requirements, application procedure etc.
- The British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology. Access to publications, conferences, and special interest groups and chat rooms with membership.
- Careers resources: Published work covering forensic psychology and other areas of psychology.
- BPS Shop: Find an array of health psychology publications through our online shop.
- Contact us: Request form for further specific information.