North Wales Management School - Wrexham University

What is health psychology?

Posted on: June 15, 2022
Close up of hands holding a notepad with a blurred patient in the background

Health psychology examines the psychological, behavioural, emotional, and cultural factors that affect health and illness. 

Health psychologists:

  • Use their understanding of health psychology to promote wellbeing and healthy behaviours within communities. For instance, they might help promote public vaccination campaigns to ensure they are more convincing and effective.
  • Help patients manage their psychological and emotional wellbeing during treatment and recovery from serious illnesses. This might include working with individuals receiving treatment for cancer, helping someone manage a long-term, chronic pain condition, or helping someone newly diagnosed with diabetes to effectively manage their health.
  • Work with people to develop healthier lifestyles. For example, they might help someone with smoking cessation, or work with people to encourage better nutritional choices.

Health psychologists also work within healthcare systems to improve care more broadly. This can include working with doctors and nurses to develop more effective methods for communicating with patients, creating new training programmes within hospitals, or researching new psychological interventions to help improve both mental and physical health.

What are the different types of health psychology?

Health psychology is both an applied psychology and a theoretical psychology, and can be broken down into five areas:

  • Clinical health psychology. Clinical health psychology is focused on treatment at an individual level. Clinical health psychologists can use education, behavioural change techniques, or psychotherapy to help someone make behavioural or lifestyle choices that will improve their health. 
  • Community health psychology. Community health psychology is an important weapon when combating diseases or other widespread illnesses within communities and regions. Because they have a broader view within healthcare systems, community health psychologists can help spot emerging illnesses or other health trends. They’re often engaged in community health interventions, such as physical and mental health campaigns.
  • Public health psychology. Public health psychology is focused on the psychological and behavioural factors at play in the health of a whole population. Public health psychologists often work with governments or public health organisations to develop new policies or conduct new research into public health interventions from a psychological perspective.
  • Occupational health psychology. Occupational health psychology is an extension of health and safety measures within workplaces. Occupational health psychologists work with businesses and other organisations to increase employee health and performance, write and embed new policies that focus on staff wellbeing, and provide counselling services for employees.
  • Critical health psychology. Critical health psychology examines the social, cultural, political, and historical determinants that contribute to disparities in health behaviour or health experiences, and inequalities within healthcare systems and policies. Critical health psychologists work with people in marginalised or vulnerable communities to gain insights and work towards social justice – and change – and highlight how a person’s physical environment, psychosocial environment, or socioeconomic status can significantly shape their health.

What is the difference between clinical psychology and health psychology?

Health psychology is closely tied to clinical psychology, and both examine mental health in great depth, but they’re not actually the same thing:

  • Clinical psychology works to understand, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses and disorders.
  • Health psychology works to understand the relationship between mental health and physical health – how one impacts the other, and vice versa. Through this understanding, health psychologists can develop and provide effective interventions for patients who need them.

Careers in health psychology

Health psychology is a growing field and a rewarding career path, with a diverse range of roles available to health psychologists.

According to the British Psychological Society (BPS), health psychologists typically work within:

  • Hospitals and community health teams
  • Health research units
  • Local authorities
  • Public health departments
  • Consultancies
  • Universities and other higher education settings

Practising as a health psychologist in the UK requires:

It’s also worth noting that the BPS’ Division of Health Psychology has stated that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity of health psychologists, suggesting that a workforce equipped with professional skills and competencies in health psychology will help to:

  • Promote healthy and safe behaviours
  • Provide psychological rehabilitation to those struggling with long-term conditions, including post-Covid-19 syndrome
  • Better support health professionals and healthcare providers with wellbeing and resilience

According to postgraduate recruiters Prospects, health psychology careers within the NHS span several levels and salaries.

Health psychologists typically start as trainees earning £32,306 annually. This salary rises to £40,057 once fully qualified.

More experienced healthcare psychologists can earn up to £63,862, while consultants can earn up to £90,387, and heads of psychology services can earn even more.

What jobs are available in health psychology?

There are a number of traditional roles within health psychology. These include:

  • Health psychologist
  • Clinical health psychologist
  • Community health psychologist
  • Public health psychologist
  • Occupational health psychologist
  • Critical health psychologist
  • Consultant health psychologist

Other career paths include:

  • Community health advocate
  • Research psychologist specialising in health psychology research projects and research methods (including quantitative and qualitative research)
  • Teaching and training
  • Other consultancy work, including developing professional development programmes and seminars for health psychologists, conducting systematic reviews, and working with GPs, nurses, dieticians, surgeons, and rehabilitation therapists to better facilitate behaviour changes

Apply health psychology principles within your existing career

Health psychology is a multifaceted field that has applications across a range of professions. You can deepen your understanding of health psychology and apply its principles within your existing role by studying the 100% online MSc Psychology at North Wales Management School, part of Wrexham University.

Through this flexible master’s degree, you’ll gain insight into the social, psychological, and biological factors that contribute to the health, illnesses, and wellbeing of individuals and within societies and workplaces. You’ll also learn about topics such as health promotion, the impact of social media, and the impact and management of stress and chronic illness.

This part-time postgraduate degree is taught entirely online and has been designed to help working professionals apply psychological principles to broader professional contexts, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of employee and customer behaviours. For further information about this programme, including details about tuition fees, entry requirements, eligibility, and coursework, please visit the University website.