Health psychology is a relatively new area of professional specialization in the larger realm of psychology which traces its official roots back to the early 1970s. In response to the increasingly important role that psychologists were playing in hospital medical care, and the obvious links between mental and physical health that decades of study had established, the American Psychological Association added something called "health psychology" to its lists of official divisions within the sphere of clinical and behavioral psychology. Of course, psychology in all of its various facets is concerned with issues of health. So, why did health psychology need a separate designation within the discipline?
The answer to that question lies in the more nuanced understanding of medical treatments and disease that gained traction over the last half of the 20th century, one that, as the British Health Society explains, saw illness not just in biological and physiological terms, but also as a symptom of psychological and social factors. So, as evidence linking behavior and biology accumulated, and behavioral science became part of the physician's toolbox, psychologists and psychological theory became intertwined with the practice of medicine, and health psychology became a discrete specialty.
In this guide we'll take an in-depth look at master's degrees in health psychology, as well as the training and knowledge it takes to embark on a career in the field. We'll also highlight the various areas of specialization that have emerged within health psychology, the kinds of careers that are available, and the job outlook and earning potential that comes with earning a master's degree in health psychology.
What Does a Health Psychologist Do?
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