If you want to improve the healthcare system and you also enjoy helping people achieve a healthier lifestyle, then a career as a health psychologist may be for you
Health psychologists help patients of all ages and with varying psychological or physical health issues respond to and manage the psychological aspects of their illness. This can include:
You may also work with family members who are affected by the patient's illness.
You will usually work closely with other health professionals, such as nurses and GPs, and with organisations and employers outside the NHS, who identify psychological health issues in patients.
Work can take place in a range of applied settings such as the NHS, primary care or private practice.
As a health psychologist you'll need to:
Salaries outside the NHS can vary depending on the type of client and your level of expertise. Research and lecturing posts at universities often follow academic and related staff scales.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Health psychologists in the NHS usually work a 37.5 hour week. If you're working outside the NHS, working hours may vary. If you're a self-employed health psychologist, you may work some evenings or weekends to suit your clients' needs.
Some health psychologists combine part-time work in academia with NHS or independent private practice work.
To practice as a health psychologist in the UK you must be registered with the HCPC, which involves training at postgraduate level.
To begin training you'll normally need Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC), which is achieved by completing a psychology degree or conversion course accredited by The British Psychological Society (BPS). For a full list of GBC qualifying courses see the BPS Accredited Psychology Courses.
Postgraduate training is typically conducted in two stages. The first stage involves completion of a BPS-accredited Masters degree in health psychology. You will usually need a 2:1 or above for entry on to a Masters course, but check with individual institutions as entry requirements vary. The knowledge you gain at this stage will support you in the second stage of training, where you can begin to develop your practice under supervision.
Stage 2 training involves taking either a BPS-accredited Doctorate in Health Psychology or the BPS Qualification in Health Psychology Stage 2 (QHP Stage 2). In order to progress to stage 2, you will need to be working in an appropriate health-related role, for example as a trainee health psychologist. Throughout your training you will be classed as a trainee health psychologist, regardless of your area of work.
If you choose to follow the Doctorate route, you'll need to apply for a course accredited by the HCPC. These courses lead to a doctoral qualification in health psychology and provide the equivalent of a minimum of two years full-time practice placement. For a full list of qualifying courses, see the BPS Accredited Psychology Courses. As part of the course you'll undergo a supervised practice incorporating the five key health psychology competencies:
You will need to evidence these competencies in at least two applied settings, e.g. hospital work or work in a community setting, and will also need to complete a research dissertation.
Alternatively, you can follow the BPS independent practice route, leading to the QHP Stage 2. You will need to undertake supervised practice, during which you will develop a portfolio of evidence showing your skills in health psychology. This route takes a minimum of two years full-time experience and is formally assessed through examination of your portfolio.
Both stage 2 routes lead to eligibility to apply for Chartered Membership of the BPS, full membership of the Division of Health Psychology and entry to the HCPC register as a health psychologist.
Although there is no central funding for the MSc or stage 2 courses in England and Wales, there is an NHS-funded stage 2 training scheme available in Scotland. See Health Psychologists in Training for details.
Entry on to a postgraduate course (stage 1) is becoming increasingly competitive so you're advised to get some work or shadowing experience prior to applying. While not an essential requirement of progression onto stage 2 training, it's useful if you get some work experience at stage 1.
Experience can be through paid or voluntary roles, e.g. shadowing health psychologists working with patients with pain management issues or helping support patients with stroke rehabilitation.
Voluntary or paid work in other areas such as nursing, social work, care work, mental health work or services for individuals with disabilities is also useful. Check with individual institutions for the extent and type of experience they're looking for.
Experience as a research assistant is also relevant and it's helpful to have a good balance of experience in both academic and applied health areas. Getting some experience working under the supervision of a qualified health psychologist within the NHS is also valuable.
At stage 2, health psychology trainees are expected to source their own two-year supervised practice placement.
Many health psychologists are employed by NHS England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales or Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland (HSC). Opportunities are available in a range of professional contexts, including:
Look for job vacancies at:
Continuing professional development (CPD) as a health psychologist is an essential part of your continuing registration with the HCPC and chartered membership of the BPS. This ongoing development should include a mixture of directed and self-directed activities. You'll need to:
Activities can include a mixture of presenting at and attending conferences, undertaking research, involvement in a committee and taking further post-qualification courses. It's also important to undertake personal psychological counselling to enhance your professional practice.
Training and development opportunities can be found via the BPS Professional Development Centre. They offer a range of professional development opportunities and a CPD Approval Scheme for externally provided CPD.
Career prospects for qualified health psychologists continue to grow, although demand varies depending on your geographical region, the number of jobs available in each specialist area and the popularity of particular fields.
You would generally start your career as a health psychologist as a trainee or an assistant health psychologist. With experience you can progress to more senior roles before moving on to principal health psychologist or consultant health psychologist. These roles require experienced practitioners, usually with many years' experience working in applied settings, and include managerial and supervisory responsibilities.
There are opportunities to specialise in areas of health psychology, usually based on the type of health condition, e.g. eating disorders, drug abuse or addictive behaviours. At consultant level your workload could be quite broad, supporting multiple teams or a department. Alternatively, it could be very specific, focusing on pain management, for example.
It's also possible to follow a career in academia. You're likely to spend much of your time in the first few years building up your teaching skills and experience, and developing your research profile. If based in a university setting, you may teach and supervise trainee health psychologists and other healthcare professionals.