Health psychologist

Health psychologists use knowledge of psychology and health to promote wellbeing and healthy behaviours, especially at population level. 

They are specially trained to understand the psychological and emotional aspects of health and illness.

Psychological therapies - life skills

Working life

You'll promote healthier lifestyles and try to find ways to encourage people to improve their health. For example, you may help people to lose weight or stop smoking. You'll also use your skills to try to improve the healthcare system, for example advising doctors about better ways to communicate with their patients.

You’ll be part of a rapidly evolving profession that uses the practice and application of psychology to study behaviour relevant to health, illness and healthcare.

Health psychologist is a different role to clinical health psychologist who are specialists in physical health. 

Your work will involve: 

  • identifying behaviours that may damage a person's health eg smoking, drug abuse, poor diet and how psychological theories and interventions can support prevention and health related behaviour change
  • encouraging behaviours such as exercise, a healthy diet, oral hygiene, health checks/self-examination and attending preventative medical screenings
  • investigating health and illness behaviours. A range of models and frameworks are used to explain and predict behaviour, develop interventions eg changing health beliefs, increasing internal control or self belief 
  • investigating the nature and effects of communication between health professionals and patients including interventions to improve communication
  • looking at the psychological impact of illness on individuals, families and carers

You’ll also use psychological interventions to help self-management of illness and coping with pain or illness. You may also provide information and advice to a range of organisations involved in public health such as the NHS and local authorities.

Who will I work with?

Health psychologists work with individuals (including children, adults and older adults) or groups, or work indirectly through the development of remote approaches such as media or online interventions.

You may work as part of multi-professional teams including doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

Where will I work?

You'll work across a range of health care and other providers, for example large scale public health programmes or individual or small group consultations.

You could work in:

  • hospitals
  • community teams 
  • universities

Many health psychologists also work in academia, teaching and researching in their area of expertise.

Entry requirements

Health psychologists will usually have completed an accredited undergraduate degree in psychology. From there, they need to complete a Master’s degree in health psychology approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and then complete a doctoral-level qualification in health psychology.

Entry requirements for the training will include some experience, which can be gained through paid or voluntary roles. This could be through shadowing health psychologists or experience gained from other roles such as nursing or social work.

It is important to check individual training courses for information about entry requirements and the kind of experience that is expected.

  • Most jobs in the NHS are covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scales. This pay system covers all staff except doctors, dentists and the most senior managers. 

    After completing their training, health psychologists will be paid at band 7. Psychologists in the NHS can work full or part time. Terms and conditions can vary for employers outside of the NHS.

  • Once you have qualified as a psychologist, there is a wide range of opportunities. You could apply for more senior positions, for example consultant psychologist or head of a psychological service. This can be in a variety of settings including primary, secondary or tertiary care within the NHS, third sector, and academic organisations. Many health psychologists also work in academia, teaching and researching in their area of expertise. You could apply for a trainee high intensity therapist position, enabling you to work under the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative (IAPT).

    More information on training and development in health psychology.

  • In January 2018, there were 22,960 practitioner psychologists registered with the Health and Care Professions Council

    There are over nearly 1,6000 health psychologists in the UK. 

    Most NHS organisations advertise their job and apprenticeship vacancies on NHS Jobs, including those who run NHS services. Some advertise on their own websites. You can find a list of NHS organisations at NHS Choices.

    If you're applying for a role either directly in the NHS or in an organisation that provides NHS services, you'll be asked to show how you think the values of the NHS Constitution apply in your everyday work. The same will be true if you are applying for a university course funded by the NHS.

    Find out more about NHS values. 

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