Thinking about pursuing a PhD in clinical versus health psychology?
Clinical and health psychology are related, yet distinct. Although both clinical and health psychologists often examine mental health, the field of clinical psychology primarily focuses on diagnosing, understanding, and treating mental disorders, whereas health psychology examines the bidirectional relationship between mental and physical health. For example, investigators in health psychology often study psychological responses to physical health conditions, the impact of mental health on the progression of chronic disease, biological processes that underlie mental and/or physical health, and interventions aimed at improving mental and/or physical health (e.g., among individuals with chronic disease). In addition, health psychologists study health behaviors (e.g., sleep, eating) that are relevant to both mental and physical health.
A key distinction between clinical and health psychology is clinical training. In a clinical psychology PhD program, students administer mental health assessments and treatments; this clinical element is a major aspect of graduate training, alongside research and teaching. A one-year predoctoral clinical internship is also required to earn the PhD degree in clinical psychology. In contrast, students in our health psychology PhD program are trained to be behavioral scientists whose work exemplifies the best of psychological science within the health domain, rather than solely within the mental health domain. They often get experience with clinical populations (e.g., patients with mental and/or physical health disorders) and developing and/or administering interventions, but this occurs within a research, rather than clinical, context.