A small group of thoughtful committed healthy citizens can change the world. Never doubt that. Ever wonder why people behave differently the way they do in sickness and in health? Do you really want to help people struggling with ailments but not exactly as a medical doctor? Do you wish to dive into the depths of the human mind to discover the problems? Are you a strong communicator and a good storyteller? Do you want to find out how differently people behave when placed in different situations? You will have to approach an individual, stabilize their emotions and serve their needs. Do you think you are compassionate enough to do this? Let’s take a peek into who Health Psychologists are, what they do, how they do it and how to become one.
Health Psychologists deal with the study of psychological, cognitive (the process of learning) and behavioral processes in a state of good health as well as during an illness, health abnormalities and injuries – specifically how differently a person behaves, responds, performs and interacts in a state of good health as well as when suffering from an illness, physical disability or accidental injury. Health Psychologists help people cope up with mental issues such as frustration, stress, despondency, lack of self-belief, etc. arising out of an illness, physical disability, injury, and other medical conditions. For example, people suffering from cancer often develop despondency or hopelessness. They give up hope. This leads to low spirit and therefore the recovery, if possible, takes longer than usual. A person, after facing a critical injury, may feel frustrated as his life after the recovery might not be as usual before the injury. This delays the person’s response to medical treatment.
Why become a Health Psychologist?
Health Psychologists deal with the study of psychological, cognitive (the process of learning) and behavioral processes in a state of good health as well as during an illness, health abnormalities and injuries – specifically how differently a person behaves, responds, performs and interacts in a state of good health as well as when suffering from an illness, physical disability or accidental injury.
Health Psychologists help people cope with mental issues such as frustration, stress, despondency, lack of self-belief, etc. arising out of an illness, physical disability, injury, and other medical conditions. For example, people suffering from cancer often develop despondency or hopelessness. They give up their hope. This leads to low spirit and therefore the recovery, if possible, takes longer than usual. A person, after facing a critical injury, may feel frustrated as his life after the recovery might not be as usual before the injury. This delays the person’s response to medical treatment.
Many scientific studies have proven that mental condition does have an effect on how soon a person with an illness or disease can recover and how an individual’s mindset can lead to a tendency to fall ill or a feeling of well-being during an illness and after the recovery from an illness.
What is Health Psychology?
This field is concerned with understanding how psychological, behavioral, social and cultural factors contribute to physical health and illness, how such factors play a role in preventing illnesses among healthy individuals and how they govern the responses of diseased individuals.
In this exciting field, you will get to learn, study and understand the psychological influences on how people stay healthy, why they get ill when they do and how they respond during illnesses or when they are hurt or in pain.
Further understanding the role of a Health Psychologist
Now, Health Psychologists perceive“health”as the product “not only of biological processes” such as rising from a virus or a tumor “but also of psychological, behavioral and social processes”. For example, psychological ones include thoughts and beliefs, behavioral ones include habits and social ones include socioeconomic status or ethnicity etc.
Health Psychologists play a key role in understanding the interface between psychological and physical aspects of health and overall well-being. In the increasingly technology-driven fast paced world we live in today, Health Psychologists have an immense responsibility in the prevention and management of chronic diseases.
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Health Psychologists utilize diverse research methods
This is both a theoretical and applied field. The diverse research methods of health Psychologists include controlled randomized experiments, quasi-experiments, longitudinal studies, time-series designs, cross-sectional studies, case-control studies, qualitative research as well as action research. These are technical names given to different approaches to separate cases.
Health psychologists study a broad range of health phenomena including cardiovascular disease (cardiac psychology), smoking habits, the relation of religious beliefs to health, alcohol use, social support, living conditions, emotional state, social class, and more.
Some health psychologists treat individuals with sleep problems, headaches, alcohol problems, etc. Other health psychologists work to empower community members by helping community members gain control over their health and improve the quality of life of entire communities.
Health psychologists can work with people on a one-to-one basis, in groups, as a family, or at a larger population level.
For example, Public Health Psychologists have a population-oriented practice. They investigate potential causal links between psychosocial factors and health at the population level. They present their research results to educators, policymakers, and healthcare providers in order to promote better public health.
They also participate in analyzing & attempting to improve the healthcare system and formulating healthcare policies. They can help monitor progress in achieving a nation’s health objectives on the whole.
Community Health Psychologists contribute to the health and well-being of individuals who live in communities. They develop community-level interventions (actions taken to improve a medical disorder) that are designed to combat disease and promote physical and mental health across a community.
In practice, Health Psychologists tend to work in research settings (universities, laboratories or research institutions), clinical settings (medical hospitals or rehabilitation settings, often involved in assessing or treating patients), or forensic settings or industry (often as clinical-trial consultants for testing new drugs).
Work of a Health Psychologist: Example 1: Psychological factors can affect health directly
For a case in point, take a woman who has chronic head and neck pain that worsens with time. Having a painful condition is stressful. Unfortunately, stress can also contribute to a range of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety. Health Psychologists can help manage the stresses in life related to a patient’s chronic pain.
This is only one of many examples.
Work of a Health Psychologist: Example 2:Behavioral factors can also affect health directly
Let us consider some behavioral factors that can affect (harm or enhance) a person’s health. Like, smoking or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can harm a person’s health to the extent of imposing coronary heart diseases and engaging in regular exercise can alternatively enhance a person’s health. You obviously do know the answer.
Work of a Health Psychologist: Example 3: Helping patients before and after a surgery
Then consider the fact of informing patients about the rigidities of surgery before they physically undergo it. Any kind of surgery is an unpleasant medical process for any patient. They typically experience fear, anxiety, depression and helplessness. They need to be prepared in an attempt to improve their adjustment to the procedure.
Many patients anticipate their treatment with burns, nausea, vomiting, weight change, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, sleep problems and fatigue. Likewise, patients who have already undergone surgery are also likely to experience distress, rejection and fears. Such situations are best handled by Health Psychologists.
The cumulative efforts of Health Psychologists:
- Can help determine the burden of preventable diseases, injuries, & disabilities.
- Can provide valuable new insights into the relationships between diseases and their risk factors.
- Can help identify groups of individuals with relatively poor perceived health, help to improve their situations and avert more serious consequences.
- Are particularly important for the additional years of the elderly in an era when life expectancy is increasing.
- Are extremely useful for persons with a functional limitation – for example, vision loss, mobility difficulty, or intellectual disability to help them enjoy a good quality of a long productive life.
- Can help identify needs for health policies & legislation and guide the development of strategic plans.
- Can help monitor progress in achieving a nation’s health objectives
What does Health Psychologist do?
You will be engaged in one or more of the following roles and responsibilities as well as other associated duties:
- You will provide care, or arrange for the provision of appropriate care, for child, adolescent, adult, and geriatric population of patients suffering from stress, substance abuse, or family situations, to modify behavior or to improve personal, social, or vocational adjustment.
- You will interpret appropriate information needed to identify each patient’s requirements.
- You will obtain and evaluate relevant historical information and incorporate that into the evaluation & treatment planning.
- You will determine the urgency of a patient’s needs, provide a professional interpretation of them, recommend a course of therapeutic action and select an appropriate treatment modality (way to administer the therapy).
- You will develop appropriate treatment plans and discuss them with the patient and/or caregivers to ensure they participate in the development of the plan and consent to treatments.
- You will perform psychological evaluations and use a variety of treatment methods, such as psychotherapy, hypnosis, behavior modification, stress reduction therapy, psychodrama, or play therapy, appropriate to each patient and their functional abilities.
- You will provide counseling education, cognitive/ retraining/ behavior management and/or crisis intervention as needed to treat problem areas identified in the assessment process.
- You will be responsible for test selection, scoring, & interpretation and you will understand the limitations of them and correctly apply the norms of each test used.
- You will maintain a written record of therapy, as well as coordinate with social agencies, schools, relatives, and friends to obtain pertinent information about your patient.
- You will utilize psychometrics for the administration &scoring of tests as appropriate, ensure the accuracy of that administration & scoring as well as prepare reports from the evaluation data.
- You will train professional team members involved in the care of a patient about appropriate observational methods, behavior management techniques, and appropriate supportive roles in the patient’s treatment.
- You will independently conduct research of human behavior & possible methods for eliminating psychological disorders or offer research design consultation to other researchers/ scientists.
How to become Health Psychologist – Eligibility Criteria
After Class 11-12:
- You can go for a Bachelor’s in Psychology/ Applied Psychology
- You can go for a Bachelor’s in Sociology/ Social Science/ similar
- You can do a Bachelor’s degree in any subject (but it is better to do a Bachelor’s in the above-mentioned fields.
You can study for a Bachelor’s / Master’s / Doctoral degree in any of the following fields (Note that all these fields may not offer you a degree at all three levels, that is in Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral. Some fields may offer a degree only at the Master’s or at the Doctoral level):
- Applied Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
- Child Psychology
- Computational Psychology
- Counseling Psychology
- Experimental Psychology
- Health Psychology
- Mental Health Counseling
- Rehabilitation Psychology
- Social Psychology
The educational requirements for becoming a Health Psychologist in India can vary depending on the specific program and institution. Generally, a minimum of a Master’s degree in Health Psychology or Clinical Psychology is required to become a Health Psychologist in India.
The fees for a Master’s program in Health Psychology or Clinical Psychology can range from approximately INR 50,000 to INR 2,00,000 per year, depending on the institution and program. Additionally, there may be additional costs such as textbooks, materials, and other fees.
It’s important to research different programs and institutions to find one that best suits your needs and budget. It’s also a good idea to consider financial aid options, such as scholarships or grants, to help offset the cost of education.
Multiple jobs will be available for you in this field, including serving as a Counselor, Psychology Associate, or Research Assistant in environments such as:
- Mental health clinics and inpatient hospitals
- Outpatient clinics
- Private/ government research laboratories
- Prisons and detention centers
- Private corporations
- Central and state government agencies/ offices
- Law enforcement institutions
- Human resource divisions in companies or governments
- A Master’s degree is required if you would like to work as a Counselor, Psychology Associate, or Research Assistant in the above scenarios.
- Or if you intend to aspire higher, think about whether you’d like to focus more on research (Ph.D.) or practice (Psy.D.).
- Most hospitals or healthcare delivery establishments look for a Ph.D. supplemented with at least 2 years of post-doctoral clinical experience in Health Psychology or Behavioral Health or related areas, in India or abroad.
- Scope for entrepreneurship – You may also opt for a private practice if you hold a Doctoral degree (after a Master’s degree) or post-doctoral qualifications. However, this is advisable after a few years of experience in an organization.
After joining a professional set-up as an Intern/ Trainee/ Assistant, you may aspire to become a:
- Health Psychologist
- Behavioral Health Specialist
- Psychology Associate
- Clinical Psychologist
- Research Psychologist
- Behavior Analyst
Depending on your profile & specialization, you may find opportunities at the following or related organizations:
- Government as well as private hospitals like AIIMS, Medica, Narayana Health, etc.
- Daycare and healthcare centers like Sarvam Global Healthcare, CIPHER Healthcare, etc.
- MNCs like Hindustan Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, etc.
- Rehab Centres for drug addicts, clinically diagnosed mentally ill individuals, etc.
- Government forensic labs like Central Forensic Science Laboratory in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chandigarh & Kolkata, and state forensic science laboratories like forensic science laboratory Jaipur, Mumbai, etc.
- Hospitals for the treatment of mental diseases & disorders like NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences), Institute of Psychiatry (Ranchi) etc.
Salary of Health Psychologist
Health Psychology is a rewarding and aggressively escalating corporate/ federal sector in terms of both fiscal benefits for an incumbent and industrial relevance.
At the entry-level jobs, after your post-graduation, you may expect to get about Rs. 20,000 – 25,000 or even more a month. In junior-level jobs (after 4-5 years of post-graduation), you can make about Rs. 25,000 – 50,000 or more per month.
In mid-level jobs in India, you can expect to earn about Rs. 45,000 – 85,000 or even more a month.
In senior-level jobs in India, you can expect to earn about Rs. 60,000 – 2,50,000 or even more a month.
After a Master’s degree, a stipend in India while doing Ph.D. is about Rs. 35,000-38,000 a month in a university or research center or as a Research Associate with a salary of about Rs. 15,000-20,000 a month.
After a Ph.D., the stipend for Post-Doctoral Fellows in a research institution or university research center is Rs. 40,000-45,000 a month.
In other organizations/companies mostly after a Ph.D. or after a Post-Doctoral Fellowship, salaries in India may vary between Rs. 50,000-1,20,000 a month or even more.
The monthly salaries of faculty serving government-aided or owned institutions approved by the Ministry of HRD (Department of Higher Education), Govt. of India are:
- Assistant Professor Grade II: Rs 57700 to Rs 117200
- Assistant Professor Grade I: Rs 101500 to Rs 204700
- Associate Professor: Rs 139600 to Rs 211300
- Professor: Rs 144200 to Rs 224100
Professionals on the faculty of private establishments have varied ranges too: –
- Qualified Master’s: Rs. 20,000 – 35,000 per month or more
- Qualified PhD: Rs. 45,000 – 85,000 per month or more
- Higher qualifications: Rs. 55,000 – 1,50,000 per month or more
Career Progression in Health Psychology profession
- If you start your career as an associate psychologist, then you will become a psychologist, then a Consultant Psychologist and then Head of the Department.
- If you start as a Senior Scientist Officer (Grade II) in the forensic department, you would soon be a Senior Scientist officer (Grade I) and then Principal Scientific Officer and finally Director of the Laboratory.
- Career growth in university and college begins with Assistant Professor and then Associate Professor, Professor and Professor Emeritus. Professors can also get administrative positions such as Director/Dean/Vice Chancellor, etc.
- If you are hired as a research associate, then you will go on to become a Doctoral Research Fellow, then Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and then Scientist in Progressive Grades.
- If you join as a Health Psychologist in a hospital, then you will go on to Senior Psychologist and Head of Department. Though your pay grades with go upward faster than your profile.
What does industry trends say – Future Prospects
It is safe to predict that this field will remain steadfast in the many years to come. Mental health continues to be one of the biggest health challenges, especially in India but fails to receive much attention even in the current scenario.
At one time, the role of health psychologists in health care was largely confined to the task of administering tests and interpreting the test results of individuals who were clinically diagnosed with psychological disturbances.
Now, however, caregivers, physicians and other healthcare professionals are increasingly recognizing that psychological factors are important in health and sickness. This is resulting in the increasing acceptance of health psychologists within the medical community.
India, China and the US still remain the most affected by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. More than 56 million people suffer from clinical depression and 42.5% of corporate employees in the organized sector of India.inc suffer from the same. Further, over 38 million people are suffering from an anxiety disorder in India.
The Healthcare Market in India has the potential to increase 3 fold to 133.44 billion US Dollars by 2022. Indian Government is willing to expand public health spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2025. Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) launched in 2018 provides 7,124.54 US Dollars each to over 100 million families every year.
There are immense opportunities for trained mental health professionals in all fields. Indian schools in the coming few years will be forced to employ a counselor for their children and teachers both. By 2025, medical spending in India is expected to grow by almost 9 to 12% making India one of the world’s top ten in this zone.
Furthermore, in the coming few years all hospitals would be hiring psychologists. Most of hospitals even today don’t have a psychiatry & psychology department or have psychiatrists doing the job of counselors & psychologists. Hospitals in the big cities have only started to have a counselor. Today good hospital chains are looking for skilled and trained psychology professionals who are rare in India. The entire Healthcare Industry in India is one of the fastest-growing sectors and it is expected to reach $280 billion by 2020. The major focus is on quality of service and hence skilled labor is much required to sustain the growth of this industry.
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