What is the Difference Between Health Psychology and Clinical Psychology?

Last Updated: June 25, 2024

Health psychology explores the connection between psychological, behavioral, and social factors and their impact on overall health and well-being. Clinical psychology, on the other hand, is the study of psychological disorders and mental illnesses. Clinical psychologists provide counseling and treatment services to clients and patients suffering from mental health issues.

Health psychology comprises several areas of psychology (i.e. clinical psychology, research, and public policy). There are also several sub-fields within this branch of psychology. These sub-fields include: community psychology, public health psychology, clinical health psychology, and occupational psychology.

Some health psychologists work in government and social service agencies, developing, organizing, and implementing community health programs, and public policies.

So, if you are wondering what the difference is between health psychology and clinical psychology – you have come to the right place. This article will provide you with the “ins and outs” of these two branches of psychology.

Related Reading: MA Vs MS in Psychology – Key Differences

Health Psychology

The primary function of a health psychologist is to help clients and patients better manage their stress, anger, psychological disorders, medical conditions, and mental illnesses by teaching them effective stress management, relaxation, and biofeedback strategies.

The main difference between health psychology and clinical psychology is that health psychology focuses on the health of clients and patients, while clinical psychology focuses on mental illnesses (i.e. psychological disorders, abnormal behaviors, and psychiatric illnesses).

Health psychologists also tend to place most of their energies on improving the health of people, through diet, exercise, stress management techniques, etc., while clinical psychologists tend to exert their energies on helping clients and patients effectively manage their mental and physical conditions.

Clinical psychologists tend to collaborate/triage with psychiatrists, while health psychologists tend to collaborate/triage with nutritionists and dietitians.

Related: What is the Difference Between Health Psychology and Medical Psychology?

Health psychology is the study biological processes. In other words, it examines the relationship between biology and human behaviors. A health psychologist studies the link between a person’s psychological health and his or her physical health.

These mental health professionals typically find employment at colleges/universities, organizations, consulting firms, clinics/hospitals, social service agencies, medical centers, and private practices.

Licensed/certified health psychologists, also known as applied health psychologists, are able to provide clinical services to clients and patients. Some of these clinical services include: helping a patient manage his or her chronic condition, stop smoking, lose weight, or better manage stress.

Education, Salary and Work Environment

Health psychologists typically hold a doctorate in health psychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or a related field. Some health psychology graduate programs train psychology students to conduct research studies/experiments, while others train the students to become practitioners (practicing health psychologists).

According to the American Psychological Association, the average salary for health psychologists depends largely on the location, education/training, work functions, and experience.

As of January 2023, according to ZipRecruiter, health psychologists typically earn approximately $90,508, per year, on average. A health psychologist that falls in the lower 10% typically makes approximately $40,000, per year, on average, but if he or she falls in the upper 10%, he or she can make up to $144,000 or more, per year, on average.

Although most employers prefer health psychologists with a doctorate, an individual with a bachelor’s or master’s degree can seek employment as a health counselor or health therapist with a lower level degree, provided that he or she obtains the required licenses/certifications.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology, on the other hand, focuses on the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of abnormal behaviors, psychological disorders, and psychiatric illnesses (i.e. clinical depression, maniac depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc.).

This branch of psychology studies complex mental illnesses, thought processes, and behaviors. Clinical psychology is one of the most “popular” branches of psychology. In fact, most clinical psychologists find this branch of psychology extremely rewarding.

Related: Mental Health Counseling & Clinical Psychology: What is the Difference?

The primary concern of a health psychologist is the body, while the main concern of a clinical psychologist is the mind. Also, the main objective of clinical psychologists is to reduce mental health symptoms, while the main objective of health psychologists is to teach clients and patients effective coping strategies that improve their health.

Clinical psychologists tend more to lean towards traditional treatments modalities, while health psychologists tend to learn more natural treatment options.

Clinical psychologists typically use one or more of the following psychological approaches: cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, and/or humanistic. Clinical psychologists may treat individuals, couples, families, and groups, depending on the circumstances. Many clinical psychologists work with psychiatrists. Why? Well, because clinical psychologists tend to lean towards medical (i.e. psychotropic medications) treatments.

Education, Salary and Work Environment

Most clinical psychologists work at clinics/hospitals, mental health treatment centers, social service agencies, private practices, nursing homes, and colleges/universities.

A clinical psychologist must hold a doctorate (i.e. Ph.D. or Psy.D.) from an accredited psychology program. With a doctorate in psychology, an individual can seek employment in the following industries: education, research, courts, drug and alcohol treatment, social services, government, and medical facilities.

As of January 2023, according to ZipRecruiter, clinical psychologists typically earn $114,566, per year, on average. If the clinical psychologist falls in the upper 10%, he or she can make up $197,000 or more, per year, while if he or she falls in the lower 10%, he or she will make between $43,000, per year, on average

It is important to note that clinical psychologists tend to make the highest salaries. Why? Well, because this branch of psychology requires the most education, experience, and licenses/certification. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field, like most other psychology fields, is expected to expand approximately 10% by the year 2030.

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