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Mastering Health Psychology: 6 essential skills for Health Psychologists

Thursday, April 6th, 2023

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As society moves towards a more holistic model of health, Health Psychologists are at the forefront of change within the healthcare sector, applying psychology to improve health and wellness outcomes. To excel in this burgeoning field, however, it’s important to have a diverse range of skills.  

In this article, we’ll explore the essential skills for Health Psychologists and how Ulster University’s Health Psychology Masters can help to prepare you for a lasting career in professional practice. 

Top skills for Health Psychologists

1. An understanding of human biology and physiology

As a practicing Health Psychologist, it’s essential to have a strong understanding of human biology and physiology. This includes the ability to interpret medical records, understand the mechanisms of diseases and medications, and communicate effectively with medical professionals.

This knowledge is usually gained through postgraduate study. If you don’t have time to take a full-time course, you could also consider a part-time online programme like the Health Psychology MSc at Ulster University.

2. Communication and interpersonal skills

Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are vital for any healthcare professional, and Health Psychologists are no exception. You’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with your patients, their families and various healthcare providers. This includes the ability to listen actively, ask the right questions and provide clear and concise information.

“[Students are] developing their oral and written communication, and some of our tasks require them to conduct a video presentation. For instance, they might be asked to demonstrate how they would advise a client about the use of CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – to reduce smoking. They will be asked to explain and guide the client through the process as if it were a real session. 

This task is really assessing their nonverbal communication skills and their oral communication skills, which is really important as part of the core skills that they will leave with.”

– Dr Liz Simpson, Course Director of the Health Psychology MSc. Read our full interview with Dr Simpson here. 

Ulster University’s online Health Psychology MSc is a BPS-accredited qualification designed to build vital communication skills through interactive tasks, such as video presentations and demonstrations. Students will also have the opportunity to work collaboratively on group projects to gain valuable interpersonal skills.

3. Data analysis and research skills

Health Psychologists should also have strong research and data analysis skills. You’ll need to be able to gather, analyse and interpret data to identify trends and patterns in order to make sense of and use your findings to develop effective interventions and treatments.

You’ll be trained in these skills throughout our Masters programme, learning how to conduct your own research studies, surveys and intervention design and use statistical software.

“Within the Methods and Issues in Research and Practice module, [students] will use a range of statistical packages such as SPSS and NVivo for qualitative research methods, and they will also gain a good understanding of ethical thinking, how to complete an ethics application and how to respond to any ethical issues that might arise as part of their research.

For their Final Dissertation, students will manage a research project from start to finish. In this, they will gain skills in the conceptualisation of an idea, learning how to put a proposal together, make an ethics application and actually deliver and manage their project right through to the write-up. At this point, they then consider the implications of their research, including how their findings might inform policy and practice.”

– Dr Liz Simpson, Course Director of the Health Psychology MSc. Read our full interview with Dr Simpson here.

Smiling female Health Psychologist conducting a therapy session - to illustrate communication skills for Health Psychologists

4. Clinical psychology and counselling skills

Another essential skill for Health Psychologists is clinical psychology and counselling. As a speciality of clinical psychology, health psychology utilises many of the same techniques as clinical psychology does. This includes the ability to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, provide counselling and therapy to patients, and understand the complexities of human behavior. 

How can I develop my counselling and communication skills in health psychology? 

Studying at postgraduate level will equip you with practical communication and counselling skills via group collaboration and practice exercises. A Masters in Health Psychology offers Stage 1 Training with practical benefits.

What skills do students of the MSc graduate with?

“[Students will] gain a strong knowledge base and a good understanding of health psychology, its research methods and its theoretical underpinnings. They will also gain good knowledge and experience of qualitative and quantitative research methods, including how to conduct, report on and know the implications of using mixed methods.

From start to finish, they’ll be working on these project management skills. They will also learn to write a range of different report styles and they’ll learn to respond to a consultation document. As practicing psychologists, especially if you’re a member of the BPS, you might be asked to do this.

All of these things that they can take forward into Stage 2 Training or even into PhD training. It’s all relevant and gets students thinking about how they can work professionally with other health professionals and clients.

– Dr Liz Simpson, Course Director of the Health Psychology MSc. Read our full interview with Dr Simpson here.

5. Ethical and legal considerations

In addition to technical skills, practicing Health Psychologists must ask themselves about ethical considerations when conducting their research in health psychology. This includes understanding patient confidentiality, informed consent and the legal framework surrounding healthcare. 

We train our students in these areas on the Health Psychology MSc’s ‘Methods and Issues in Research and Practice’ module, enabling them to apply their new knowledge within their final dissertation and research project.

6. Cultural competence

Finally, what is cultural competence and why is it important in health psychology? 

Cultural competence is an essential skill for Health Psychologists as you’ll need to be able to work effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds, whether that’s in public, community or individual healthcare. 

Ulster’s online Health Psychology MSc will ready you for real-life practice by introducing you to diverse perspectives and improving your understanding of the cultural factors within healthcare.

Do students get the opportunity to apply their knowledge and gain practical skills?

“Yes, most definitely. Most of the modules have weekly tasks which are directly linked to the learning content for that week. In these tasks we encourage them to apply their knowledge in a certain way. 

We also do a little bit of group work within our MSc. The group work we do helps to create communities of learning within modules and within the programme. [Our students] have the opportunity to interact with their peers and get to know each other a little bit better as well.

On some of the modules, they get the opportunity to share resources. It is as collaborative and supportive as possible, which is something that has been incorporated through direct feedback from students of previous programmes.”

– Dr Liz Simpson, Course Director of the Health Psychology MSc. Read our full interview with Dr Simpson here.

Mastering the skills listed above is essential for aspiring Health Psychologists who want to succeed in the field of healthcare.  

Whatever your career path, whether you wish to work as a health psychologist, research analyst, or health educator, these health psychology skills will help you to provide the best possible care for your patients and advance your career. 

Study a Health Psychology Masters  

As well as giving you the applied theory and practical skills to excel in the field of health psychology, Ulster University’s Health Psychology MSc also provides the essential professional Stage 1 Training needed to advance in the profession under the specification of the British Psychological Society (BPS). 

Completion of the Masters programme will entitle you to Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) within the BPS. This membership is vital for professional development within the field in the UK and is also held in high esteem around the world. 

If you do not meet the entry requirements for the Health Psychology MSc, you can also consider the Psychology (Conversion) MSc (all graduates welcome to apply).


What are the career opportunities for Health Psychology Masters graduates?

Health Psychology Masters graduates can pursue a wide range of careers in the healthcare industry, including roles in hospitals, clinics, research institutions, and government agencies. Some common job titles include clinical psychologist, health educator, research analyst, and behavioural health specialist. 

Discover the top 6 health psychology careers

What kind of salary can I expect as a Health Psychology Masters graduate?

According to pay data published by the NHS Agenda for change (AfC), starting salaries in health psychology stand at £32,306 (Band 6). After qualification (post Stage 2), salaries rise to between £40,057 and £45,839 (Band 7).  

The more experienced you are, the higher the pay, with the biggest earnings received by Consultant Health Psychologists (£65,664 – £90,387, Bands 8c and 8d) and heads of psychology services (£90,000+). 

Do I need a license to practice as a Health Psychologist?

In the UK, in order to practice legally as a Health Psychologist you need to be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). To gain registration with the HCPC, you first need to complete your Stage 1 and Stage 2 training, with a BPS-approved Masters degree and supervised experience (Stage 1) and doctorate level qualification such as a PhD (Stage 2).

What are the ethical considerations when conducting research in health psychology?

Some of the ethical considerations for researchers includes understanding patient confidentiality, informed consent and the legal framework surrounding healthcare. 

These elements are explored thoroughly on our MSc’s ‘Methods and Issues in Research and Practice’ module, enabling you to graduate with sound ethical knowledge of the field. 

Find out more on how to become a Health Psychologist 

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