Health Psychology

Health Psychology

Our Approach

The Health Psychology program is concerned with the application of psychological theory, methods and treatment to the understanding and promotion of physical health. Our perspective is based on the biopsychosocial model which posits that biological, psychological and social processes are integrally and interactively involved in physical health and illness. This initially provocative premise has fueled major advances in psychology, medicine, nursing and public health over the past twenty-five years. Consistent with our philosophy, graduate training in health psychology emphasizes the integration of knowledge about biological, psychological and social factors. The biopsychosocial perspective also is reflected in both the content and methods used in our research programs. Training is facilitated by the health area faculty's numerous long-standing collaborations with medical practitioners and researchers at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, one of the largest training hospitals in the nation. Availability of medical populations and state-of-the art medical technologies affords a unique opportunity for the student who wishes to pursue a doctorate in health psychology.  Students who are interested in clinical training with a health specialization should apply to the Clinical Training Area.

Our Research

Each training area faculty member has a distinctive research program, but there also are many shared interests and extensive exchanges affording the possibility of consultation and research collaboration. The content areas of research strength and focus include:

  • Stress and illness
  • Cardiovascular psychophysiology & pathophysiology
  • Psychoneuroimmunology
  • Patient adherence to medical regimens
  • Responses to organ transplantation
  • Medical treatment-seeking
  • Animal models of hypertension and heart failure
  • Postpartum depression
  • Gender disparities in health care
  • Women's health issues

The Program

The goal of our program is to prepare students for top positions in colleges, universities, medical schools, governmental agencies or industry. Health psychologists may conduct research, teach, develop interventions or consult on health issues. In all of these domains, the most significant factor for obtaining a top position is the individual's research training, a record of publication and breadth of experience in the health/medical domain. The program is structured to maximize our students' potential. Although students are required to take a basic set of classes, course requirements are minimized so that students can devote most of their time to research activities. Depending on the student's interests, these activities may involve research with medical patients, community residents, college students in survey or laboratory research, or animal models. The health area faculty have diverse backgrounds from social and clinical psychology to behavioral neuroscience, conduct research with healthy populations, patients and animals, and close connections to a world-class medical center. The student is provided with a stimulating intellectual environment including journal club, special topics reading groups, and lectures by visiting scientists in the Department or at the medical center.

In addition to basic courses, such as Psychology in Medical Settings, Introduction to Health and Behavioral Sciences, Clinical Behavioral Medicine and the Psychobiology of Cardiovascular Disease, supplemental elective courses are offered by the College of Medicine and by other academic departments.

The Health Psychology training area has a two-track program. The primary track involves students who apply and are admitted to earn a doctorate in Health Psychology.

The secondary track involves students who wish to obtain a formal specialty in health psychology, but are admitted to one of the other training areas for their Ph.D. Applications to the health psychology secondary track are only considered after the student has been admitted for doctoral study in another primary area (such as Clinical Psychology or Social Psychology). Students who are interested in clinical training with a health specialization should apply directly to the Clinical Training Area. The MA is not offered as a terminal degree in either track.

Primary track students must take at least four health psychology area courses from the following: Biological Bases of Behavior, Introduction to Health and Behavioral Science, Clinical Behavioral Medicine, Psychobiology of Cardiovascular Disease, Behavioral Psychopharmacology, and Seminar in Health Psychology. All entering students also are required to take Psychology in Medical Settings. Nine credits of research devoted to a health psychology topic with a member of the training area are also required.

Secondary track students are required to take a minimum of three of the courses listed above and a minimum of 6 credits of research devoted to a health psychology topic. For clinical psychology students who elect to pursue the health psychology secondary track, special clinical practicum experience can be arranged in the departments at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Prospective Graduate Students

Students who are interested in doctoral training in Health Psychology are requested to contact the Faculty that they are interested in working with for information on how to apply. Prospective students should consider the Clinical Science program, Health sub-track if they are also interested in clinical training.