Ph.D. in Health Psychology

Students in the Health Psychology Ph.D. program study how biological, psychological, behavioral, cultural and social contextual factors influence health and illness.

The Health Psychology program is a research-oriented rather than clinical training program. Graduates of this program are awarded the Ph.D. in Psychology, as approved by the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia in 2008. Students earn a Master of Science degree as part of their training, but not as a terminal master’s degree.

Please see the VCU Bulletin for additional degree information.

Program Goals

The health psychology faculty will strive to assist graduate students in developing strengths in a number of areas:

  • Knowledge of psychological science. Students are trained in the major areas of psychology, including the biological bases of behavior, child development, social and personality processes, cognition and learning, cultural influences, and psychopathology. Students are encouraged to attend professional conferences and join a professional association of psychologists.
  • Knowledge of health psychology. Students will develop expertise in the psychological bases of physical health and illness, including health behavior and primary prevention, stress and coping, patient-provider relationships, epidemiology of disease, psychological issues in chronic and terminal illness, and health promotion through psychological, social and behavioral means. Students will also develop expertise through research mentorship, attendance at specialized research conferences, and membership in professional associations of health psychologists.
  • Research skills. The program emphasizes the development of laboratory and field research skills. In addition to the master's thesis and doctoral dissertation, students are expected to collaborate with faculty on research projects throughout their training to enhance their research skills, publish research in peer-reviewed journals, and present research at conferences.
  • Theoretical and conceptual skills. Like other sciences, health psychology progresses through both theory and research. In addition to the mechanics of design, students develop the ability to conceptualize research problems in terms of broader theoretical descriptions and explanations as a means to understand health-relevant phenomena in more meaningful ways.
  • Instructional skills. Many students choose to enter academia when their graduate work is completed, so health psychology training includes opportunities to develop instructional skills. In addition to presentations of research at departmental functions, students are encouraged to enroll in teaching practicum and to develop the skills needed to teach health psychology to others. All students are encouraged to teach or co-teach psychology courses at VCU once they have earned their master’s degree.
  • Applied skills. Students also choose to build careers in health care organizations when their graduate work is completed, so a final goal of the Health Psychology program is the development of research skills needed to make strong contributions in such settings. Students specifically interested in clinical careers are advised to consider the Clinical or Counseling Psychology Program.