Sue Sherman, PhD CPsychol AFBPsS SFHEA
Senior Lecturer in Psychology | School of Psychology Health and Wellbeing Research Group Lead | Programme Director for MSc in Psychology and Health Inequalities | School of Psychology | Dorothy Hodgkin Building | Keele University | Keele | Staffordshire ST5 5BG | UK |
Member of the British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology
Deputy Chair of the British Psychological Society Research Board
Health Psychology in the UK
In the UK, health psychologists work in a variety of settings including academia, healthcare and the private sector and practice a range of activities including teaching students, patients and health-care professionals, conducting research, designing, delivering and evaluating clinical or behavioural interventions, informing public health policy and providing consultancy services. The range of competencies involved in a health psychologist’s training (see section below) are hence mirrored in the activities that could potentially be undertaken once the training is complete.
Health Psychology has been established for 30 years now in the United Kingdom (UK). The British Psychological Society (BPS) holds the Royal Charter for Psychology in the UK and represents the interests of psychologists in all fields. The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the regulator of applied psychologists in the UK (since 2009).
The British Psychological Society established a Health Psychology section in 1986 in recognition of the growing body of research and practice in this field, followed by the establishment of the Special Group in Health Psychology in 1987 and finally the Division of Health Psychology (DHP) in 1997.
The DHP is run by a voted members` committee who are committed to the Division`s objectives. The Divisional Membership has just over 2000 members (in 2019).
The UK has hosted four EHPS Conferences, in Oxford (1990), St. Andrews (2001), Bath (2008) and Aberdeen (2016).
At the inaugural Annual General Meeting in 2000, the British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology (DHP) agreed three general aims:
1. To study scientifically the psychological processes of health, illness and health care.
2. To apply psychology to:
a) the promotion and maintenance of health.
b) the analysis and improvement of the health care system and health policy formation.
c) the enhancement of wellbeing in those affected by illness or disability.
3. To develop professional skills in research, consultancy and teaching/training.
While the DHP serves UK Health Psychology, there are three branches within DHP to represent the Devolved Nations: DHP Scotland, DHP Northern Ireland and DHP Wales. Each has their own committee and holds regional activities and events: https://www.bps.org.uk/member-microsites/division-health-psychology
There are three grades of divisional membership:
• Full divisional membership – For fully qualified* psychologists who are eligible for Chartered Status.
• In-training divisional membership – For psychologists in-training who hold the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) and are working towards Chartered status and full divisional membership.
• General divisional membership – For members of the Society who are not currently eligible for the above grades.
*British Psychological Society Membership is required for Division of Health Psychology Membership
The Division of Health Psychology hosts an Annual Divisional Conference, attracting hundreds of delegates each year https://www.bps.org.uk/member-microsites/division-health-psychology/events
The DHP hosts Continuing Professional Developments (CPD) events/webinars each year, which are very popular with both the qualified and the in-training members https://www.bps.org.uk/member-microsites/division-health-psychology/events
The British Psychological Society, in conjunction with DHP editors, publishes the peer reviewed journal “The British Journal of Health Psychology”. The journal’s scope includes all areas of Health Psychology across the life span, ranging from experimental and clinical research on aetiology and the management of acute and chronic illness, responses to ill-health, screening and medical procedures, to research on health behaviour, psychological aspects of disease prevention, health promotion and health service delivery http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-BJHP.html
The Health Psychology Update is the official publication of the Division which serves as a forum for discussion of issues related to the scientific analysis of psychological processes of health, illness and health care and the development of professional skills in research, practice, consultancy, teaching/training and behaviour change https://www.bps.org.uk/member-microsites/division-health-psychology/publications
The DHP have further developed targeted leaflets that give details about Health Psychology to the general public, employers, employees, GPs, Directors of Public Health and commissioners can be found on the website through the following link: https://www.bps.org.uk/member-microsites/division-health-psychology/resources
The DHP have a Twitter account that is growing year on year and in January 2020 it had 7,181 followers. Anyone can follow the DHP @divhealthpsych or join the Division of Health Psychology Community Group on Facebook where they can also post topics of interest to the group and share interesting empirical work or create debate on topics related to Health Psychology.
Education, training and professionalisation:
Requirements for training in Health Psychology in the UK require trainees to first complete a 1 year full-time (or 2 year part-time equivalent) MSc in Health Psychology, which must be accredited by the BPS to lead to a Stage 1 qualification in Health Psychology. The trainee would then need to complete a period of 2 years (or part-time equivalent) supervised practice in Health Psychology which must show competency in the key areas of generic professional practice, research, teaching, consultancy and behaviour change for the trainee to be eligible to apply for Full Membership of the DHP and Chartered Status with the BPS. This also provides the trainee with the Standards of Proficiency (SoPs) needed to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), a legal requirement to be able to practice as a Health Psychologist in the UK. The title “Health Psychologist” is one of seven core designated titles protected by the law which came into effect in July 2009 https://www.hcpc-uk.org
There are currently 37 accredited MSc Health Psychology (Stage 1) courses within the UK. Details of registered courses can be found on the BPS training page of their website https://careers.bps.org.uk/area/health
Stage 2 can be studied through either a university route, of which there are 6 accredited courses in the UK, or via an independent route, whereby the student would be independently supervised by a suitably qualified Health Psychologist to gain the competencies through a BPS agreed training plan. For this, supervisors should be registered on the RAPPS (Register of Applied Practice Psychology Supervisors).
Health Psychology Research and Dissemination in the UK
Research informed teaching and research informed practice lie at the heart of health psychology. The impact factor of the British Journal of Health Psychology continues to be strong, now at 2.472, suggesting a good engagement with the discipline by researchers. Health Psychologists in the UK conduct research in all of the areas discussed above, such as the treatment of illness, maintenance of health and development of health care services and they have strength in applying the Scientist-Practitioner model to their work. Health Psychology has a strong tradition of the development and application of theoretical models to understand and intervene with real world problems, many of which have been developed and tested in the UK. There is also a strength in the development, delivery and evaluation of behavior change interventions, and its importance on the health of the nation(s).
More information on the DHP, along with activities, events can be found here https://www.bps.org.uk/member-microsites/division-health-psychology