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PhD Program in Clinical Health Psychology

Overview & FAQs

Program Director: Kevin S. Masters, PhD                            

Program Assistant: Anne Beard

The Psychology Department at CU Denver offers a Doctor of Philosophy degree with an emphasis in Clinical Health Psychology (CHP).  Our program adheres to the scientist-practitioner model. Training emphasizes the contribution of research to the understanding, treatment and prevention of human problems, and the application of knowledge that is grounded in scientific evidence. 

Students are trained to work within the community to use clinical psychological tools and techniques to promote health and prevent illness, diagnose and treat mental health conditions, apply behavioral interventions in the treatment of illness, and improve the health care system. Students acquire research expertise by completing a master's thesis and doctoral dissertation, and demonstrate competence in clinical assessment and intervention through several applied practica experiences, a clinical competency project, and a pre-doctoral internship. The program will be seeking accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a Clinical PhD program.

What is clinical health psychology?

A primary focus of clinical health psychology is the development of effective disease prevention behavioral interventions for populations at high risk for medical problems. A second focus of clinical health psychology is the development of strategies to help individuals who are already ill to manage their disease, increase their ability to collaborate with medical professionals, and improve their coping skills. A clinical health psychologist combines expertise in research on health psychology with training in clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists have particular expertise in the theory and practice of understanding, predicting and alleviating mental health problems and psychological maladjustment, and promoting adaptation, adjustment, and personal development. Health psychologists are psychologically trained researchers and disseminators of knowledge.  Clinical health psychologists are scientist-practitioners who can conduct scientific research and/or clinical work with individuals or groups of patients. Upon completion of the PhD (including a one-year pre-doctoral internship) and one year of postdoctoral work, a clinical health psychologist is eligible to apply for a state license to practice in the community, in hospitals and clinics, and other institutions.  Each state has its own licensing requirements for psychologists.

Why is training in clinical health psychology important?

According to the American Psychological Association's Division 38 (Health Psychology), "Reports by the Surgeon General's Office indicate that the leading causes of mortality in the U.S. have substantial behavioral components. These reports recommend that behavioral risk factors (e.g., drug and alcohol use, high risk sexual behavior, smoking, diet, a sedentary lifestyle, stress) be the main focus of efforts in the area of health promotion and disease prevention. Given its emphasis on behavior and behavioral change, psychology has a unique contribution to make. For example, Health Psychologists are currently conducting applied research on the development of healthy habits as well as the prevention or reduction of unhealthy behaviors. Both the impact of behavior on health, as well as the influence of health and disease states on psychological factors are being explored. Psychosocial and physiological linkages in areas such as psychoneuroimmunology, cardiovascular disorders and other chronic diseases are being defined. Groundbreaking work is being conducted in psychopharmacology, as the neurological bases of behavior are being mapped. Psychologists are in increasing demand in health and medical settings. The single largest area of placement of psychologists in recent years has been in medical centers. Psychologists have become vital members of multidisciplinary clinical and research teams in rehabilitation, cardiology, pediatrics, oncology, anesthesiology, family practice, dentistry, and other medical fields."

What is the job market for clinical health psychologists?

The role of health psychologists is increasingly valued in the medical community, in part because illness is recognized as a biopsychosocial phenomenon. The American Medical Association recently established Current Procedural Technology (CPT) codes for use with a wide range of psychosocial services to patients and families with physical health diagnoses. Thus, health psychologists can now bill for various assessment and intervention services that "address the psychological, cognitive, behavioral, and social factors influencing a person's physical health and well-being” (Knight & Camic, 2004, p. 8). 

These diverse and valuable service and research applications make health psychology among the most desirable and marketable of clinical degrees. According to American Psychological Association, the largest area of employment placement of psychologists in recent years has been in medical centers. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that "overall employment of psychologists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2012," and notes that health psychology will be one of the desired applied specialties in this market. Graduates from our PhD program in clinical health psychology should be highly competitive for a range of applied and academic health psychology positions, as well as clinical psychology jobs.

What opportunities exist for reearch and clinical work in Denver?

In July 2004, the CU Denver campus merged with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, yielding numerous possibilities for research collaborations between the facilities. with faculty at the Health Sciences Center (now renamed the Anschutz Medical Campus) in addition to the faculty members in our own department. There are also several institutions (e.g., AMC Cancer Research Center, The Children's Hospital and the Kempe Center, National Jewish Health, Denver Health, and Exempla St. Joseph Hospital among others) in the area that provide additional opportunities for research collaborations and applied clinical work. 

Practicum experiences are also available at several local community agencies.  Students either currently have or recently had placements at National Jewish Health, Exempla, St. Joseph Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Denver Health.