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Health Psychology

There are two options for participating in the Health Psychology program. One option is to apply directly to the Health Psychology Concentration and have that be your main program of study (similar to a major). The other option is that if you are accepted into one of the other psychology graduate concentrations (e.g., Clinical, Cognitive/Brain/Behavior, Evolutionary/Developmental), then you can also have an emphasis (similar to a minor) in Health Psychology. The course requirements and electives for each of these options are listed below.

Some important features of this program include:

  • Direct experience in psychological consultation in health care settings, through collaboration with a variety of health care settings.
  • Well-established health research in innovative areas including spirituality and health, treatment of addictions, medical ethics, motivation for change in health behavior, methods for coping with illness and dysfunction, and the dissemination into practice of evidence-based treatments.
  • Opportunity to do research and work with a variety of illnesses include alcoholism, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and primary care. 

Health Psychology Curriculum

Beyond the departmental required courses, Health Psychology students are required to complete a number of courses within the Health Psychology area.

Health Psychology Concentration. Students must complete three courses under Category A, two courses from Category B, and one advanced statistics/quantitative course fro either Psychology or Education (e.g., EDPY 593-Multilevel Modeling, or EDPY 606-Structural Equation Modeling). One of the Category A courses must be PSY 510-Advanced Health Psychology.

Health Psychology Emphasis. Students must complete at least two courses from Category A and at least one course from Category B

Category A

  • PSY 510 Advanced Health Psychology
  • PSY 513 Emotion, Stress, and Health
  • PSY 514 Health Psychology Interventions
  • PSY 515 Social Psychology of Health Promotion
  • PSY 650 ST: Health Disparities
  • PSY 650 ST: Pediatric Health Psychology

Category B

  • PSY 540 Biological Bases of Behavior
  • PSY 547 Drugs and Behavior
  • PH 501 Principles of Public Health
  • PH 505 Social and Cultural Theories and Models: Community Interventions
  • PH 507 Health Care Systems

Substitute coursework for Categories A and B must be approved by the Health Psychology Committee.

PSY = Department of Psychology
PH = Department of Public Health


The future of psychology is likely to be closely intertwined with health care. The concept of behavioral health, integrating treatment for mental and substance use disorders, has become a standard component of managed care. Within medical care, a majority of appointments and health care costs are related to chronic conditions or acute incidents that are directly linked to health behavior. It is now well established that Psychology has much to offer all along the spectrum from health promotion to chronic disease management. Health psychology (sometimes also called behavioral medicine) applies the science of behavior to problems of health, through principles of motivation, learning, memory, cognition and neuroscience.

The Health Psychology program emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration to promote scientific excellence, and to address important problems of public health and welfare among the diverse peoples of the Southwest. It involves a unique collaboration among the Department of Psychology, the UNM Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions (CASAA), the Department of Family and Community Medicine, the Masters in Public Health program at the UNM School of Medicine, the MIND Institute (neuroimaging center affiliated with the University of New Mexico), the Cancer Center, New Heart, Inc., the New Mexico Veteran’s Administration Health Care System, and the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of New Mexico.

There is little doubt of the increasing importance of this field. The development of preventable chronic illnesses and health problems are a major problem in the US and the developing world. Dealing with this problem requires a focus well beyond the individual. The family is one obvious level of focus in issues of health, and this is an area of ongoing research in the Department of Psychology, particularly in relation to the treatment of addictions. Beyond the family, the community is another common level of analysis in understanding and addressing health concerns. This perspective is represented particularly in the Public Health program, and community psychology represents a junction of behavioral science with public health. Health Psychology training engages predoctoral students in thinking beyond individual and family levels of conceptualization.

The Health Psychology program provides research and clinical training for a variety of health problems. These include both the prevention and management of illness and disease. We are applying the theories and principles of health behavior change to problems such as alcoholism, obesity, exercise promotion, and smoking cessation. We are also providing opportunities for students to be involved with a variety of illness groups including alcoholism, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, diabetes, and primary care. We have rich opportunities for studying these and other diseases through our contacts and affiliations with the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and the New Mexico Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Albuquerque and the other affiliations listed above.

Program Objectives

The Health Psychology program at the University of New Mexico is a specialization within the pre-doctoral training program in psychology. The program’s emphasis is on the application of behavioral science in the prevention and alleviation of human illness and suffering. Thorough training in research methodology is provided. Students receive the same training in standard quantitative methods covered in core courses that are required for all pre-doctoral students in psychology, and in addition are trained in biostatistical, epidemiological, and program evaluation methods useful in research in the health field.

The Health Psychology program is designed to prepare graduates for careers in teaching, research, and consultation within academic psychology, hospitals, health care systems, and schools of medicine, public health, or allied health sciences. The program currently offers particular emphasis on six broad areas of inquiry.

Substance Abuse.
Substance use disorders comprise, by far, the largest cause of preventable disease, disability, and death. Together they comprise an underlying factor in one-third to one-half of medical and trauma admissions, emergency room visits, psychiatric admissions, and health care visits. UNM is a longstanding center of excellence for research on the nature, treatment, and prevention of substance use disorders. Its Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA) has over 100 affiliated faculty in 27 departments and seven colleges of UNM.

Intervention Research.
Many chronic medical problems are closely linked to health and lifestyle behaviors, and changing these behaviors is a key factor in prevention and treatment. Health Psychology faculty are actively involved in developing and testing individual, family and community level interventions to improve health. Motivation is also a common impediment to change, and one that often must be addressed before behavior change strategies can be implemented. Health Psychology faculty have an international reputation for research and clinical methods to enhance patients’ intrinsic motivation for change in health behavior. Effective interventions developed and tested at UNM include family therapies, motivational interviewing, the community reinforcement approach, self-control training, motivational enhancement therapy, and strategies to increase adherence to medication and medical procedures.

Coping Styles and Practices.
How do children, adults, and their families cope with the diagnosis, course, and treatment of chronic disease? Health Psychology faculty study the effects of chronic disease on a broad range of dimensions including mental health, quality of life, stress, family adjustment, spirituality, health behavior, and self-esteem. The obvious purpose of this research is to develop and test methods for helping patients and their families to cope with the effects of chronic disease and its treatment, to alleviate suffering, and to enhance quality of life.

Family Factors.
The social support system, and the family in particular, strongly influences health and behavior change. Clinical scientists at UNM have pioneered methods for intervening with and through the family to address health concerns of children, adolescents, and adults. Research has spanned cognitive-behavioral, functional, and multisystemic family therapies, unilateral intervention through concerned significant others, services for runaways and for homeless families, and cross-cultural differences in family systems and interventions.

Cognition, Memory, and Neuroscience.
The Health Psychology faculty also offer expertise in understanding, assessing, and addressing problems of memory and cognition in normal aging, and in degenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Cognition and memory are important factors in medication adherence, self-care, and compliance with complex medical and rehabilitation protocols. Strong training is offered in neuropsychology, and Psychology faculty are closely involved with one of the world’s most advanced functional neuroimaging centers, located in Albuquerque.

Spirituality and Health.
With the 21st century came a strong increase in both interest and research in relationships among spirituality, religion and health. Religious involvement appears to be a rather consistent protective factor against all-cause mortality and physical, mental, and substance use disorders. UNM has been at the forefront of research on spirituality and health, seeking to understand the reasons for these relationships, and factors that might be useful in improving individual, family, and community health. 

Interdisciplinary Consortium

The doctoral concentration and emphasis in Health Psychology is offered by the Department of Psychology (College of Arts and Sciences) in collaboration with other centers and institutions at UNM and in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.

The Department of Psychology provides predoctoral training in the core areas of behavioral science that are essential to competence for psychological consultation and research in Health Psychology. Graduates complete a PhD in psychology, with Health Psychology as their Concentration or Emphasis.

The New Mexico Veteran’s Healthcare System provides a variety of placements and practicums for students in the Health Psychology Concentration or Emphasis. Students will have the opportunity to learn about and work with a variety of patients including diabetes, chronic pain, and somatoform disorders. In addition, students can attend weekly Behavioral Medicine Grand Rounds where health psychology cases are presented and presentations are giving on the relationship between psychology and medical problems.

The Cancer Research and Treatment Center at the University of New Mexico provides opportunities for being involved in research with patients with a variety of types of cancer. In addition, there are opportunities for gaining clinical experience working with cancer patients in individuals and group settings. New Heart, Inc. provides opportunities to gain clinical experience and do research with patients in cardiac rehabilitation and with a Hispanic community that is using their wellness center.

The Section of Integrative Medicine at the University of New Mexico provides an opportunity for students to learn about complementary and alternative medicine approaches, such as mindfulness meditation.
The UNM Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA) provides clinical and research expertise with regard to the nation’s largest public health problems: alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use. Research at CASAA spans a full range from epidemiology and primary prevention, through targeted, brief, and opportunistic intervention, to the treatment of chronic substance dependence.

The Department of Family and Community Medicine provides Health Psychology graduates with direct experience in working in collaboration with primary care, family practice and specialist health care systems. Post-masters Health Psychology students can be paired with Family and Community Medicine faculty and resident mentors, both for experience in behavioral health consultation in medical settings, and to foster collaborative research. Health Psychology students work in Family Practice Clinics or other components of the UNM Hospitals to gain direct experience in behavioral consultation within the context of ongoing health care. Rural health care is a particular strength of the UNM School of Medicine, and direct experience is also available through rural clinics, and with the Native American and Hispanic populations of New Mexico.

The Masters in Public Health (MPH) program, operated by the Department of Family and Community Medicine, prepares graduates to improve the health of populations, with special cross-cultural emphasis on the Hispanic and Native American populations of the Southwest. Graduates are prepared to work in partnership with diverse communities, tribes and the public and private sectors to respond to public health problems. With dual admission to the Health Psychology and MPH programs, a graduate may jointly earn the PhD and MPH. (Coursework required within the Health Psychology program may fulfill some of the requirements for the MPH degree.) 

Core Health Psychology Faculty

Head of Health Psychology Program

  • Sarah J. Erickson, Ph.D.; Family Adaptation to Childhood Chronic Illness; Treatment Adherence; and Developmental Outcomes of Medically At-risk Children.

Department of Psychology Core Faculty

  • Kevin Vowles, Ph.D. Chronic Pain Interventions; Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
  • Katie Witkiewitz, Ph.D. Addiction Research
  • Bruce Smith, Ph.D. Resilience, Emotion, and Health; Chronic Pain
  • Jacob Vigil, Ph.D. Social Influences on Pain Perception
  • Harold D. Delaney, Ph.D. Religion, Spirituality, and Health

Department of Psychology Affiliated Faculty

  • Barbara McCrady, Ph.D.; Addiction, Social Context, Women
  • Teresa Moyers, Ph.D.; Addictions, Motivational Interviewing
  • Jane Ellen Smith, Ph.D.; Eating Disorders
  • Kamilla Venner, Ph.D.; Addictions, Native American Studies
  • David Witherington, Ph.D.; Child Development

Affiliated Faculty at the Albuquerque VA Department of Behavioral Medicine

  • Annette Brooks, Ph.D; Chronic Pain
  • Brian Kersh, Ph.D.; Smoking Cessation
  • Eric Levensky, Ph.D.; Health behavior change, medical treatment adherence, motivational interviewing

Affiliated Faculty with Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions (CASAA)

  • Catherine Baca, M.D.; Family & Community Medicine
  • P. W. Kodituwakku, Ph.D.; Clinical Neuropsychology
  • Philip A. May, Ph.D.; Medical Sociology and Epidemiology
  • J. Scott Tonigan, Ph.D.; Psychology, Education
  • W. Gill Woodall, Ph.D.; Health Communications

Affiliated Faculty at UNM and Associated Medical Centers

  • Robert Annett, Ph.D.; Pediatrics
  • Anjanette Cureton, Psy.D.; Cancer
  • Mark Pedrotty, Ph.D.; Pediatrics

Department of Family & Community Medicine, UNM School of Medicine
and Masters in Public Health Program

  • Nina Wallerstein, Dr.PH; Director, MPH Program, Family & Community Medicine
  • William Wiese, M.D., MPH; Professor, Family & Community Medicine