Although there are many other equally interesting and essential areas, the typical image of a psychologist that most people have is that of a professional who deals with adaptation and mental health problems .

The clinical and health field is one of the most desired by a large number of psychology students. But working in this sector may not be easy, since there is little supply for so much demand. One of the ways to work as a health psychology professional is to obtain the title of General Health Psychologist or PGS .

A short preamble: Clinical Psychology

Before going deeper into what a general health psychologist is, it is necessary, by way of a preamble, to refer to what clinical psychology is and how one can access the qualification required to exercise the profession of clinical or health psychologist .

Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology responsible for the research, diagnosis, therapeutic approach, treatment and monitoring of mental disorders and other complex psychological processes that are maladaptive or involve psychological distress and interference with the subject’s vital functioning.

Within this branch we can find a great variety of actions on which its practice can be focused, such as the treatment of adults or children, neuropsychology and neuropsychological rehabilitation, intervention in the family nucleus or psychological treatment or advice on the difficulties derived from the presence of serious diseases such as cancer or HIV.

The two access routes

Currently, to become a clinical and health psychologist in Spain there are only two ways : either to train as a Specialist in Clinical Psychology or to become a General Health Psychologist.

The first of the pathways involves passing through the PIR training system (Resident Internal Psychologist), a four-year training period in which the student works in hospitals and rotates through the different psychological care services. This route leads to the attainment of the degree of Specialist in Clinical Psychology at the end of the training, which allows the student to work in the public network.

The other way of access is to take the University Master’s Degree in General Health Psychology, which takes between one and a half and two years to complete and in which knowledge is acquired of the different disorders, techniques used and skills that a health psychology professional should have. In this case the student obtains the degree of General Health Psychologist , which qualifies him/her to work in the clinical and health branch, but without having access to the public network but only in the private one. In addition, due to a subject of nominalism, although persons with this degree are dedicated to the branch of clinical psychology and health, legally they cannot use the term “clinical psychologist”, which is reserved for those who pass through the PIR.

Both routes have their advantages and disadvantages and enable psychology professionals to practice as clinicians. In this article we will focus on the figure of the General Health Psychologist.

General Health Psychologist: what is it?

A general health psychologist is understood to be a psychology professional whose main professional competencies are to carry out research, evaluations and psychological interventions referring to those elements of the behaviour, functioning and activity of persons that are related to the improvement and promotion of their state of health .

Thus, the General Health Psychologist is competent to investigate, diagnose and treat phenomena such as psychological disorders.

This may lead us to think about what differences there may be between PIR and PGS : broadly speaking the only perceptible differences with respect to the other degree, that of Specialist in Clinical Psychology, is the scope of action and the name of the category that gives its name to the profession, with the PIR being able to access the public network in addition to the private one, in addition to using the term “clinical psychologist”, and the PGS being limited to the private one (although there may be changes in the future).

How does one become one?

Practicing as a General Health Psychologist involves a series of steps that make it possible to first obtain the degree and then to practice as such.

1. Studying for a university degree with a clinical itinerary

First of all it is an essential requirement to study the Degree in Psychology , a university degree that allows the student to acquire the title of psychologist. This degree in itself allows access to different branches and positions, although it does not directly allow the exercise as a clinical psychologist.

It is advisable to try to follow an itinerary centered on the clinical aspect , given that in many universities a minimum number of credits linked to clinical psychology are required in order to access certain masters programs such as the one required to become a General Health Psychologist.

2. Studying the master’s degree

Secondly, it is necessary to specialize in the branch of Clinical Psychology by completing the University Master’s Degree in General Health Psychology. This is an enabling master’s degree thanks to which the professional can obtain the title of General Health Psychologist, which allows him/her to work in the health sector.

3. Becoming a member

Thirdly, although it can be done from the moment of finishing the Degree in Psychology or even a little earlier, in order to practice it is compulsory to register with the Colegio Oficial de Psicólogos . Apart from being essential to be able to practice legally, this registration allows us to access job boards and be registered as professionals. It is also possible to take out civil responsibility insurance, which is also necessary for professional practice.

If we are self-employed and set up our own practice, we will also need to be registered as such in addition to having health authorisation.

Bibliographic references:

  • Head of State (2011). Law 33/2011, of October 4, General of Public Health. BOE, 240.