What is health psychology – and how can it help?
The field of health psychology broadly covers two main areas:
- health promotion – which involves the prevention of illness and public education of health-related behaviour;
- clinical health psychology – the application of psychological principles to the assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of illness.
It relates to the study of psychological, behavioural and cultural factors in health, illness and healthcare.
Health Psychology is a specialised field, and one of nine Australian Psychological Society (APS) Colleges where post-graduate study can lead to endorsement in the area.
Currently, only three universities in Australia offer a Masters in Health Psychology; as you can imagine, the demand for health psychology professionals is great.
Improving Health Outcomes
It’s no secret that psychological factors including stress, cognition, beliefs and behaviour can affect an individual’s health.
By understanding these factors, health psychology can be used to improve outcomes, either by working directly with individuals; or indirectly, with large scale public health programs – for example, those focused on behavioural change related to exercise, smoking, drug and alcohol consumption, and prevention.
Specialists in health psychology may also be involved in educating other medical professionals, about the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that contribute to ill health, and how these can be altered.
Health Psychology for Wellness
Health psychology promotes health through behavioural change, to improve wellbeing and prevent illness by reducing the risk factors associated with chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.
Health Psychology for Illness
Health psychology also looks at how disease affects the individual’s psychological wellbeing.
By treating psychological stressors such as depression and reduced self-esteem, which often accompany illness, it can help the individual to achieve a better quality of life or recover from illness sooner.
A health psychologist may help those with chronic illness to better cope with that illness by:
- motivating them to follow medical advice and medication;
- providing support on controlling pain;
- encouraging behaviour change to healthier habits;
- developing health care strategies to foster emotional and physical wellbeing.
The field of health psychology also includes measuring the impact of behaviour on health, and creating ways to help people make behaviour choices for good health and illness prevention. For example:
- What influences you to choose a good food over a bad food?
- What motivates you to exercise?
- Why are women at risk of breast cancer not getting regular mammograms?
The body and the mind are inextricably linked; the field of health psychology puts this knowledge to work, with positive results for both individuals and the general population.
Author: Cassandra Gist.