Health Psychology FAQ

What is Health Psychology?

The field of health psychology is dedicated to helping people with their medical health. We used to think if a person had a medical condition, treating it medically was enough. Decades of research illustrates that this approach is antiquated. Research shows that health and illness is based on the interplay of the body, lifestyle, emotional well-being and environment – or a biopsychosocial approach.

In fact, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (2004), behavioral and social factors cause or contribute to nearly every cause of death, illness & disability … and directly causes approximately half of deaths each year.

Addressing the biological component of medical illness is obviously key, however, when treated exclusively patients are not treated effectively since other factors that impact disease are ignored. These additional factors then give us more tools to effectively manage chronic disease, and can also reduce health care costs.

Although, most major medical centers and clinics in the country have health psychologists available to medical patients, the majority of hospitals or clinics do not.

What is a Health Psychologist?

Clinical health psychologists, also called medical psychologists, promote medical health using interventions that address three of the above factors: lifestyle, emotions and environment. These psychologists work with the goal of preventing medical illness in healthy people, and improving medical health for those with medical illness. This is done alongside medical interventions from medical professionals.

Not every psychologist is a health psychologist. Similar to other psychologists, health psychologists have a Ph.D. in psychology, which averages seven years graduate work, and a year of training after they receive their Ph.D. Additionally their training in graduate school, internship and/or fellowship is specialized in health psychology.

Can You Give Me Examples of What Health Psychologists do?

Examples include:

  • Helping patients manage their hypertension through psychosocial tools
  • Providing patients with strategies to adhere to a healthy eating and exercise regimen
  • Teaching psychosocial pain management techniques to patients with chronic pain
  • Improving adherence to a complicated medical regiment for patients with diabetes
  • Managing anxiety for patients trying to cope with a diagnosis or medical procedure
  • Teaching patients how to manage stress given the impact of stress on medical disease

Millions of Americans struggle with chronic illnesses or health related issues. Many of them feel little control over their illness. Many medical treatments can be intrusive ranging from surgeries to medications. As a result, many feel overwhelmed by their illness, struggle with maintaining their medication regimen and feel frustrated when they are not able to find relief. Some may not feel supported by their family, friends or community which can impact them emotionally, thereby exacerbating their medical condition.

The good news is that while we can’t control for all factors that contribute to disease, we have control over many factors. This is important because lifestyle, emotions and environment play a large role when it comes to chronic medical issues.