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What Is Health Psychology?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 24, 2022

Health psychology is the practice of helping motivate people to make health-conscious decisions like not smoking, eating the right foods, and exercising more to prevent illness. Health psychology also explores what motivates people and explores why some people make healthy life decisions and some don’t.  

Health psychology examines how the following factors influence your health choices: 

  • Biological
  • Social 
  • Psychological

Health psychologists also design and evaluate treatment plans to help reduce your disease risk, improve outcomes, and improve your quality of life. 

Health Psychology Examples

Health psychology looks at how the mind and body are connected in health and illness. Examples of how health psychology can help include providing interventions when someone feels large amounts of anxiety and experiences headaches or stomach problems. 

A health psychologist would look at what's causing the headaches or stomach problems. Is the anxiety causing these problems, or does the individual have anxiety from persistent stomach problems and headaches? Maybe the patient worries that headaches and stomach issues are symptoms of a more significant issue. 

Other examples include helping you look at your psychological stress and helping you avoid stress eating. Health psychologists will also help you think about exercising to reduce your stress. 

Health psychology helps intervene in issues like addiction or a sedentary lifestyle. 

Another example includes studying why some people follow medical advice and others don’t adhere to medical guidelines.

What Does a Health Psychologist Do?

Healthy psychologists primarily work in clinical settings. They conduct clinical interviews and behavioral assessments. They can work with individuals or with groups. 

Health psychologists conduct research that can help evaluate healthcare costs. That helps healthcare decision-makers and policy-makers. Some health psychologists study the causes of health problems and how they could be prevented. They also research why some people don’t get care when they need it. 

This type of research helps doctors understand their patients and help their patients come to terms with their diagnosis. Health psychologists can also help patients stick to a treatment plan and help them experience a full recovery.

Opening up communication and understanding patients' motives and behaviors helps health psychologists understand and treat people. 

Health psychologists may also work with a larger care team, and they can give their diagnosis and recommended treatment plans to help solve a greater medical issue. This collaboration is important for the medical field as a whole. 

What Do Health Psychologists Investigate?

Complete wellness is a complex journey, and that’s what health psychologists are investigating. They’re looking at all factors in a person’s life to find what’s driving their behavior and how they can help them choose a path leading toward wellness.

Health psychologists investigate the link between people’s emotions, behavior, and consequences on their lives. They’ll help you understand emotional eating or psychosomatic illnesses.  

Making good health choices is the primary goal of a health psychologist. They want to help their patients function in their families, at work, and in their community. 

Where Do Health Psychologists Work?

Health psychologists may practice in:

  • Hospitals
  • Primary care programs
  • Private practices
  • Universities
  • Corporations
  • Government agencies
  • Specialty practices like oncology, pain management, rehabilitation, and smoking cessation

Someone with a Ph.D. in health psychology has a good chance of working in academic departments, including psychology, biobehavioral health, kinesiology, and human development. Health psychologists may work in for-profit or not-for-profit companies. 

Health psychologists can also have research-focused roles that impact: 

Health psychologists may conduct research in private and publicly funded corporations. Health psychologists working in clinical settings rely on research and physicians to help provide holistic, person-centered care.

The demand for health psychologist expertise is high. If you’re pursuing a career in health psychology, know that you’ll have many professional options. Health psychologists are quite valuable in hospitals because they help improve care strategies and help educate people on preventative techniques. 

What Is the Role of Health Psychology?

The role of health psychology is to bridge the gap between psychology and health. Health psychologists provide their expertise to educate patients and promote overall well-being. 

Health psychology is an important part of managing the psychological and emotional impact that health and illness can have on your life. Health psychologists are also critical for supporting people with chronic illnesses or cancer. These psychologists are trained to promote healthy lifestyles and help people improve their quality of life. 

Health psychologists also play an important part in improving the healthcare system and guiding doctors to communicate with their patients better. By teaching doctors how to talk with and explain diagnosis and treatment, health psychologists help alleviate confusion or anxiety in patients.

The Takeaway

Improving health outcomes is at the core of health psychology. Human behavior has a significant role in most leading causes of death. Some people can develop health-damaging behavior. By providing support, a health psychologist can help promote a better understanding of your health and the importance of taking care of your body physically and mentally. 

Health psychology looks at biological disposition, behavior, and social context. Psychologists use these factors to study their patients and better understand their decision-making process. 

With collaboration between health psychology and other fields of medicine, better techniques for intervention can be studied and implemented. Other disciplines need to incorporate health psychology into treatment plans. This allows for better communication and better relationships between doctor and patient.

If you're dealing with anxiety and health concerns, you may want to ask your primary care physician for a referral to see a health psychologist. They'll be able to help you take a look at your overall symptoms and well-being and create a plan to help you feel better. 

Health psychology is an essential part of preventative care. You can talk to a health psychologist without having any major issues. Their focus is on helping people achieve wellness. If you're in the preliminary stages of illness where you might be concerned with your mental and physical health, you can always talk to a health psychologist.  

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “Health Psychology Promotes Wellness,” “Pursuing a Career in Health Psychology.”

Mens Sana Monographs: “Health Psychology: “Where Are We And Where Do We Go From Here?”

Northeastern University: “What is Health Psychology? Everything you Need to Know.”

Rice University: “What is Health Psychology.”

The British Psychological Society: “Health Psychology.”

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