What is Health Psychology?

what-is-health-psychologyHealth psychology is the scientific study of how a person’s psychological processes impact their health and contribute to illness. It studies the social, cultural and behavioral factors that contribute to an individual’s state of health. This unique field of psychology uses everything from behavior modification to cognitive behavior therapy to change health behaviors.

What are the Main Goals?

Health psychologists promote individual and community health while also preventing and treating diseases. Therefore, health psychologists concentrate on developing and promoting public awareness and education programs designed to prevent specific health problems. This could involve an anti-smoking or a healthy eating campaign. Health psychologists also focus on understanding how people react to and cope with chronic illnesses. They can help and support terminally ill patients through improving the quality of their lives.

Some health psychologists conduct field research and experiments on topics such as how stress impacts the immune system or what socio-culture factors influence health eating. A select few health psychologists focus on improving the public health care system and influencing legislation and government health care policies. They help through raising awareness of how health policies can create inequalities and barriers to health care.

What Education is Required?

Health psychologists must have a doctoral degree in clinical or counseling psychology, as well as certification through their state. However, there are emerging programs specifically designed for health psychologists. These programs provide an overview of psychology’s main branches and teach students how to apply psychological principles to health care settings. Students will learn how to engage in innovative analysis, thinking and problem solving. They will be empowered to design and conduct psychological research designed to positively impact health and wellness.

Related Resource: Top 10 Best Online Health Science Degree Programs

Coursework will explore how to conduct field work, analyze data and interpret research results. Students will take classes that analyze the social factors and individual biological influence on behavior. Students must also learn about health care informatics, statistical methods and information management systems. There will most likely be classes on bioethics, epidemiology and social justice. After graduation, students will be responsible professionals who are prepared to make a positive difference in their communities.

Sample Job Description

Health psychologists are tasked with identifying the psychological factors that affect a patient’s well-being. They must continually administer and interpret psychological tests, as well as formulate and document evaluations. They must also construct individualized treatment plans through analyzing the patients’ needs, strengths and weaknesses. They will also effectively implement individual and group interventions, along with documenting these actions and outcomes. Health psychologists must maintain a working knowledge of procedures and techniques used for patient assessments and treatments. Finally, they will work as a key member of an interdisciplinary mental health team.

What are the Sub-specialties?

Health psychologists may specialize in a sub-field of health psychology. For example, clinical health psychologists study how to apply scientific knowledge to increase care outcomes and work closely with clinical psychologists. On the other hand, public health psychologists empirically investigate correlative links and variables related to the health of the entire populations. These professions mostly work with policy makers, public health officials and education organizations. For those wishing to focus on a local populations, community health psychologists develop community-based interventions designed to prevent disease and promote health. Finally, critical health psychologists research social justice and health inequalities.

On the whole, health psychology is an interdisciplinary field that uses psychology driven health care research and techniques to promote individual and community health.