(Back to the Basics)

In this lecture, we are going to discuss the role of Health Psychology once again. It will be different this time, though. Now that we have taken a good look into many of the important concepts in Health Psychology, you will be in a better position to understand the remaining introduction of Health Psychology. For example, if now we will talk about prevention, you will know what it is, and how many types of prevention are there. Similarly, if we talk about promoting health, you will know what we mean by that. In this way, we will try to summarize all important ideas of Health Psychology in this lecture. Not only will we talk about the already discussed points, but also some more new ideas. Your benefits of becoming a Health Psychologist, for instance; we will talk about the plus points of becoming a Health Psychologist and also the possible future careers.

Importance of Health Psychology and Its Role in Today’s World

health psychology psychology  ROLE OF HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY:

Let’s begin with the importance of Health Psychology and its role in today’s world. Many researchers believe that physical health may be influenced by psychology through a variety of direct and indirect means. There is some evidence that certain negative mental states (such as depression and anxiety) can directly affect physical immunity through production of stress hormones, such as the catecholamines and glucocorticoids. Although this research is widely debated, there is also some indication that negative psychological states may lead to faster disease progression in certain diseases (such as HIV and heart disease) through these direct biological mechanisms. Negative emotional states may also indirectly affect disease processes through their influence on health behaviors. For example, depression has been related to many risk factors for poor health including overeating, smoking, physical inactivity, and poor medication compliance.

In a nutshell, we can say that Health Psychology is “the use of psychological principles to promote health and to prevent illness”; it is also part of clinical treatment for established illnesses”. This approach considers the biological, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, social, psychosomatic and environmental factors as they relate to health, illness and health care at the level of individuals. This approach has adopted what it calls the Biopsychosocial model.

Targets of Health Psychology

Understanding behavioral factors

Health psychologists seek to identify the behaviors and experiences that promote health, lead to illness, influence the effectiveness of health care, and recommend improvements to health policy in their life. There are many examples of this. Smoking, diet, and lack of regular exercise all contribute to the formation of disease. There are some minor associations between illness and individual characteristics such as personality. For example, it is claimed that individuals with thrill seeking personalities are more likely to drive fast, making them more likely to injure themselves in car accidents. And also that people distrustful of physicians will not get regular checkups.

Factors that lead to the behaviors that cause illness are of interest because they help psychologists to predict who is most susceptible to illness and why. There are many contributing factors that help determine our behaviors, and all of the dimensions of the Biopsychosocial model can be applied to understand these interconnections. Biologically, physical addiction plays an important role in smoking cessation. As does the psychological dependency on tobacco brought about largely by seductive advertising and other forms of tobacco promotion. Psychologically, people with high stress jobs are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Socially, people with low incomes have less access to health resources and screening processes.

They also are exposed to greater environmental toxigens, lower levels of education, poorer housing, less healthy foods, higher smoking prevalence, and many other toxic socially determined living conditions.

Health psychologists also aim to change health behaviors for the dual purpose of helping people stay healthy and helping patients adhere to disease treatment regimens. Cognitive behavioral therapy and behavior modification are techniques often used for this purpose.

Preventing Illness

Psychologists work towards promoting health through behavioral change, as mentioned above, but they prevent illness in other ways as well. Practitioners emphasize education as a large part of illness prevention, as many people do not recognize the risk to illness present in their lives. Or they are unable to implement the knowledge that they have owing to the pressures of their everyday existence. A common example of this is anti-smoking campaigns. Those least able to afford tobacco products consume them the most. It is a method for controlling emotional states, the daily experiences of stress that characterize the lives of deprived and vulnerable people. Health psychologists also aim at educating health professionals like physicians and nurses in communicating with patients. They communicate in a way that highlights the psychosocial barriers to understanding and implementing effective strategies for reducing risk factors and making behavior changes that will help them to develop appropriate means for communicating information relevant to diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.

Exploring the effects of disease

There is much to know about how disease affects our mental well being. When illness or accidents befall a person, their entire life is affected. A psychologically healthy individual who gets severely injured, say, now has many different practical issues to contend with that will in turn affect their psychological wellbeing. Who will take care of them while they recover? If they can’t work, how will they pay for bills or care for dependents? If this person sees themselves as being self-reliant, how do they handle this new identity? What if they cannot pursue their usual hobbies and interests? All of these possibilities can affect a person’s relationships, self-esteem, stress level, happiness and belief system. Many of these issues are economic and social in nature rather than psychological but they have a direct impact on psychological wellbeing.

This important field of study considers how those with terminal illnesses can lead a better life. When there is little hope of recovery, health psychologists can improve the quality of life of the patient by helping them to recover their mental well-being.

Critical analysis of Health Policy

Health psychologists are exploring how health policy can impact on inequities, inequalities and social injustice. This expands the scope of health psychology beyond the level of individual health to an examination of the social and economic determinants of health experience both within and between regions and nations.

Improving doctor-patient communication

Health psychologists attempt to aid the process of communication between doctors and patients during medical consultations. There are many problems in this process, particularly the use of jargon by doctors (using long, complex, usually medicine-specific words often not understood by the patient). Researchers such as Boyle and McKinlay have investigated this process and discovered not only that patient understanding is low (40% of women on a maternity ward understood 13 medical terms that they were given), but that even doctors do not expect their patients to understand their jargon!

One main area of research on this topic involves ‘doctor centered’ or ‘patient centered’ consultations. Doctor centered consultations are generally directive, with the patient answering questions and taking little part in decision-making. Although this style is preferred by elderly people and others, many people dislike the sense of hierarchy or ignorance that it inspires. They prefer the patient centered consultations, which focus on the patient’s needs, involve the doctor listening to the patient completely before making a decision, and involving the patient in the process of choosing treatment and finding a diagnosis.

Adherence to medical advice

• Getting people to obey medical advice and adhere to their treatment regimens is a difficult task for health psychologists. Mostly, people forget to take their pills or find their side effects too difficult to cope with, but failing to take prescribed medication costs very huge amounts of money per year, as well as wasting millions of usable, viable medicines that could otherwise be used to help other people.

Health Psychology focuses upon how biological, psychological, and social factors affect health and illness. Many health psychologists perform on the best ways to promote healthy living and prevent disease and/or how people react psychologically when they are diagnosed with an illness. Health psychologists are also interested in patients’ personality or attitude to see if it has a positive or negative effect on their health.

Health Psychology has become so involved in physical health and illness that medical centers have become important employers of psychology majors today. Health psychologists study patients’ coping strategies, adjustment to their illness, and how they view their quality of life. The main focus today is why people do certain things knowing that it can harm them in the end (e.g., why teenagers or adults smoke when they know it causes cancer or even death).

Five Major Aspects to Health Psychology

There are five major aspects to health psychology, in which each contribute to the overall existence of health psychology. Health psychology contributes to our understanding of health and illness through patients’ adjustment to serious illnesses, their health beliefs, which influences their behavior, their mind and body connection, and finally the psychosocial factors that can reinforce healthy behaviors and prevent negative ones.

1. Mind-Body Connection

This includes the importance of peoples’ adjustment following the diagnosis of a disease, death, or injury.

2. Psychological Adjustments

Psychological states, such as depression and anxiety, can alter immune function and other biological processes, leading to poor health practice and diminished use of health care.

3. Preventing Disease

Health psychologists promote health and hope that in return it will prevent disease. There are many chronic illnesses that can be prevented.

4. Optimism

An optimistic attitude and related behaviors are linked to better reports of physical health and faster recovery from illness.

5. Social Support

Health psychologists have extensively studied the positive relationships between social support, mental health, and physical health.

Some Potential Attractions of Careers in Health Psychology

Helping Others

It can be extremely rewarding when helping others cope with certain illnesses. A health psychologist can actually save a person’s life.

Promoting Health

By promoting health, one is educating people on how to take the best care of themselves. Health psychologists are thus reducing peoples’ risk of illness.

Challenging job

It can be very challenging when working with people that have extremely negative attitudes.

Team Environment

Health psychologists often work together with nurses, doctors, researchers, and other psychologists.

Job Opportunities

Job opportunities are expected to increase for those in the health field because of the enormous popularity of the field and the growing geriatric population in the coming decades. Employment in psychology is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through 2010. Employment in health care will grow the fastest in outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment clinics. Numerous job opportunities will also arise in schools, public and private social service agencies, and management consulting services. Companies will use psychologists’ expertise in survey design, analysis, and research to provide marketing evaluation and statistical analysis. The increase in employee assistance programs, which offer employees help with personal problems, should also spur job growth.

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