Health Psychology – Definition, Subfields, Application, Theory And More

In the field of physical health and psychological well-being, health psychology specializes in exploring the biological, psychological, cultural, social, and environmental factors of life, and how each of these effects affects physical health.

There are some who adopt the spiritual or religious aspects of this design, but traditionally the model includes biological, psychological and social components. While it may be common knowledge among certain groups to understand the negative effects that a person’s emotional mindset can have on health, there remains a surprising amount of denial regarding the roles of interactivity. Physical health can be directly influenced by the environment in which we live.

What is health psychology?

Health psychology can be defined as the study of how biological, environmental, psychological and sociocultural factors influence health and disease, however to fully understand nature one must understand what the term health means, which is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not simply the absence of disease.

According to this definition, the objective of health psychologists is twofold, on the one hand their objective is to prevent and control diseases, but they are also interested in promoting and maintaining health and general well-being: physical, mental and social .

Health psychologists apply psychological theories and methods to understand those factors that help people stay healthy, cope with their illnesses, or recover from them. Rather than taking a strictly biological view of disease, they recognize that many forms of disease, such as cardiovascular disease, HIV / AIDS, and cancer, are triggered and / or aggravated by psychological and social factors. Therefore, they adopt a biopsychosocial view of the disease.

Biological factors include inherited conditions, personality characteristics, and physiological makeup: psychological factors involve one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and social factors may include the level of social support, as well as family and cultural values.

Health psychologists participate in a wide range of activities related to their general objective, they can help reduce stress and risky sexual behavior, develop and implement weight control programs, improve diet, control pain, prevent injuries, overcome drug addictions and improve compliance with medical advice, they can practice their profession in the field of health care, be professors in psychology programs or work as researchers in universities or government agencies.

Development and theory of health psychology

Health has played an important role throughout the history of psychology, in fact many pioneers in this field were originally trained in medicine.

Since the 1950s, interest in the role that psychological health plays in general well-being has grown, the development of the health belief model by a team of psychologists, including Irwin Rosenstock, was a seminal event in the field of health. Psychology during the 1960s, which sought to explain why some people were not getting vaccinated against tuberculosis, proposes that a person’s likelihood of engaging in health-promoting behavior is affected by their beliefs about the severity of a disease. disease and your susceptibility to it, the costs and benefits of engaging in behavior, and the presence of action signals.

As more psychologists were employed by medical centers, primary care clinics, and medical schools, greater emphasis was placed on understanding how physical and psychological health intertwine. Health psychology is now its own branch, at present, they focus on preventing and treating disease, promoting health in general and working to improve the health care system and are also interested in understanding how people manage and recover from physical illness.

What do health psychologists do?

Health psychologists are involved in many different tasks, the specific type of work you do on a daily basis may depend on the work environment or area of ​​specialty. Many work directly in clinical settings to help individuals or groups prevent disease and promote healthy behaviors, others conduct research on health-related issues or influence public policy on health care issues.

  • Clinical work:  In clinical and medical settings, health psychologists conduct behavioral assessments, clinical interviews, and personality tests. Other tasks involve participating in interventions with individuals or groups, such interventions may include educating people on stress reduction techniques, offering tips to quit smoking, and teaching people how to avoid unhealthy behaviors.
  • Research: Many health psychologists also conduct research on a variety of health-related problems. For example, researchers can focus on the causes of health problems, effective preventive measures, the best advocacy techniques, how to best help people cope with pain or illness, and how to get people to seek treatment for conditions. medical.
  • Public Policy Work : Some work in government or private agency settings to influence public policy on health issues, this work could involve lobbying government agencies, addressing health care inequalities, or advising government agencies on health care reform.

Physical health can be affected by the things people do, the way they process information, career choices, family dynamics, daily life problems, and the environment in which they live. For example, someone who lives in a home infested with damp and mold has a chance of developing respiratory problems and developing allergies.

Subfields within health psychology

There are a number of different specialty areas:

Clinical Health Psychology: This subfield is closely linked to clinical psychology and includes activities such as psychotherapy , behavior modification, and health education.

Community Health Psychology: People working in this subfield focus on the development of prevention interventions and techniques at the community level. These professionals can conduct community assessments or work with groups to encourage healthy behaviors or promote behavior change.

Public Health Psychology: These professionals focus on understanding health at the population level and offer advice to health professionals, government agencies, and educators.

Occupational Health Psychology: This is an emerging subfield that incorporates industrial-organizational psychology and related disciplines. Occupational health psychologists focus on understanding how workplace problems are related to physical and mental illness.

Applying health psychology in therapy

Even therapists who do not identify specifically as health psychologists can incorporate the principles of psychology into their work, it is not uncommon for people to discuss concerns or fears about their health in therapy, and therapists can provide information on how psychological factors influence physical health. For example, it is widely known that chronic stress can cause physical problems, such as headaches and heart problems. When a therapist educates the people they work with about the consequences of physical health problems or how psychological factors can play a role, they are using aspects of health psychology.

The mind-body connection, another important aspect of health psychology that is often used in therapy, involves exploring the link between an individual’s emotions and their behavior; discussion of this connection can commonly occur in therapy. People who deal with overeating, for example, can explore what emotions trigger a binge episode with a therapist; techniques like biofeedback also have a basis in health psychology.

How do society and cultural factors play a key role in physical health?

Health psychologists work with people in the hopes of eliminating these risk factors to decrease failed health and improve overall health.

Gender roles and expectations can put great pressure on someone to behave and act differently. Racism, religion, and political beliefs have an impact on general health. For example, middle-class people tend to have better overall physical and emotional health than inner-city minorities. Health psychology explores the underlying factors that have a direct and indirect impact on the quality of life of some people.

In helping people develop a healthier lifestyle, career choice is another area that health psychology explores, there is a direct relationship between job options and physical and emotional health because the more frustrating the project, the greater the risk we face when developing an emotional and / or psychological problem. When a person is under stress, the body produces chemicals and hormones that it does not require, and some of these substances can be harmful.

Difficult conditions and the release of these substances result in a weakening of the immune system. When an immune system is weak, we are more susceptible to physical and mental ailments.

When should you see a health psychologist?

What are some of the reasons you may decide to see a health psychologist? These professionals can help people deal with the stress and emotional turmoil of dealing with a medical condition, as well as help people learn to manage health problems, overcome unhealthy behaviors, and achieve health-related goals.

They can be helpful if you are trying to avoid unhealthy behaviors and adopt healthier behaviors. So if you’re trying to quit smoking, stick to a weight loss plan, or manage your stress levels, consulting with a health psychologist can be very helpful.

How is health psychology different from other areas of psychology?

So what makes health psychology unique? How does it contribute to our understanding of health and wellness? Because health psychology emphasizes how behavior influences health, it is in a unique position to help people change contributing behaviors and well-being. For example, psychologists working in this field can conduct applied research on how to prevent unhealthy behaviors like smoking and look for new ways to encourage healthy actions like exercise.

Most people realize that consuming a high sugar diet is not good for their health, many people continue to engage in these behaviors regardless of the possible short and long term consequences. Healthy psychologists look at the psychological factors that influence these health choices and explore ways to motivate people to make better health decisions.

Some illnesses that are related to psychological or behavioral factors include:

  • Heart disease.
  • VIH / PAGE.
  • Cancer.
  • Birth defects and infant mortality.
  • Infectious diseases.

According to one study, nearly half of all deaths in the United States may be related to behaviors or other risk factors that are mostly preventable. Health psychologists work with individuals, groups, and communities to lower these risk factors, improve overall health, and reduce disease.

How is the Bio-Psychosocial model applied to health psychology?

Millions of people around the world are under an enormous amount of stress perhaps because their economy is suffering and unemployment remains high, those who are employed are working longer hours and are taking on more responsibilities for less pay. People who have lost their jobs worry about paying their bills, feeding their families and holding on to what they have worked so hard to achieve in the past, and some wonder if they are normal.

When health psychologists talk about the biopsychosocial model, behaviors are key ingredients that contribute to physical health. Do you smoke? Do you drink alcohol regularly? Do you eat junk food? Do you have a stressful job? Are finances difficult? Do people exercise regularly? How is the family? What is social life like? These are just a few questions that a psychologist can explore. There are social and behavioral conditions that are directly or indirectly related to the general state of physical health.

Stress stems from the instinctive nature of the desire to survive and the psychological community labels this concept as the “fight or flight” response, when the mind perceives a warning as to whether that threat is real or a figment of the imagination, the brain responds as in danger. The brain demands that adrenaline be pumped throughout the body, allowing it to run faster (away from the problem) or fight with a little more strength than it naturally possesses (face the problem).

The production of adrenaline in association with the flight or fight response is only intended to be for short periods of time, to survive, when people are faced with chronic stress at home or work, the physical body is under constant tension. As a result, people tend to feel exhausted and tired more often, they may experience joint pain, muscle aches, back pain, headaches, and increases in blood pressure, which are the common side effects of repeated stress and increases adrenaline.

While some don’t tend to think of stress as abnormal, it actually costs a person a lot, both physically and emotionally. A key factor in reducing your stress level is determining how to recognize and respond to stress and how it relates to your behavior, health psychologists work in clinical settings that promote behavior change that is related to the everyday anxieties of life , inform the public, provide therapy, conduct research, teach at universities, and work in the field of sports medicine.


Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.