Most of us have had the experience at one time or another of leaving an appointment with a physician feeling completely overwhelmed by what we have just gone through; from not understanding the medical language of your provider or not recalling the information shared to simply feeling as if you haven’t been fully heard.  Whether you are faced with an injury or a serious illness, this is often the first time that you have ever dealt with something of this nature which can be overwhelming and confusing at the very least. Many people find themselves feeling helpless as if everything is outside of their control. Add to this that for many struggling to adjust with these challenges with health and wellness, it seems as if you are doing so on your own.  This is where health psychology can make a difference.

Health Psychology Defined

Clinically speaking, health psychology is defined as an area of psychology focused on the study of how biological (genetic predisposition to illness), social (social support, relationships) and psychological (stress, negative thoughts, values) factors influence overall health and well-being.  Specifically, the interactive nature of behavioral and psychological variables to promote healthier lifestyles and illness prevention. Health psychology provides a holistic perspective of healthcare, considering patients’ medical conditions and symptoms, as well as their life experience. It encompasses a wide range of concerns, from chronic pain to terminal illness, with the goal of helping individuals improve their quality of life while focusing on specific health issues.

But what exactly does that mean? Perhaps a more accurate definition is a field of psychology that offers the support and guidance needed as an individual navigates life-changing experiences associated with one’s health and well-being.

Health Psychology Explained

On a basic level, a health psychologist educates individuals about their body and their disease process as well as the connection between thought and behavior.  It is important to understand that there is a significant interaction between the mind and body related to the interconnected nature of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

What Does The Evidence Say?

Evidence supports that the mind effects physical health by affecting the way individuals may experience medical symptoms-which will influence how they will react to, cope with, and recover from an illness-although it does not alter the underlying disease process.  Although we cannot alter the disease process through traditional therapeutic interventions-like cognitive-behavioral strategies or mindfulness relaxation-health psychologists can help individuals adjust to functional limitations, increase their coping skills, and implement lifestyle changes to encourage well-being. By combining knowledge of the mind and body, individuals are supported in developing a greater understanding of their ability to effectively manage their medical condition as well as their reactions to symptoms, including pain, stress, anxiety, and depression.  It provides the foundation for individuals to take control of their health.

Wait! What Does The Evidence Say About Health Psychology? 

In other words, a health psychologist may act as a guide, helping navigate one’s health journey-sometimes leading the way, sometimes walking right alongside, and sometimes even following. Health psychology is about support and understanding during an often overwhelming or chaotic process.

Will I Benefit From Health Psychology?

If you are wondering whether or not you might benefit from health psychology services, the answer is most likely yes. Any individual dealing with a serious illness or disability would be appropriate.  A list of common concerns that may be addressed with a health psychologist includes (but are not limited to):

  • Chronic Pain
  • Non-pharmacological pain management interventions
  • Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Weight Loss