Health psychology is a discipline that studies the psychological and emotional processes associated with health, illness, and wellness. It is closely related to psychology but focuses more on the psychological aspects. Health psychology is the investigation of behavioural and emotional processes within health, illness, and the psychological disorders that impact us. It is particularly concerned with learning how cultural, social, and psychological factors affect health.
Psychological factors can indirectly influence health by impacting the individual’s thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and emotions. For instance, those with higher education tend to live longer, while individuals with lower educational levels have a greater likelihood of getting sick with a psychological disorder such as depression.
The field of critical health psychology attempts to provide information about the influence of both biological and psychological factors on the development of people who experience illness and injury. It also provides information on how these factors may be influenced by culture or environmental factors and on how they can be changed to promote optimal psychological health.
Critical health psychology also takes into account research and theory on the causes and prevention of disease, focusing on the inter-relations of biological and environmental factors and their effect on the individual.
The studies of critical health psychology combine
- Knowledge from many other disciplines in the field of psychology
- Cognitive science
- Public health
- Clinical neurology
These fields combine their research and findings to form a comprehensive picture of how the human mind and body respond to various environments. They look for connections between biological and environmental processes that shape the individual’s response to illness and injury.
They apply theories from many areas of psychology to understand how the mind affects the body and how these changes affect physical function. The research of critical health psychology can be applied to many aspects of healthcare, including
- Mental health
- Healthcare management, prevention, and pre-clinical neuroscience
The impact of this field has made great strides in providing information that helps to improve the quality of life for millions of individuals.
Two main branches of the field are clinical psychology and research psychology
The former specializes in studying how humans process information, learn from it, store it, recall it, and apply it to their psychological and physiological selves. In this division, researchers attempt to identify psychological and environmental factors that may lead to changes in an individual’s internal and external environment. For example,
- Researchers may be looking at the effect of smoking on hypertension or the link between violence and heart disease
Other examples include
- Studying the effects of divorce and depression on health and well-being
Research psychologists make a distinction between mental health and psychological health. This division includes professionals like school psychologists, licensed counselors, psychologists in hospitals, and social workers. Their role is to understand how people process information, learn from them, make assessments about their experiences, and help them deal with issues.
They are involved in research studies aimed at understanding the causes and prevention of various disorders including
- Learning disabilities
- Substance abuse
- Adjustment disorders, and many other mental disorders
A student majoring in health psychology may choose to specialize in a subspecialty such as
- Risk assessment
- Social and experimental Psychology, or health, relationships, trauma
Many health psychologists believe that illness is influenced by a variety of psychological factors
In fact, they say that a major cause of illness is already present in the minds and bodies of most individuals. These factors include
- Biological history
- Neurological processes
- Coping mechanisms
- Social behaviours, and other factors.
The belief is that these factors interact and cause the illness. Health Psychology addresses many issues concerning the psychological aspects of health. These include
- How the body interacts with psychological stimuli
- The processes that promote illness and wellness in an individual
- Healing capabilities
- Personal identity
It also makes an effort to learn about how these psychological factors influence the development of an individual and their relation to illness and health. For instance, some health psychologists are interested in the interaction of
- Psychosocial variables
One of the major areas of interest in health psychology is stress
Health psychologists believe that stress can affect physical, mental, emotional, and physiological health. One of the many areas of research that fall under health psychology is cardiovascular and coronary disease. These diseases are considered to be the most common cause of death in the U.S.
Stress can increase the likelihood of heart disease and can result in various heart conditions such as myocardial infarction, hypertension, or heart failure. Stress related illnesses cost millions of dollars to society every year.
Many health psychologists also study how stress and anxiety affect everyday life
Workplace problems, family and relationship difficulties, workplace injuries, burnout, and depression are all common sources of stress. A lot of work place injuries result from ill-equipped work spaces. Some organizational dysfunction arises from ill-trained employees.
Stress and anxiety can have long-term consequences on mental health and well-being. A person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and physical health are closely connected and influence his chances of developing both physical illnesses and psychological illnesses.
There are a lot of similarities between the work of health psychologists and psychiatrists
Both professions need to understand and evaluate complex human behaviours. Both health psychologists and psychiatrists use theories of stress, motivation, coping, health, and healing to help people deal with their problems. The field of health psychology is a growing one and has become widely recognized because of the increasing number of connections it has with clinical practice, research, and patient care.
Many psychiatrists and psychologists both work as consultants. While they treat mental and emotional disorders, many psychologists can not prescribe drugs. In fact, they tend to work in conjunction with psychiatrists to prescribe medications for patients who do not respond to other forms of therapy.
The educational and clinical education differ significantly between psychiatrists and psychologists. Both have had years of training, and even though the two fields of study are vastly different in focus and methodology, some similarities exist.
Both psychiatrists and psychologists have their own specialities
In addition to clinical psychology, there are specific types of psychology such as: developmental psychology, forensic psychology, social and experimental psychology, and counseling psychology. All of these are sub-fields of psychology and are further divided into specialized areas.
While clinical psychologists and psychiatrists offer treatment, psychologists working in other specialties focus on research, teaching, and prevention of behavior problems. These differences may seem small, but they are important to psychologists and psychiatrists alike.
For example, while an adolescent who has Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be prescribed a stimulant for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a clinical psychologist treating depression in adults would not prescribe anti-depressants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
As clinical psychologists work with patients, their work is limited to cases involving documented cases of mental illness, though they can conduct individualized psychological assessments for specific situations. On the other hand, psychiatrists have more flexibility in deciding which cases to treat, although some specific illnesses may require them to take a clinical approach, in which case they must have specific training in that particular illness.
In addition to treating people, most psychiatrists also perform research on a regular basis, often using their knowledge and expertise to help medical researchers discover more about how different conditions affect different people. There are even instances when doctors and psychologists collaborate, sometimes working together to find a cure or find methods for addressing mental illness in a unique way.
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