Health psychology, developed in the late 1970s, is its own domain of inquiry. A health psychologist, also called a medical psychologist, helps individuals explore the link between emotions and physical health. The health psychologist also helps physicians and medical professionals understand the emotional effects of a patient’s illness or disease. These experts practice in such areas of health as chronic pain management, oncology, physical rehabilitation, addiction treatment, and eating disorders, among others. Health psychologists can be found in clinics, hospitals, private practice, and public health agencies. Some also work in corporate settings to promote health and wellness among employees, engaging in workplace policies and decision-making.
Understanding Health Psychology
For years, we’ve known about the dangers of smoking, and that we should eat less and move more. But in the end, what motivates us to put down the doughnut and hit the running trail or carefully follow a doctor’s instructions about medications and follow-up visits?
Health psychology explores those motivations in the pursuit of getting people to embrace health promotion and illness prevention. This specialty area examines how biological, social and psychological factors influence the choices we make about our health.
Health psychologists study the factors that allow people to be healthy, recover from an illness or cope with a chronic condition. They are experts in the intersection of health and behavior and are in demand as a part of integrated health care delivery teams — working with other doctors to provide whole-person health care.
How to Live a Healthy Life
Living a healthy life means making lifestyle choices that support your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. Managing your health can be challenging at times; while one facet of your wellness demands more attention than others, you may end up struggling to maintain a good balance in other areas. To be of sound body, mind, and spirit, it’s important to pay attention to all aspects of health—your mental, emotional, and spiritual sides all play a role in your physical welfare, and vice versa. A state of optimal well-being means more than just the absence of disease or disorder; it also means having the resources to cope with problems and circumstances beyond your control and recover from difficult or troubling situations. This intersection between health and behavior can help you prevent or at least delay chronic illness, and steer you to make better decisions about your well-being.
The path to wellness is complex, and health psychologists know this. That is why they consider all the factors in a person’s life to get at what’s really driving certain behaviors.
Ever heard of emotional eating? Or psychosomatic illnesses? Linking people’s emotions to their behavior and its consequences is a key component of their work.
Health psychologists apply their expertise in many settings, including private practices, hospitals and primary care programs, universities, corporations, government agencies and specialty practices, such as oncology, pain management, rehabilitation and smoking cessation.
Helping people make choices that have a positive impact on their health — and the well-being of their families, the workforce and their communities is at the heart of this dynamic field.