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What is health psychology?

The science of health psychology seeks answers to a number of important questions related to preventive measures to sustain personal and public health. What are the personal characteristics of people who find it easier to lead a healthy lifestyle? What does it mean for an illness to have a psychological origin? How does income affect morbidity? What motivates people to follow anti-epidemic measures?

Development of health psychology

The first hypotheses about the role of the psyche in illness were posed by psychoanalysts in the 1930s. They developed the concept of psychosomatic medicine. It is based on the belief that mental processes can lead to somatic (bodily) reactions.

Observations from the early stages of psychosomatics show, for example, that people high on hostility are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. Among patients with asthma, ulcers, and migraines, many suppress their emotions. Other findings on how emotional experiences affect the body show that anxiety can raise blood pressure and fear can speed up the heart rate.

The development of these ideas marked the beginning of health psychology as a separate academic and professional field in the ’70s. Today, health psychology is an integrative discipline that examines health and disease through a biopsychosocial approach.

Application of health psychology

Today, health psychologists are usually clinical or general psychologists with additional qualifications who work in a hospital setting. They study strategies to support and maintain good health, prevention, and treatment of diseases, causes and risk factors for various diseases, adherence to treatment plans.

Recent public health programs at universities are preparing practitioners to work towards the improvement of the healthcare system and health policy.

Health psychology in private practice

As a counseling psychologist in an outpatient setting, health is a topic that I cannot avoid regardless of the client’s presenting problem. Why? Because body and mind do not work separately. Many of my clients suffer from physiological symptoms, the origin of which doctors cannot determine. In our work, they acquire the ability to listen to the signals of the body and to interpret them correctly.

Chronic pain is also a common difficulty. Psychological work with restructuring the meaning of pain, adapting to it, and finding solutions to life with pain, regardless of the disease that causes it, is extremely important for improving the overall quality of life for those who suffer.


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