It is generally accepted that heredity plays a major role in determining our health. That’s why our doctors elicit a medical history when we visit them. They want to find out what types of diseases our parents and siblings may have had to help determine our own risk of developing the same diseases. Our health is also impacted by contagion. Otherwise, what good would it do to get a flu shot?
In addition, the majority of the population in developed countries are aware that lifestyle and behavior are major players in influencing our health. Behavioral changes can have a dramatic effect on how healthy we are.
Helping people make health-enhancing behavioral and lifestyle changes is a major goal of health psychologists.
If helping people, communities and a nation improve their health, health psychology might be a good fit for you.
Health psychologists may engage in clinical or research activities or both.
Clinical activities include assessment interventions including prevention.
Health psychologists perform a variety of assessments using instruments such as clinical interviews and demographic surveys. Assessments that they do include psychophysiological and objective and projective personality assessments. They may also do cognitive and behavioral assessments.
Interventions that health psychologists participate in include the following:
· Relaxation therapies,
· Strategies for coping with disease,
· Psychoeducation concerning pathophysiological and normal processes,
· Stress management,
· Cognitive-behavioral interventions,
· Other psychotherapeutic interventions.
Educational interventions may be applied to individuals or to groups. They may teach healthy people how to maintain their health through healthy habits and/or how to cope with stress through the development of social support systems.
Cutting edge health psychologists do research in such areas as HIV using the biopsychosocial model. Other areas that may be studied with this model include psychosomatic illness, health promotion, compliance with medical regimens and how social, cultural and psychological factors affect various disease processes. Here are some of those processes: cancer, chronic pain, diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension and sleep disorders. Other areas of research include the following:
· Causes and the development of illness,
· Types of treatment that people receive for specific medical problems,
· Means of helping people to live healthy lifestyles and prevent illness,
· The effectiveness of coping mechanisms people resort to when faced with stress or pain,
· The effects of biopsychosocial factors on immune functioning,
· The involvement of various factors in the recovery and rehabilitation of patients with serious health problems,
· Psychosocial adjustment of patients facing serious health issues.
Health psychologists work in a number of different places. Following is a partial list of such places:
· Inpatient medical units,
· Specialized health care programs
· Governmental agencies,
· Colleges and universities.
The programs in which they participate vary. Here are some of those programs:
· Pain management,
· Smoking cessation,
· Women’s health,
· Headache management.
In the United States there are considerable career opportunities for health psychologists. They find employment in medical schools, universities and colleges as well as in medical centers and health maintenance organizations. Hospitals, private practice medical offices, pain management centers, rehabilitation centers and the public health agencies also contribute to careers in health psychology. Medical teams also benefit from health psychologists’ unique skills in areas of research and statistics, communication, writing including grant writing, quality assurance methods and team development.
Training in different educational institutions for health psychology may vary according to available clinical training opportunities, different educational emphases, instructional formats, content and research opportunities.
For the best opportunities in a health psychology career, it is best to have a PhD or a PsyD in psychology. Some programs offer specializations in health psychology on the undergraduate level but more often on the doctoral level. Some health psychologists get trained in general psychology at the undergraduate level or even the doctoral level and then go for specialized training in health psychology at the postdoctoral or internship levels.
While still studying at the undergraduate level, students are encouraged to take specific courses that support the biopsychosocial orientation of the field of health psychology. High on the list of these courses are abnormal, community and social psychology. Anatomy and physiology, behavior therapies, learning processes, psychophysiology, psychopharmacology and public health are also good preparatory courses.
At the graduate level, a number of doctoral programs in counseling, experimental, social and clinical psychology offer preceptorships or specialized tracks in health psychology. In the US and other countries more and more universities are offering health psychology programs. Some of them offer specifically research programs and others offer clinical programs. Some offer both.
Students seeking a doctoral degree in health psychology can now find internships in this field. There are now internships in health psychology, some of which offer to trainees opportunities of spending at least half of their time in health psychology activities.
Many universities, health centers, university medical centers and health psychology programs offer postdoctoral fellowships in research or clinical health psychology.Health psychologists are certified for practice in clinical and counseling psychology through the American Board of Professional Psychology.