Psychology is a broad academic and professional discipline and one of the discipline’s many broad sub-fields is health psychology. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), health psychologists “help patients manage chronic disease and avoid preventable diseases” through “incorporating psychological theory and research to develop methods to assist patients in maintaining healthy lifestyles.” The field of health psychology has grown significantly over the past three decades, bringing it to the forefront of the psychology world in an era where patients often demand a great deal of information and are more likely to challenge their doctors’ diagnoses or treatment plans than ever before. Here are a few short summaries of various aspects of health psychology:
A Quick Rundown of Health Psychology
In short, health psychology is the study of individuals’ perceptions of and responses to physical stimuli. Its aim is to determine the thoughts and motivations behind people’s health choices. This may seem like an overly laconic or even reductive description and, to be fair, it is. The field health psychology is growing so rapidly that an accurate description of what it currently is could change from year to year and possibly even from month to month. For a more in-depth treatment of the subject, consult the sources listed at the end of this article.
You will need to have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a master’s or doctoral degree, to pursue a career in health psychology. Most health psychologists hold either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. A Ph.D. is a terminal, research-oriented doctoral degree that is intended to prepare students for careers in academia. A Psy.D. is also a terminal doctoral degree in psychology. Unlike a Ph.D., though, it prepares students for careers in clinical psychology practice settings. Either degree can lead to a career in academia, although a Ph.D. will provide students with more latitude in their job searches. Students who graduate from Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs can find careers outside academia in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
Health psychologists participate in healthcare in a variegated collection of clinical and non-clinical settings. Broadly, this includes mostly inpatient medical units and primary care facilities. More specifically, it includes specialized programs such as rehabilitation, oncology, smoking cessation, pain management and many more. However, health psychology professionals can also be found in corporations, universities and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels.
Unsurprisingly, the research health psychologists conduct is focused almost entirely on the intersection of physical health and mental health as well as individuals’ psychological responses to diseases and other health-related physical stimuli. This study of bio-psycho-social—that is, the effects of a blending of biology, psychology, and sociology—responses examines, among other things, responses to pain, physical dependence on substances or actions and proclivities toward certain behavior, just to name a few.