What is Health Psychology?

Health Psychology is a sub-field of psychology that studies and investigates psychological impacts of behaviors, physical health, illness, and overall wellness.

While mental health is made up of a variety of factors, health psychology looks to understand how the physical processes, decisions, and other factor can influences overall mental health functioning. Many consider this field to be the intersection of mental and physical health.

The mind and body connection is a major focal point of this class in a variety of ways. Understanding and investigating the bi-directional relationship of the mind and body allows one to truly grasp the inter connectedness of the physical and mental aspect of ourselves.

Topics frequently covered in Health Psychology are:

  • The systems of the body
    • Central Nervous System
    • Endocrine System
    • Cardiovascular System
    • Respiratory System
    • Digestive System
    • Renal System
    • Reproductive System
    • Genetics
    • Immune System
  • Health Behavior & Primary Prevention
  • Modification of Health Behaviors
  • Health Enhancing and compromising Behaviors
  • Stress & Illness
  • Coping with Stress
  • Clients and the Treatment Setting
  • Management of Chronic Illness
  • Psychological Issues in Advancing and terminal Illness
  • Heart Disease, Hypertension, Stroke and Diabetes
  • Healthcare

Health psychology is useful in a variety of ways as it allows people to understand the implications of decision making. This can be as simple as how you feel when you eat an apple compared to a bag of cookies. Or looking at the psychological and physical ramifications of exercise, substance use, medications, stress, and more.

Making Changes

Behavioral modification is a key component of this class as well. Behavioral modification is essentially looking at some area of life and deciding to make changes. Here are some examples of behavioral modification that people often make:

  • Improving diet
  • Minimizing negative behaviors (such as smoking, drug use, arguing)
  • Increasing positive decisions (like exercise, eating healthy, reading/writing, volunteering, etc.)
  • Being more positive
  • Spending more time with family and friends
  • Improving sleep habits and hygiene
  • Self reflection
  • Traveling more
  • Saving money

Essentially, behavior modification is a way of changing something about yourself. Often, making changes to one’s self can be very difficult as it involves “unlearning” years of a certain behavior. For example, a 50 year old person who has been smoking since age 18 has to unlearn 32 years of habits, rituals, and behaviors. This is not always easy, particularity with something like smoking that has both physiological and psychological addiction.

Health Psychology will also discuss the unexpected changes in one’s life. With things like cancer, terminal illness, HIV/AIDS, major injury, mental health disorders, and more all having an impact on both physical and mental health. Understanding the psychological impacts that an illness or injury could have on a person involves ans analysis of social, biological, and emotional components.

Incorporating a variety of theories and techniques, Health Psychology takes on a very holistic approach and analyzes from biological, existential, social, behavioral, and developmental. A blend of ideologies, approaches, and explanations for health is generally implemented.

Nature and Nurture

A major part of understanding the mind-body connection is recognize both nature and nurture influences impact mental health and overall wellness.

Nature is basically a person’s genes, DNA, and body chemistry. These act as the blue print for creating a person. They will dictate the likelihood of having some sort of trait, disease, or characteristic, called a genetic predisposition. A person can not easily make changes to the “nature” elements of their body. It would require a serious genetic intervention, medication, or other major biological interaction. Essentially, your DNA is pretty set in stone, but this is only one area of development. Certain traits are more nature based, such as height, eye color, certain heritability for disease.

Nurture on the other hand is much more fluid and changeable. The factors that go into nurture are environmental influences. This includes things like:

  • Society
  • Parental Styles
  • Friends
  • Culture
  • Media
  • Trauma
  • Motivation
  • Religion
  • Siblings
  • Relationships
  • Decision Making
  • Much More

These factors have a tremendous influence on many areas of our development and are extremely important. These factors are important because we have much more control over them than nature components, where you basically get what you get. Here, a person’s decisions can help improve overall wellness and health.

Generally, people will discuss nature and nurture in the context of “nature vs. nurture.” This is not really accurate as the two really work together and are both factors. Depending on specific traits and each individual person, the percentage of influence from nature and nurture  can vary vastly. Both play a key role in how a person develops.

Health Psychology is a great opportunity for student’s to study a wide array of topics that all have an impact on our overall wellness and health. Use this class to help improve your self-awareness, decision making, mental and physical health, and overall self.