Health Psychology

Health Psychology is a sub field of psychology that applies psychological principles and research to the enhancement of health and the treatment and prevention of illness.  It is concerned with the social conditions (such as the availability of health care and support from family and friends), biological factors (such as inherited vulnerabilities to certain diseases and the potential for longevity) and personal traits and lifestyle patterns.

Psychologists who strive to understand how biological, behavioral, and social factors influence health and illness are called health psychologists. The term "health psychology" is often interchanged with the terms "behavioral medicine" or "medical psychology." In contemporary research and medical settings, health psychologists work with many different health care professionals (e.g., physicians, dentists, nurses, physician's assistants, dietitians, social workers, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, and chaplains) to conduct research and provide clinical assessment and treatment services. Many health psychologists focus on prevention through research and clinical interventions designed to foster health and reduce the risk of disease. While more than half of health psychologists provide clinical services as part of their duties, many health psychologists function in non-clinical roles primarily involving teaching and research.

Health psychologists are on the leading edge of research focusing on the biopsychosocial model in areas such as HIV, oncology, psychosomatic illness, compliance with medical regimens, health promotion, and the effect of psychological, social, and cultural factors on numerous specific disease processes (e.g., diabetes, cancer, hypertension and coronary artery disease, chronic pain, and sleep disorders). Research in health psychology examines: the causes and development of illness, methods to help individuals develop healthy lifestyles to promote good health and prevent illness, the treatment people get for their medical problems, the effectiveness with which people cope with and reduce stress and pain, biopsychosocial connections with immune functioning, and factors in the recovery, rehabilitation, and psychosocial adjustment of patients with serious health problems.

This course will cover discussions on the history of health, healthcare, and health policy. The psychological and biological underpinnings of health, the impact of stress, anger, fear, nutrition, substance abuse and addictions will be examined.  In addition, the course will explore and investigate health debilitators, chronic disease and terminal illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, allergies and infectious diseases and more.  The course also will discuss the environmental influences on health. The role of complementary/alternative and energy medicine will also be investigated as well as new models for health and healthcare systems.

Health psychologists participate in health care in a multitude of settings including primary care programs, inpatient medical units, and specialized health care programs such as pain management, rehabilitation, women's health, oncology, smoking cessation, headache management, and various other programs. They also work in colleges and universities, corporations, and for governmental agencies.

The opportunities for careers in health psychology in the United States are quite good. Medical settings, particularly medical centers, have greatly expanded their employment of psychologists. Health psychologists also work in medical schools, health maintenance organizations, public health agencies, hospitals, and private consultation/practice offices. In addition to the specific content skills which psychologists offer to patients and staff in the medical community, psychologists' unique training often makes the health psychologist an asset to the medical team with regard to quality assurance methods (making certain that health care is helpful and cost-effective), research, writing, grant-writing, statistical, communication, and team development skills.

For undergraduate study, health psychology courses are available at about a third of North American colleges and universities. Because of the field's biopsychosocial orientation, students are also encouraged to take courses focusing on abnormal and social psychology, learning processes and behavior therapies, psychophysiology, anatomy and physiology, psychopharmacology, community psychology, and public health.

Source: APA. Division of Health Psychology, 2008  (



Health Psychology (American Psychological Association)
Journal of Behavioral Medicine (Kluwer/Plenum Publishing Corporation)
Journal of Adolescent Health (Society for Adolescent Medicine)
Psychosomatic Medicine (American Psychosomatic Society)
The Lancet
New England Journal of Medicine
Journal of the American Medical Association
American Journal of Public Health
American Journal of Epidemiology

Related Learning Links in Health Psychology

APA-Division of Health Psychology

Careers in Health Psychology

Centers for Disease Control

Health Psychology and Rehabilitation
Research, viewpoints and practical suggestions about the practice of health psychology in medical
and rehabilitation settings.

Healthy People 2020

National Center for Complementary and  Alternative Medicine at NIH

National Institute on Aging (NIA)

National Institutes of Health

Overview of Health Psychology

The Health Psychology Network

The Mayo Clinic

The World Health Organization

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC)
Information on food and nutrition resources and agencies, databases and publications.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Guidelines on health such as, health benefits, health prevention and more.

U.S. National Library of Medicine
The most extensive library of medicine including audio explanations from physicians and researchers.