What Is Health Psychology?

Health psychology is a specialty within the mental health field that considers the psychological, behavioral, biological, and sociological factors that impact human health and illness. Those working in the field aim to improve healthcare systems, prevent illness, and promote habits that lead to better health outcomes.

The need for health psychologists is clear in national health statistics. It’s no secret what healthy actions and choices lead to better health. For example, quitting bad health habits such as smoking or excessive drinking, as well as eating healthier food and exercising more leads to better health outcomes. However, millions do not follow this advice. Health psychology takes a closer look at the reasons behind why people do or do not take steps to better manage their own health.

To help meet the demand for people with expertise in this growing field, Touro University Worldwide provides graduate students the option to pursue a concentration in health psychology as part of the university’s online Master of Arts in Psychology program.

The Importance of Health Psychology

Health psychology became formally recognized as a subdiscipline of psychology in 1978 with the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Division of Health Psychology. However, exploration of the connection between mind and body in connection with good health dates as far back as ancient China and the work of 17th century English physician William Harvey.

Health psychology formalizes this approach. The American Psychology Association (APA) sums up the approach as the examination of how biological, social, and psychological factors influence the choices people make about their health.

“For years, we’ve known about the dangers of smoking and that we should eat less and move more,” the APA notes on its site. “But in the end, what motivates us to put down the doughnut and hit the running trail or carefully follow a doctor’s instructions about medications and follow-up visits? Health psychology explores those motivations in the pursuit of getting people to embrace health promotion and illness prevention.”

Issues Explored by Health Psychologists

Health psychologists focus on finding ways to motivate people to practice smart health habits that lead to longer, healthier lives and prevent illness. They also assess how people cope with and recover from illness. In practice, professionals with expertise in health psychology may apply their skills in many different areas.

Health policy. With a better understanding of what makes people take better care of themselves, health psychologists can advise government officials on better approaches to healthcare policy.

Underlying issues. Health psychologists focus on issues that influence people’s behavior when it comes to health. For example, they seek to link people’s emotions to their behavior and the consequences of those actions. An example of this is “emotional eating.”

Behavioral medicine. Many of the advances in behavioral medicine come from health psychologists. It’s a critical area in healthcare. Federal statistics show nearly half of all deaths in the United States are linked to preventable behaviors.

Careers in Health Psychology

The skills and knowledge offered by health psychologists are needed in many different settings, giving them various career options in health psychology. Those settings include private practices, hospitals, primary care programs, health clinics, government agencies, and corporations. They also work in specialty practices that focus on pain management, rehabilitation, smoking cessation, and oncology.

Issues they may help people deal with include:

  • Managing stress
  • Weight reduction
  • Quitting smoking
  • Improving daily nutrition
  • Reducing risky sexual behaviors
  • Hospice care
  • Grief counseling
  • Preventing illness
  • Improving recovery
  • Coping skills

At universities or in healthcare settings, health psychologists educate and train healthcare professionals to incorporate health psychology into their daily work. Doctors, nurses, nutritionists, physical therapists, and others can benefit from this education.

The TUW Health Psychology Program

TUW offers an online MA in Psychology with concentrations in media psychology, educational psychology, forensic psychology, and health psychology.

Students in the program benefit from the flexibility of learning online. They have the ability to schedule school around other work and personal responsibilities. They also can complete courses at their own pace.

Core courses in the MA in psychology program include:

  • Foundation of Applied Psychology
  • Developmental Issues Across the Life Span
  • The Psychological Impact of Media and Technology
  • Principles of Consumer Psychology
  • Group Dynamics
  • Applied Research Methods and Statistics
  • Professional Ethics

In the health psychology concentration, students learn the critical thinking skills and knowledge needed to share health psychology theories and concepts in various settings. Graduates from the program typically work as consultants or with non-profit organizations, government agencies, healthcare clinics, hospitals, universities, or private corporations.

Courses in the program include:

  • Changing Health Behaviors
  • Health and Psychology of the Aging
  • Stress and Coping in Health Psychology

No matter where they work, health psychologists help people make choices that positively influence their health. Healthier individuals also lead to the overall well-being of families, communities, and the workforce.

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