Health psychology (a comprehensive guide)

Health psychology (a comprehensive guide)

In this article, we will present you the definition of health psychology, its history and main goals. We will also talk about the purpose of health psychology and the contemporary diseases of our society. 

What is health psychology?

Health psychology is a field that is outlined in the interaction space between health psychology and medical sociology.

In this perspective, the major concerns of this field aim at:

  • understanding health and disease in historical and transdisciplinary perspective; specifying the relationship between the biomedical model and the bio-psycho-socio-spiritual model of health and disease;
  • the relations between health, on the one hand, way of life, quality of life, lifestyle, on the other hand;
  • health and disease as social and professional constructs;
  • the relations between civilization and health; social diseases and diseases of civilization;
  • social patterns of the disease;
  • the role of psychosocial factors in the aetiology of diseases;
  • the patient’s behaviour, the role of the patient’s status, hospitality, stigmatization, models of the therapeutic relationship;
  • models of a complex intervention in the field of health care;
  • health education and social health promotion.
Health psychology (a comprehensive guide)

Public health has emerged as an autonomous discipline since the twentieth century. XIX, focusing its concerns on topics such as:

– measuring and analyzing the state of health at the level of communities and societies;

– study of the influence of socio-economic factors on the health status of the population;

– estimating the needs of health care services;

– research of the institutional system of health care;

– the study of the methods for evaluating the performance of the activity in the health care institutions;

– health insurance, health policy, health promotion;

– organization of health systems;

– planning and organizing health systems.

Historical landmarks of health psychology 

Public health has emerged and developed as an autonomous discipline since the twentieth century. 

This evolution was possible as a result, on the one hand, of the advances that medicine as a science has made, on the other hand, of the increasingly clear awareness of the fact that health and disease are not just a matter of human biology but also an important social problem. 

In this sense, during the beginning of the Public Health discipline, a first step was made in the sense of fixing the interest not only on the curative side but also on the preventive side in terms of health and disease. Subsequently, the discipline developed in a spectacular way, especially in Western countries, as the community and social dimension of health was better understood.

Health psychology, outlined as I said in the space of interaction between health psychology and medical sociology, has developed in a specific way and decisively since the middle of the XX century. It is a hybrid discipline that combines the perspectives of the humanities with those of the biological sciences in understanding and addressing health and disease.

Today, the psychosociology of health and public health are well represented in the area of ​​disciplines that address, in terms of research and intervention, the issue of health and disease and are in a development overflowing in some places.

Health psychology (a comprehensive guide)

Here are some of the developments that have made these developments possible:

  •  increasing awareness of the limits of the traditional biomedical model in understanding and therapeutic approach to diseases in favour of a complex biopsychosocial model;
  • The significant change in the picture of morbidity and mortality in public health, especially in the second half of the century. XX; today, according to specialized estimates, in developed societies, in particular, 50% of the causes of morbidity and mortality are due to preventable factors, which act in the context of lifestyle, and only 25% of the causes are related to biological factors, 15% of environmental factors and 10% of medical system performance.
  •  increasing the share of costs for health insurance and disease treatment, determined on the one hand by the complexity of healthcare, on the other hand by the ageing process of the population;
  • the increase of interest granted not only to the curative side but also to the preventive and palliative sides of the disease.

Health psychology – The quality of life and health

The quality of life seen in quality close to health and disease is a common fact today.

A complex and multidimensional concept, the quality of life aims at the space of convergence between the objective elements of life seen in connection with the needs and the subjective self-evaluation of the satisfaction of these needs.

The quality of life thus refers to the factors that shape life in terms of health, economic conditions, sociocultural climate, satisfaction at the psychological and spiritual level, quality of the natural environment. All these make their mark in a complex way on the state of health.

Health psychology (a comprehensive guide)

From this complex content of the concept of quality of life, however, can be deduced several dimensions that directly target health and disease. These are:

  • the physical/somatic dimension that materializes in the physical autonomy and the current anatomo-functional capacity, the vitality necessary for a normal life, the absence of discomfort and pain, the satisfaction of the biological needs related to food, rest, sexuality, etc .;
  • the psychic dimension that materializes in a state of psychological adaptation to the environment, thanks to cognitive capacity and an adequate emotional life;
  • the social dimension that materializes in the capacity to play the current social / socio-professional roles, in the capacity of adequate interpersonal relationship, in the social integration and the promotion of social aspirations;
  • the economic dimension that materializes in the availability of the basic resources necessary in material – financial plan;
  • the cultural-spiritual dimension materialized in the substantive agreement with the World, in the existence/non-existence of a structured goal in life, of a purpose and meaning in life, in promoting cultural needs through hobby and leisure activities, in the feeling of personal development as whole life.

Subdivisions used today of the concept of quality of life are those of subjective quality of life and respectively quality of interpersonal realities, both with direct relevance for health and disease. 

The concept of subjective quality of life was introduced by R.G. Maticek in the context of his theory of Disease as a Biography, with which he brought not only a formidable explanation for cancer but also an intervention model for the prevention of this disease. The concept of quality of interpersonal relationships develops in the vicinity of Maticek’s explanatory model and refers directly to the role of social support in health and disease.

Many doctors incorrectly diagnose one, causing Type 1 error or Type 2 error.

Health psychology (a comprehensive guide)

The purpose of health psychology – Social support in health and disease

Social support is talked about today in terms of the role of buffers in relation to the action of stressors. Social support thus intervenes as a factor between stress and illness. The concept of social support as such refers to the result of protection in relation to the stressors that the existence and functioning of the social network, the network of interpersonal relationships of a person. 

This social network offers the individual mutual help, the possibility of communication and emotional discharge by sharing problems and feelings with others, gives the feeling of integration, belonging and meaning, makes possible compassion, acceptance and love and the existence of self-esteem through feedback existing in interpersonal relationships. 

Social support is active in all its dimensions, the most important of which are:

– emotional support;

– informational support;

– support by valorization;

– instrumental/material support.

A distinction is made between the quantitative and the qualitative aspect of social support. The quantitative aspect is directly related to the size of the social network and implicitly with the higher chance of its availability in terms of space and time, while the qualitative support is directly related to the density and adequacy of the support received, even if the dimensions of the social network are reduced.

The most important sources of social support are:

– the family;

– micro group of friends;

– socio-professional micro group;

– the neighborhood micro group;

– membership groups (eg church, club, etc.);

– specialists who provide health care services.

It should be noted regarding the staff that provide health care services, that doctors are sources of social support, but can also be sources of stress in specific cases.

There is much research available today on the positive role of social support, both in disease prevention and in the therapeutic and recovery process. Research, which shows that women who go through severe stress but have a confessor, have several times lower risk of developing depression than those who go through such a situation but do not, is often cited. 

In social assistance, the widespread use of therapeutic groups of mutual support, of therapeutic groups in general, is also a fruitfulness of the positive results, found in social support.

Health psychology (a comprehensive guide)

The diseases of contemporary civilization

If the diseases of civilization in the periods prior to the contemporary one were outlined in the space of infectious pathology (viral, microbial or parasitic) in the contemporary period, they are outlined in the space of the chronic degenerative pathology. 

The ones with a high weight in this framework are the following:

chronic degenerative cardiovascular diseases: atherosclerosis, ischemic heart disease, hypertension; we remind you that the first cause of mortality in the contemporary period is represented by cardiovascular diseases;

– malignant neoplasms, cancers in their various forms; cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide today; in Romania, an additional problem is represented by the lack of tools and organization necessary for the early diagnosis in cancers that approached in the first phase have great chances of cure (eg breast cancer);

addiction to substances, addictive behaviours as a whole and in their great variety, in this case, those that appear in the context of contemporary media and computers and the Internet;

chronic degenerative metabolic diseases: obesity, diabetes;

diseases of civilization in the digestive sphere: the problem of acute and chronic gastritis, ulcers, high frequency of dental caries in contemporary man, irritable bowel syndrome;

diseases of civilization in the respiratory sphere: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease;

geriatric pathology: age-specific degenerative diseases such as the increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental disorders, impaired immune responses, all amplified by the inadequate social attitude towards this category of the population;

accidents, in their multiple forms, specifically contemporary: accidental or suicidal intoxications, professional accidents, drug abuse, road accidents, physical aggressions; we specify that accidents represent the third major cause of mortality at the international level at present;

iatrogenesis, by diagnostic, therapeutic or surgical intervention.

Contemporary mental health: some WHO specialists see depression as the great public health problem of the 21st century.

FAQ about health psychology

What do health psychologists do?

Health psychologists are interested in helping people deal with their diagnosis, with prevention of disease and treatment management. 

What are the four goals of health psychology?

The four goals of health psychology are:

  •  measuring and analyzing the state of health at the level of communities and societies;
  • study of the influence of socio-economic factors on the health status of the population;
  • estimating the needs of health care services;
  • research of the institutional system of health care;

How does health psychology benefit society?

Health psychology benefits society by:

– the study of the methods for evaluating the performance of the activity in the health care institutions;

– health insurance, health policy, health promotion;

– organization of health systems;

– planning and organizing health systems.

Is Health Psychology a good career?

Health Psychology is a good career if you are interested in how our society evolves in matters of both mental and physical health. 

What is the main focus of health psychology?

One of the main focuses of health psychology is to ensure people’s quality of life. The quality of life seen in quality close to health and disease is a common fact today.

A complex and multidimensional concept, the quality of life aims at the space of convergence between the objective elements of life seen in connection with the needs and the subjective self-evaluation of the satisfaction of these needs.

Conclusions

In this article, we presented the definition of health psychology, its history and its main goals. We also talked about the purpose of health psychology and the contemporary diseases of our society. 

Health psychology is a field that is outlined in the interaction space between health psychology and medical sociology.

Health psychology benefits society by:

– the study of the methods for evaluating the performance of the activity in the health care institutions;

– health insurance, health policy, health promotion;

– organization of health systems;

– planning and organizing health systems.

If you have further comments or questions, please let us know!

Further reading

Introduction to Health Psychology Paperback, by Val Morrison 

Health Psychology (Topics in Applied Psychology), by Charles Abraham 

The New Psychology of Health: Unlocking the Social Cure, by Catherine Haslam 

Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice, by David F Marks et al 

Health Psychology, 6e, by Jane Ogden 

References

Goffman, Erving, Asylums. Essay on the social situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, Chicago, Aldrine Publishing Company, 1961

Rebach, Howard Bruhm, John (eds.), Clinical Sociology,  Handbook of Clinical Sociology, Plenum Press, New York, London, 1991

Sheldon C., Leonard S. (eds.), Social Support and Health, San Diego, N.Y. Academic   Press, Incorporated, 1985

Taylor R, Ford  J. (eds), Social Work and Health Care, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1991

Health psychology (a comprehensive guide)

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.