by Dr. Becky Spelman on 07/05/2019
What does a Health Psychologist do?
In the past, mental and physical health were often treated as though they were completely separate, but in more recent years, we have become increasingly aware of how psychological factors can impact on our health. While disease can be caused by external factors, such as a virus, an accident, exposure to toxins, and so forth, we are more knowledgeable about the contribution made by intrinsic factors, such as lifestyle, emotional wellness, and so on.
For example, when people suffer from chronic stress, this can feed into physical ill-health in a wide range of ways, contributing to diseases including various inflammatory conditions, heart disease, and more. Similarly, people who live with problems such as chronic pain generally find that their condition is easier to control or manage if they live in a way that keeps stress and anxiety to a minimum. A health psychologist can help them to achieve this.
A variety of behaviours can also have a major impact on our physical health, such as the negative impact of smoking, substance abuse, or overeating, or the positive impact of exercising, eating healthily, and maintaining friendships. Health psychologists explore how all of these factors work together, in our socio-cultural context, to contribute to the overall picture of our health status. They can also administer tests, such as personality tests, and work with patients in a clinical setting to figure out the best way for them to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How can they help?
Now that we know how much our psychology and behaviour impact on our physical health, health psychologists can work with individuals, and with policy-makers and other healthcare professionals such as doctors, practice nurses, social workers, and so forth, to create and sustain environments that support good physical and mental health.This can mean working with an individual person to help them to engage with health-promoting behaviours, and to deal with a personal challenge such as alcoholism or substance abuse, or working with institutions or groups to foster an environment in which it is easier for everyone to make healthier choices and to engage in positive change.
Health psychology also involves helping health-care professionals to engage with their patients in a way that prioritises communication and patient empowerment. Research shows that patients who feel listened to and respected are more likely to adhere to medical advice and instruction from their doctors.
Often, health psychologists work with individuals or demographics that are considered to be particularly in need of support. For example, very young single mothers often live on low incomes and can need help in sustaining a lifestyle that maximises the health and well-being of themselves and their children.
In terms of helping to form policy, health psychologists can advise government bodies and civil servants on policies that foster good health. For example, research shows that access to green spaces and outdoors areas to play fosters not just good physical health in children, but also good mental health, and even a better academic outcome at school. This informs government policy in terms of including green spaces in any new builds.
One of the most important roles of health psychology is in the area of prevention and designing ways in which to encourage people to have healthier lifestyles and to positively reinforce the good things that they are already doing. Communication is key to the work of health psychologists, who can provide clients and healthcare professionals alike with the vocabulary and understanding they need to discuss lifestyle issues in the context of healthcare.
How can I talk to a Health Psychologist in London?
If you would like to talk to someone about health psychology, please get in touch with us at the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: 020 3887 1738 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Johnston, M., Weinman, J. &Chater, A. (2011). “A healthy contribution.” The Psychologist, 24(12), 890-892.
Rogers, R. W. (1983). “Preventive health psychology: An interface of social and clinical psychology. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology”, 1(2), 120-127. doi:10.1521/jscp.19184.108.40.206
The British Psychological Society. (2011). Health psychology: A guide for employees.