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Areas of psychology

Health psychology

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Think better, Live Better, Be Better

Health psychology investigates the links between psychological and social factors, and physical health to improve health and prevent illness. Health psychologists are experts in health behaviour change. 

Health psychologists practise in two main areas:

  1. Health promotion - involves the prevention of illness and the promotion of health-related behaviour. 
  2. Clinical health psychology - involves the application of psychological principles to the assessment and treatment of illness, and to rehabilitation.

What makes health psychologists unique

  • Health psychologists understand the connections between medical and general health conditions and the psychology of the person.
  • They understand that it can be hard to start and maintain healthy behaviour, healthy thinking and healthy emotions.
  • They understand the reasons and effective support for people finding it difficult to be healthier.
  • They are experts in behavioural medicine.
  • They help patients get the most out of their treatments, for example, helping them adhere to required tests and check-up schedules, taking medication and making changes in diet.
  • Health psychologists have an excellent track record in working with medical and nursing teams to ensure best practice outcomes for patients.
  • Health psychologists are skilled at working in an interdisciplinary way with professionals.

How health psychologists help

Medical and nursing teams consistently report the value of including a health psychologist as part of their health teams in supporting staff as well as patients.

With a health psychologist, patients achieve better health outcomes and:

  • Have someone to understand and support them when treatment is difficult
  • Feel more control over their health outcomes, and less emotionally drained by health concerns
  • Feel there is broader support for well-being as well as medical objectives
  • Can have confidence that they have someone who will listen to them and be an ally who can help make a difference to the stress and burden of managing an illness

How health psychologists help healthcare costs

  • Using a health psychologist can help keep costs lower through reduced demand on hospital bed-days and for medical and nursing staff 
  • Healthcare service providers can be more confident in the health outcome they bring about 

Areas of expertise

Health promotion

  • Promote positive health behaviour and reduce harmful health behaviour, such as poor dietary habits, smoking, alcohol and other drug abuse, and physical inactivity. Health promotion aims to reduce risk factors associated with chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and injuries.
  • Health psychologists work with other health professionals and advise on attitudes, beliefs and behaviour that contribute to ill-health, and how they might be changed (e.g., programs to assist people who overeat or eat a high-fat diet).
  • Health psychologists design public health programs in areas such as behaviour change related to exercise, alcohol, cigarettes, drug consumption, and injury and cancer prevention (e.g., ‘Sun Smart’, ‘Life. Be in it’).
  • Health psychologists work with community members and professionals to improve health and wellbeing by estimating the distribution of disease, identifying health behaviour and modifiable determinants.

Clinical health psychology

  • Health psychologists provide expertise in developing education and behaviour change programs to help people to recover from or self-manage chronic illness, trauma, injury or disability.
  • Psychological treatments also reduce problems that can accompany and contribute to illness and injury, such as chronic pain, addiction, poor sleep, eating problems, anxiety, depression and emotional reactions such as anger and grief.
  • Health psychologists help people to cope with the diagnosis and medical treatment of acute health problems and facilitate medical care.
  • Health psychologists assist people to cope with terminal illness, including the impact of bereavement and dying.
  • Health psychologists design and test interventions to improve health systems and relationships between health professionals, GPs, nurses and psychologists, and monitor impacts on health determinants that encourage recovery from illness and injury.

Locating a health psychologist 

Health psychologists often work in the public health sector, generally in larger hospitals, community health centres, rehabilitation centres, health policy offices and other public health facilities. They also work in universities, health promotion and education organisations and research institutions.

Standards 

The APS College of Health Psychologists actively promotes the highest standard in health psychology around Australia to ensure positive health behaviours and attitudes in the prevention and treatment of physical illness and injury.

College Members and Academic Members are required to undertake regular professional development activities in the area of health psychology to maintain their skills and stay up to date in their field. Members of the Australian Psychological Society College of Health Psychologists will also have the following post-nominals after their name:

  • MCHP (Member of the College of Health Psychologists)