So you’re not a therapist?! Definition of Health Psychology

I am getting my PhD in Health Psychology but I don’t always tell people that when they ask. Sometimes I just fill in health psychology with a phrase that I think explains what I study better, like biological psychology, behavioral science, or just to make life easier I say just plain old psychology. When I say health psychology people don’t know what to say; I imagine them thinking “yes I know what health is, and yes I know what psychology is… that means she works as a therapist right?”  They don’t know how health and psychology fit together to form a whole field of study.  So I’ve been working on a 30 second way of explaining what health psychology is. I’m going to try it out on you. I’d love some feedback!

Health psychologists study how social and psychological factors interact with biology to affect health and disease.  Health psychology research looks at the relationships between psychological processes such as social relationships, emotion, personality, stress, and coping strategies, on health.  We are interested in more than just mere associations (ie. people that are stressed get sick more frequently). How is it possible that the social environment can impact health? What are the mechanisms by which stress impacts biological systems? How do we intervene to improve health outcomes? Do mind-body techniques actually work to improve health? If so, how?

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2 thoughts on “So you’re not a therapist?! Definition of Health Psychology

  1. Great explanation, Alexandra! I get similar reactions when I tell people that I study cognitive psychology (and most people couldn’t really tell you what “cognitive” means, anyway!). Even as a fellow doctoral psych student, sometimes I don’t know exactly what the other areas are really studying so it’s great to hear an explanation from a student who’s really involved in the work. 🙂

    • Give defining cognitive psychology a shot in a blog! Then share it with other cog psych students and see if they agree!

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