Written by: Dr. Ronen Shacham

The goal of health psychology is the promotion of health and disease prevention through appropriate specialized psychological health care. This specialized care of patients acknowledges the critical links between mind, body, and spirit in achieving the highest quality of life.

Health and illness are influenced by a wide variety of factors. While contagious and hereditary illnesses are common there are many behavioral and psychological factors that can impact overall physical well-being and various medical conditions. Health psychology is a specialty area that focuses on how biology, psychology, behavior, and social factors influence health and illness. Other terms including medical psychology and behavioral medicine are sometimes used interchangeably with the term health psychology.

The field of health psychology is focused on promoting health as well as the prevention and treatment of disease and illness. Health psychologists focus on understanding how people react, cope, and recover from illness. Some health psychologists work to improve the health care system and the government's approach to health care policy.

Illnesses Related to Psychological and Behavioral Factors

Some illnesses that are related to psychological or behavioral factors include:

  • Stroke
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Birth Defects and Infant Mortality
  • Infectious Diseases

According to one study, nearly half of all deaths in the United States can be linked to behaviors or other risk factors that are mostly preventable (Mokdad et al., 2004). Health psychologists work with individuals, groups, and communities to decrease these risk factors, improve overall health, and reduce illness.

Current Issues in Health Psychology

While health psychologists engage in a wide variety of activities, the following are just a few of the current issues in health psychology:

  • Stress Reduction
  • Weight Management
  • Medication Adherence
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Improving Daily Nutrition
  • Reducing Risky Sexual Behaviors
  • Hospice Care and Grief Counseling for Terminal Patients

Understanding the Biopsychosocial Model in Health Psychology

Today, the main approach used within health psychology is known as the biopsychosocial model. According to this view, illness and health are the result of a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Biological factors include inherited personality traits and genetic conditions; psychological factors include lifestyle, personality characteristics, and stress levels; and, social factors include social support systems, family relationships, and cultural beliefs.


Cherry, Kendra. What Is Health Psychology? About.com. Retrieved February 28, 2012 from http://psychology.about.com/od/branchesofpsycholog1/p/health-psychology.htm

Mokdad, A. H. Marks, J. S. Stroup, D. F. Gerberding, J. L. (2000). Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 291(10), 1238-1245.

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