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Mental and physical health often go hand-in-hand. A disturbance to the well-being of one usually produces an effect on the other. Patients diagnosed with mental illness are often at risk of poor health and premature death, and patients diagnosed with chronic disease often experience negative psychological effects. As the future of healthcare continues to evolve under reform, so will our nation’s focus on how medical and mental health care are intertwined. And as integrated care—combining mental and primary health care providers into one coordinated team—moves to the forefront of health care, the opportunities for individuals specializing in health psychology are likely to grow.

What is a Health Psychologist?

Clinical health psychologists study the relationship between physical and mental health, specifically the psychological and behavioral reactions associated with chronic illness and health problems. While many branches of psychology focus on treatment, counseling, and social work, health psychologists’ work often specializes in prevention, addressing problems at the earliest possible stage—before they even emerge. By using behavioral change to encourage healthy habits, health psychologists try to prevent illness before it becomes a problem. From a general standpoint, this usually involves working with patients to stop activities such as smoking or drinking and finding ways that work for the patient to eat more healthy foods and exercise more regularly.

Many specialty areas exist within health psychology. Some areas of concentration include:

  • Learning and development disorders, including autism and ADD/ADHD
  • Pediatric psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • LGBT health
  • Women’s health
  • Eating disorders and body image issues
  • Addictions/substance abuse treatment
  • Pain management
  • Occupational health
  • Grief and bereavement

Where Do Health Psychologists Work

Some health psychologists work directly with patients, but many also work with other health professionals. They may work with clinical psychologists, for example, educating them on how best to encourage their patients to adopt healthy behaviors. Health psychologists also play an important role in helping individuals and families cope with the psychological effects that result from a serious illness or the diagnosis of a chronic disease or terminal illness. While many health psychologists work in clinical settings—directly helping patients cope, aiding communication between doctors and patients, and so on – many work in a research setting, or private practice as well. As the rising cost of healthcare becomes a national concern, health psychologists can help find answers and provide solutions. Their research can help identify the causes of health problems, prevent re-hospitalization of patients, understand the behavioral reasons behind poor health choices and find ways to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Alliant’s Health Psychology Specialties

If you are interested in adding a health psychology specialization to your Doctorate in Psychology degree, you’re in luck! Alliant’s California School of Professional Psychology offers both PhD and PsyD programs with health psychology concentrations at a variety of campus locations:

If you are interested in learning more about health psychology or any of Alliant’s PhD and PsyD programs in California, we encourage you to contact us today!

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