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According to Marks & Evans (2005), Health Psychology is an interdisciplinary field concerned with the application of psychological knowledge and techniques to health, illness and health care. It involves the relationship between the mind and body for the well being of the person. In this definition, this field focuses on the maintenance of individual and community health. The official definition of health psychology by Matarazzo (1982) is that it is the aggregate of specific scientific, educational, and professional contributions of the field of psychology to the support and upholding of health, prevention and treatment of illness and the identification of etiologic and diagnostic correlates of health, illness and related dysfunction and to the examination and enhancement of the health care system and policy formation (Steadman’s Medical Dictionary, 2006). The American Psychology Association and the British Psychological Society adapted this definition of health psychology.
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Health psychology has a field has grown rapidly with the continuous discovery that behavior causes most illnesses that cause death. This area of study explores the relationship between what goes on in the mind and the effects on the body. Health psychologists have a big role to play from handling illnesses to health promotion and disease prevention in communities and with individuals. They help link the mind with body processes and change behavior to obtain and maintain a healthy body. For those patients in pain, health psychologists are able to teach the patient how to use the brain to alleviate the pain and even cure some of diseases and dysfunctions. Health Psychology has four different approaches namely, clinical, public, community and critical health psychology that blend into each other.
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CLINICAL HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY
This focuses on the physical health or dysfunction of a person and uses the Bio-psychosocial model to find out how to promote psychosocial conditions. The primary role of Health Psychology is the promotion of psychosocial conditions through the provision of psychosocial resources (Marks, 2002).In this case, scientific knowledge is used to answer clinical questions during health care of a patient. According to the American Psychological Association, the clinical health psychology focuses on physical health problems and its role is to get knowledge about the relationship between behavior and health. It examines the core factors like age, sex and hereditary factors and their possibility of cause’s illnesses. The clinical health psychologists look at the individual lifestyles and offer treatments to illnesses and prevention. This approach overlaps with clinical psychology and is research based and research based on methods to improve patients care. It is the most established of the four health psychology approaches.
PUBLIC HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY
This deals with health promotion and disease prevention in populations eg schools and work places. The public health psychologists research the link between specific psychosocial factors and the health of the population. Their research findings are giving to policy makers and educators to promote better health care. The methods of research used include large scale surveys and evaluations. According to Mark (2002), health is an outcome of people’s lifestyle, which includes the social, economic and political aspects of life of people in a given population. The only way to reduce diseases is through prevention at a collective level and may take along time for the effect to be felt. It obviously requires a lot of funds and in populations where there is a high level of poverty which is an obstacle to public health psychology.
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Critical health Psychology focuses on community factors that impact the health and well being of people living in communities. They work closely within their professions to create awareness and promote good health care in vulnerable communities. It is concerned with impact of power structures in and their role in facilitating or being barriers to achievement of health. It forms an important part and cuts across the other approaches of health psychology.
COMMUNITY HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY
It empowers communities to promote and maintain healthy conditions, and it uses case studies and research methods. The health psychologists use the results of research and case studies to empower the communities and enable them have more control over their health and health care systems. Once every individual strives to obtain and maintain good health, the community will be healthy. It is easier to implement collective measures of disease prevention and healthy living by training and educating the members of the vulnerable communities. These vulnerable societies may be due to poverty or exclusion which may hinder health care provision and health in general. The aim is the promotion and development of mental and physical health, and focuses on communities and families in their cultural context (Mark, 2002). Community health psychologists work with groups in the community to empower them with information to enable the communities learns how to be healthy and prevention of diseases. They also advocate for social change, since it is behavior and lifestyles affect health .They undertake action research that seeks to do research and at the same time make changes. It does that by using different methodologies and being participative and qualitative (Lyons & Chamberlain, 2006).
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Health psychology should be multi faceted as it ties into various disciplines involved with the study of the body and mind. Health psychology seeks to explore and utilize the relationship between the mind and the body in promotion and maintenance of health. By it having many aspects, different health psychologists are able to focus on the different approaches to attain the objectives of health psychology. The objectives are; understanding behavior factors, preventing illness, effects of disease and critical analysis of health policies.
In understanding behavior factors, health psychology examines which behavior and experiences bring illnesses, promote health and influence the health care system. They also educate and train on ways to remain and become healthy, for example, reduction of smoking, better daily nutrition. There are certain factors associated with personality and lifestyles that impact on the health of an individual. These factors are contextual factors and include economic, cultural, community and social factors (Weiner et al, 2003).Prevention of illness is through promotion of behavior change through community health psychologists. They can carry out campaigns to discourage smoking tobacco especially in poverty stricken communities. There is an emphasis of continued communication and education for these people to prevent the occurrence of preventable diseases (Dusseldorp et al, 1999).
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Health psychology also concerns itself with effects of disease/injury on an individual from the psychological, economic and social impact. It also tries to see how terminally ill patients cope with their situation and things that can help them cope better with the illness. Critical health psychologists are able to identify various injustices in the provision of health care, and obstacles to health promotion and maintenance. This does not just focus on the individual but also on the social and economic determinants of health within regions and nations (Mark et al, 2011).
Health psychology is classified as behavioral medicine and behavioral health. Behavioral medicine deals with the health or illness or related dysfunction while behavioral health is about with the maintenance of health and prevention of disease. The clinical health psychology approach can be tied to behavioral medicine as it seeks to treat and prevent illnesses. The other three approaches can be considered under behavioral health.