Role of a health psychologist in helping individuals to quit their health-compromising behaviours?

Behavioral science advancements have made it possible to integrate medical practice with biopsychosocial approaches. As a result, we now treat illnesses and health as a state of full well-being in the social, psychological, and physical sense and not merely searching for the absence or presence of certain illnesses symptoms.

Psychologists do have a clinical role to play, where they serve as health providers in various areas of caregiving, subspecialties as either primary, secondary or tertiary care. Typically, psychologists assess, diagnose and then treat psychological problems and the myriad of behavioral dysfunctions stemming from them. They also take on that role where they promote healthy behavior, disease prevention, and improving the patient’s quality of life.

What role does a health psychologist play in health and well-being?

Termed as health psychologists, they study how a patient handles an illness or why certain patients choose not to follow advice from medical practitioners. In health psychology, they also examine the effective ways to alter bad health habits or pain control. On a more advanced level, they work with patients and their families to develop strategies for health care, to foster physical and emotional well-being.  

In a nutshell, they help individuals to overcome behaviour that could compromise health. They emphasize that those health-compromising behaviours could be overcome by adopting those lifestyle changes that are health-enhancing and self-regulatory. Such efforts include physical exercise, curbing smoking, managing weight limits, proper dental hygiene, safe sex measures, and preventive nutrition.

Could health-compromising behaviours affect our health?

The health-compromising behaviours that are seen as detrimental to our health are habitual. It could be difficult to treat them because they have far-reaching effects on our psychological and social functioning. So, it’s important to understand what factors cause these issues before countering them effectively.

Peer pressure is the most common factor in this case. It is often tied to the prevalence of these behaviours, especially in the adolescent age group. In adolescents, the risks of these behaviours are also tied to vulnerable situations and the intimate connection they have towards self-presentation.

A lot of thrill-seeking behaviours are seen as being risky; they revolve around enhancing pleasure and may even help an individual cope up with those situations that they find stressful. In this respect, health-compromising behaviours are regarded as coping strategies and are developed over time. Such strategies are developed following a process; for example, the person might encounter alcohol and use it to escape an issue. This first experiment results in regular engagement with alcohol and then they become psychologically dependent on this solution.

How a health psychologist approaches health-compromising behaviours

A health psychologist works with an individual to resolve health-compromising behaviours. Other times, they might work with communities, groups to spread awareness of the risk factors involved so people would know what to avoid, how to improve their health, and reduce illnesses. Their services include the following topics:

  • Better management of weight
  • Effective ways of reducing or managing stress
  • Ways to stop smoking
  • Easier ways to better daily nutrition
  • Reducing or curtailing sexual behaviours that are risky
  • Preventing illnesses
  • Grief counseling
  • Hospice care
  • Knowing about illness results
  • Showing appropriate coping skills
  • Improving modes of recovery

The common approach to resolve health-compromising behaviours taken by several health psychologists is known as the biosocial model. In this model, health and illnesses are treated or categorized as a combination of social, psychological, and biological factors.

  • Biological factors: This refers to all those genetic conditions and personality traits that have been inherited by the individual.
  • Psychological factors: These include all of the conditions that are unique to each of us. These conditions are developed in response to our environments like stress levels personality characteristics and lifestyles.
  • Social factors: This refers to other communities and people that we are involved with. This includes cultural beliefs, family relationships, and social support systems.
  • Health psychology is a relatively new field but one that’s growing rapidly. Adding to this momentum are those individuals who are eager to take control of or better their health on their own terms. These people are searching for more resources, information, and certified individuals that could help them with that. A health psychologist is in big demand because of this need, and they educate interested individuals about their well-being and health.  
Health Psychology
Biopsychological Approach to Understanding Health | Image Source: Google

There are even morehealth psychologists that focus specifically on prevention areas within health psychology; that is, they specialize in aiding people who are trying to stop theirhealth problems before they spiral out of control.

The process of educating individuals or helping them curtail health problems entails showing them how to maintain the desired weight. It may even include showing them how they can avoid behaviours that are unhealthy or risky and help them with maintaining a positive outlook that can resolve anxiety, stress, and depression.  

Health psychologists may even collaborate with their peers orhealth professionals to learn more about the field. They educate, bring about awareness ofhealth psychology to nurses,nutritionists,physicians, therapists so that they can incorporate these new-foundpsychological approaches when treating patients.

Read more: Life Cycle and Psychosocial Characteristics of Unemployed Adults

The field of health psychology

The Health Psychology Journal defines the field of health psychology as the study of behavioral and psychological processes within healthcare, illness, and good health. It concerns the understanding of how other cultural, psychological, and behavioral factors could contribute to states of physical illnesses and health. For example, a behavioral factor can either destroy health like consumption of alcohol or smoking; and it can enhance health when the person takes up exercising and a healthy hobby.

Similarly, a psychological factor could play out. It is then up to the health psychologist to utilize that biopsychosocial approach highlighted earlier to understand health that combines biological processes (viruses, fever, tumors, coughs, etc.), psychological processes (beliefs, thoughts, religions, etc.), behavioral processes (manners, behaviours, etc.) andthe social processes (ethnicity, socio-economic and financial, etc.) points of view.

Through an understanding of these factors on our health, these experts can improve overall health by collaborating with patients, public health programs either directly or indirectly. They even work in varied healthcare settings too like medical professionals, clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, public health departments that cater to behavioral change programs on a larger scale, development of health promotion programs, assist or conduct related research in medical universities and schools.  

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