Health psychology can be safely termed as one of the relatively newer faces of applied psychology. As defined by Taylor: “… the use of psychological principles to promote health and to prevent illness” (Taylor 1990).
The biopsychosocial model has been adopted in this field in which it considers the social, biological, behavioral, emotional, cognitive, psychosomatic and environmental factors as they relate to health care at the level of individuals (Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia).
Although Health Psychology traces its origin from clinical psychology it has been classified into four different approaches: clinical, public health, community and critical health psychology (Marks, Murray et al., 2005).
This purpose of this study is to provide a critical analysis of the current state of knowledge and literature available in the field of health psychology. It has been verified in literature that physical health may be influenced by psychology through different direct and indirect means.
There is also some evidence that certain negative mental states such as depression and anxiety can directly affect physical immunity through production of stress hormones, such as the catecholamines and glucocorticoids (Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia).
There has been much debate on this research, however, there is also some indication that negative psychological states may lead to faster disease progression in certain diseases such as HIV and heart disease through these direct biological mechanisms. Also, disease processes can be indirectly affected by emotional states through their influence on health behaviors of individuals.
Health psychologists have critiqued and deconstructed the individualism of mainstream health psychology and proposed innovative qualitative methods and frameworks for investigating health experience and behavior (Marks, Murray et al., 2005).
As more and more advance theories and research methodologies are being studied, health psychology is now considered both a theoretical and applied field. Many different and innovative methods are employed including questionnaires, interviews, controlled studies, and actions designed to bring about change using “action research” (Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia).
Health psychologists conduct health interviews with clients that aim to construct a more holistic picture of each person’s health, one that includes their genes, religious beliefs, social supports, living conditions, emotional state, and beliefs of health, etc.
They use this information to work alongside a person’s physicians and therapists to develop a treatment tailored for individual needs or to develop greater empowerment among the community’s members so that the community is able to strengthen and sustain its own quality of life (Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia).
To support the above argument a study by Raeburn et al was based on community needs assessment, empowerment, community control and other community psychology principles and combined with a cognitive-behavioral approach to stress management derived from health psychology (Raeburn 1993).
Generally stress is seen as involving the interaction of the person with his or her environment and is evidenced psychologically, behaviorally, cognitively, emotionally and socially when demands are perceived as excessive or where one’s coping resources are perceived to be inadequate.
Health psychologists are generally in agreement that stress lessened or buffered in situations where there is a sense of personal control and efficacy and where perceived social support is present. As may be seen, community psychology principles of empowerment, competence building, and a psychological sense of community blend well with these notions (Raeburn 1993).
Crossley has argued that there is a need to re-think the approaches and methods of mainstream health psychology (Crossley 2006). Several questions have been raised:
Has the attempt to feed into the dominant biopsychosocial model of health and health care, and the resultant creation of quantifiable psychological measures congruent with biomedical data, served to submerge other important human values?
These values must surely take central place in psychology, even if in no other domain? We must question whether the pursuit of ‘psychological health technology’ has become an end in itself? Is contemporary health psychology serving simply to reinforce the potentially destructive changes occurring in the wake of the rationalization of health care?
Is there a need to step back from the professional ‘modernizing’ tendency to rush in and intervene in the ‘management’ of health-and illness-related issues? The process of rethinking health psychology involves the injection of a much needed sense of caution, a heavy dose of modesty, and a proper academic skepticism with regard to the limitations of our knowledge (Crossley 2006).
To see the affect of psychological notion like hostility on health the study by Vandervoort supported the hypotheses that compared to their low hostility counterparts, hostile individuals would report more health problems, have a greater tendency to express irrational beliefs, and be more likely to cope with negative affect via the use of avoidant and confrontive coping strategies (Vandervoort 2006).
As hypothesized, the use of confrontive coping was found to be most prominent for dealing with anger.
Also, as hypothesized, irrational beliefs as well as avoidant coping with anger were found to play a mediating role in the relationship between hostility and health (Vandervoort 2006). That is, irrational beliefs and avoidant coping with anger explain, in part, how hostility is related to health.
The results do not, of course, suggest that these are the only avenues via which hostility is related health. Given the paucity of literature on the mediating effects of irrational beliefs and coping styles on the relationship between hostility and health, as well as the general belief system of hostile individuals, replication of the findings is needed with various populations.
This should include longitudinal studies investigating the stability (or lack thereof) of beliefs and coping patterns for it is only relatively stable maladaptive patterns that are likely to be etiological factors for major health problems (Vandervoort 2006).
Should adequate future research replicate these findings, they would be informative for mental health clinicians treating clients with hostility problems as well as programs designed to ameliorate the impact of hostility on the development and course of disease.