Frequently Asked Questions

What is Health Psychology?

Health Psychology is a specialized domain of Psychology in which the principles and scientific knowledge developed within Psychology are applied to the study of medical conditions or health problems. It is based on a biopsychosocial perspective, in which a person’s health is believed to be influenced by an interaction among biological (e.g., genetics), psychological (e.g., thoughts and behaviors) and social factors (e.g., culture, family, and social support). Health Psychologists are Clinical Psychologists with specialized training in the application of the biopsychosocial model to various health problems. Health Psychologists are involved in the promotion and maintenance of health, the prevention and management of illness, and the identification of psychological factors contributing to physical illness. Health Psychologists may be in private practice or they may work in a hospital setting as part of a multidisciplinary treatment team or along side other healthcare professionals. Some Health Psychologists choose to specialize and may have expertise in treating a particular health problem such as smoking, obesity or chronic pain. Many Health Psychologists are involved in research and teaching, and may be involved in college academics, while others are involved in corporate health or shaping health care policy.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a skills-based treatment approach that focuses on teaching patients ways to identify and change maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and to replace them with those that are more adaptive, with the ultimate goal of improving patients’ overall quality of life and reducing psychological distress. In addition, cognitive behavioral treatment approaches focus on changing certain target behaviors that appear to be problematic and teaching more adaptive ways of coping. Cognitive behavioral approaches have been shown to be highly effective in treating a range of disorders, from depression and other mood disorders to pain disorders in adults and in children.

There are several advantages of using a cognitive behavioral approach to treatment over other treatment approaches.

  • First, many CBT treatments have been demonstrated to be effective through clinical research.
  • Second, CBT allows for the measurement of patient progress, as therapy goals are measured throughout treatment.
  • Third, CBT treatments use a user-friendly language that makes them practical and easy for patients to incorporate into their lives.
  • Fourth, CBT treatments are relatively brief (they take only several months to implement, versus other forms of therapy that may take years).

For example, when working with a cognitive behaviorally trained therapist a person with anxiety would learn that physiological sensations such as rapid heart rate, perspiration, or dizziness are normal reactions experienced by everyone. With education and repeated exposure to those sensations, a person can learn to reduce their anxiety without the need for medications. A person who is experiencing chronic pain might learn how to relax certain muscle groups, to set goals and gradually increase enjoyable activities in their lives, and to challenge negative thoughts associated with pain (e.g., I’m worthless because of my pain). A person who wishes to quit smoking would learn ways of reducing nicotine intake, identifying and decreasing cues for smoking, and would learn ways to cope with nicotine withdrawal. Cognitive behavioral therapy usually consists of weekly therapy sessions coupled with daily practice exercises designed to help the individual apply the skills learned in their home environment.

How do I choose a therapist?

The task of finding a therapist may seem like an extremely difficult task, but here are a few tips to make the process of choosing a therapist go more smoothly. In the field of Clinical Psychology, there are some therapists who have been specifically trained in implementing what are call “cognitive-behavioral” techniques and skills. It is recommended that you seek out therapists with these types of skills and training. Cognitive-behavioral techniques are essentially a set of skills that people can learn to help change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral skills approaches have been found to have high levels of success when examined by clinical researchers. If you would like to find a cognitive-behaviorally oriented therapist, here are a few suggestions. First, it might be helpful to consult the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) directory of providers. Also, you could look at the Directory of Providers on The Health Psychology Network.

Although many therapists are often able to help people with a variety of mental health needs, you may want to seek out a therapist with specialized training in a specific area. For example, there are some therapists that specialize in treating eating disorders, while others have chosen to focus their careers on the treatment of anxiety. Just as you would before choosing a dentist or a surgeon, when interviewing a potential psychologist it is reasonable to ask them about their training and level of experience.

Should I Participate in a Research Study?

There may be several advantages to participating in a research study. First, if you are in a research study your treatment and your progress may be monitored by several highly skilled people rather than just one person. Some people like the idea that their treatment is being followed by a “team” rather than just one person. Second, by participating in a research study you may be able to receive “cutting edge” treatments that are not often available. Third, research participants often receive free treatment and may even be paid for their participation. Over the course of therapy this could save you a great deal of money. There may also be disadvantages to participation in a research study. For example, you may be assigned to a treatment condition in which you do not receive treatment right away or you may receive no treatment at all. Second, if the researcher is investigating the effectiveness of a particular treatment there may be less flexibility when it comes to the way in which your treatment is delivered. Third, if the researcher is investigating an experimental treatment it may be unclear if the treatment will have a beneficial effect.

Before agreeing to participate in any study you should carefully read the Informed Consent Form. This non-binding form outlines all of the details, risks and benefits to participating in a study.

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