Health Psychology: Definition, Purpose, and Goals

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  • 0:03 Health Psychology
  • 1:09 Purpose
  • 1:51 Goals
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

In this lesson, we will learn about the field of health psychology and who it can benefit. Both the purpose of this specialty and how treatment goals are determined will be discussed.

Health Psychology

Rick recently hurt his back at work. He's in a lot of pain, but doesn't want to become dependent on painkillers, so he's looking for other ways to manage his pain. He is seeing a psychologist who is teaching him relaxation techniques. This helps Rick avoid becoming stressed. This is a good thing, because when Rick is stressed, he tenses up and the pain becomes worse.

Like Rick, all of us will have to deal with an injury or illness at some point in our lives. The person we would traditionally see in this situation is a medical doctor who would diagnose us, prescribe medication, and treat our symptoms. However, other help is available to you. Some physical problems can actually be caused, or made worse, by certain emotional, mental, or social conditions.

Health psychology is a specialty area of psychology that focuses on how all facets of our lives impact our physical health. Psychologists in this field don't treat the disease itself, but try to find ways to help the person who is suffering improve his or her life by better understanding how the mind and body work together.

A health psychologist focuses on helping the person with the disease rather than the disease itself.


As we saw in our example of Rick, health psychologists provide a non-traditional approach to understanding our health. One purpose of this field is to inform and educate people, helping them understand that they can take control of their overall well-being. When patients understand how and why their bodies are responding to physical problems, they are better able to accept solutions. Health psychologists can help patients like Rick manage chronic conditions or help them find ways to avoid preventable diseases by living a healthy lifestyle. Ideally, health psychology is where medicine and psychology work together to mediate the relationship between disease, thought, and behavior.

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