Health Psychology: Definition and Meaning

Human behaviour is an extremely complex phenomenon as every individual reacts and emote differently and the intensity also varies. Therefore, through all the branches of psychology, the aim is to study human behaviour so that we can enhance our understanding of health.

What is the Meaning of Health?

Health defines the physical and mental condition of a human being. If a person is healthy and happy and free of any physical and mental illness, it is believed he or she has good health. On the other hand, if he or she is ill or has some stress or any other mental illness, it means he or she has bad health. So, health defines good and bad, both the conditions of an individual.

What is the Meaning of Health Psychology?

Health psychology is the interaction between biology, behaviour, and social context (it includes cultural influences, family, financial status, etc). It is an applied science, and the basic principle of biopsychology is carried out by its role in the promotion of physical health, prevention of illness, and care of medical illness.

George C. Stone in 1982 founded Health Psychology. He was aneminent behavioural scientist and was the founder of the America’s first academic department of Health psychology at the University of California, San Francisco.

How Can Health Psychology Help You?

The main aim of health psychology is to create more awareness about health in general and how an illness can be prevented easily with the help of people around you and by you. For that, the world of medicine and psychology have to exist symbiotically.

Health psychology encircles various issues like learning the side effects of addictions to chronic diseases, maintaining causes of a disease, how food, diet, and lifestyle can impact a disease in a community, etc. Health psychologists do a lot of prevention work under various programmes run by different organizations, like prevention of obesity, diabetes, the importance of exercise in daily life, how substance abuse can kill you slowly, etc. All these programmes help in improving the knowledge of prevention of various diseases, thus improving the quality of life and life span too.

Mind-Body Connection

With development and more research in the field of medicine, the importance of understanding the role of mind in health and illness is increasing. Research shows that it’s the mind-body connection that when working in harmony is responsible for the state of good health. But when the same connection is disturbed by any external factors (injury, pain, etc.) or internal factors (stress, depression, chronic disorders, etc.), it is responsible for the diseased state of a person. It is a well-known fact that there are no diseased bodies, but there are diseased individuals. This can be established by observing the fact that the signs and symptoms and their intensity vary in individuals who are suffering from the same disease. This happens because of the individual’s response to their state of illness and its acceptance. Similarly, the result of treatment is also dependent on an individual’s response to the medication.

In modern therapeutics, disease treatment is related to the presence of any signs and symptoms and investigation findings only. If the investigation's findings show normal, then according to the doctor, the patient is normal. But in alternative therapeutics like ayurveda, unani, and homoeopathy, the role of mind, body, and soul is equally important both in response to the treatment and in the development (prognosis) of a disease.

This happens because of personal behaviour, which also depends upon the environment/surroundings of the person. The environment includes his geographical location, lifestyle, diet, and climate, among other things, whereas personal behaviour includes his thoughts, perceptions, interpersonal relationships, and so on.

Bio-behavioural Factors in Health and Disease

Well, in the modern medical system, the disease is treated on the basis of investigations. This means, in the biomedical model of health and illness, doctors always look for an underlying biological cause for a physical disorder. After that, the treatment includes biological interventions like prescribing medicine and, in cases where organ damage has occurred, surgery is also performed in many chronic cases.

But in health psychology, which is also called the bio-psychological model of health and illness, the biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors all contribute to the health and illness status of the person. This model is more helpful in treating diseases as it treats a person as an individual and not as a unit/diseased body only. This approach helps in designing programmes for people at community level, which include factors like diet, food, climate, customs and rituals, etc. Therefore, prevention and awareness are better when we follow health psychology.

One of the major achievements of health psychology is being able to understand the thoughts behind the behaviour of a diseased person. This is achieved by patient education. Patients' education helps in identifying the problems at an early stage. This has two positive effects firstly, the patient is aware of the fact that the signs and symptoms he is having are because of a medical condition, and he has to learn how to deal with the disease either by changing his lifestyle or with the help of medication. Secondly, in many cases, health psychology helps in decreasing the dependency on medication by introducing a more holistic approach to living.

Bio-behavioural factors include

  • Lifestyle & Diet − in this case, the main component is any kind of addiction like alcohol, smoking, tobacco chewing, etc. Diets play a crucial role in both treating and causing disease. For example, obesity, marasmus, kwashiorkor, night blindness, scurvy, etc. The diet also plays an important role in maintaining our immune system and fighting many disorders.
  • Social and cultural factors − well, social and culture are integral parts of human behaviour. How can social injustice cause depression, stress, anxiety, suicidal tendency, etc. in a person? Not only this, social and cultural activities like festivals are a reflection of thoughts of the past and an amalgamation of the present.
  • Certain human professions − are associated with high levels of stress, physical endurance, or exposure to hazardous agents (physical agents or chemical agents). This type of exposure can lead to a state of illness in many humans. People working in the mining industry, stone cutting industry, chemical factories, and so on, for example, are all risk factors for diseases such as lung disease and skin cancer.
  • Behaviour − It is defined as the "activity of an organism interacting with its environment." It includes anxiety, anger, anguish, sadness, happiness, fear, etc. Because the pattern of these emotions varies from person to person, so does their response to the state of illness.

The body's immune system is dependent on the thoughts and psychological state of a person too, along with diet. Like in chronic diseases, the immune system is weakened not only by the disease condition but also by the stress, depression, and anxiety attached to it due to the prolonged disease state. This vicious circle gets more complicated with time if the patient doesn't get any aid from a health psychologist.

When Does One Need a Health Psychologist’s Service?

If a person answers yes to any of the three questions listed below, then he or she needs to visit a health psychologist −

  • Is there a physical or long-standing (chronic) illness underlying depression, anxiety, or behaviour for whichhe or she is seeking help?
  • Is it one’s intention to treat a specific symptom such as insomnia, migraines, fear, frequent urination, and so on?
  • Does someone need someone else to work with his/her physician to achieve a cure and help him or her and his or her family understand my illness?


Well, to describe health psychology in just a few words is not an easy task. But with the above discussion, we have come to the conclusion that our body functions with many organs and organ systems inside it. One organ or system is not capable of running the whole body in sound mode. Similarly, in a diseased state, the mind, body, and soul are all diseased. In fact, in most cases, the onset of disease occurs at the mind or soul level only. It is visible in the body as signs and symptoms later on.


Simply Easy Learning

Updated on: 13-Oct-2022


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