Health psychology has already demonstrated that it can make substantial contributions to health. Although these contributions form the substance of later lectures in this course, a few brief examples here can illustrate this point.
As previously noted, health psychologists have developed a variety of short-term behavioral interventions to address a wide variety of health-related problems including managing pain, modifying bad health habits, such as smoking, and managing the side effects or treatment effects associated with a range of chronic diseases.
Techniques that often take a mere few hours to teach often produce years of benefit. Such interventions, particularly those that target risk factors like diet or smoking, have contributed to the actual decline in the incidence of some diseases, especially coronary heart disease. To take another example, psychologists learned many years ago that informing patients fully about the procedures and sensations involved in unpleasant medical procedures, such as surgery, improves their adjustment to those procedures. As a consequence of these studies, many hospitals and other treatment centers now routinely prepare patients for such procedures. Ultimately, if a discipline is to flourish, it must demonstrate a strong track record, and health psychology has done precisely that.
Health psychologists make important methodological contributions to issues of health and illness. Many of the issues that arise in medical settings demand rigorous research investigation. Although physicians and nurses receive some methodological and statistical education, their training may be inadequate to conduct research on the issues they wish to address unless they make research their specialty.
The health psychologist can be a valuable member of the research team by providing the methodological and statistical expertise that is the hallmark of good training in psychology we will not go into the details of the different research methods used in health psychology. Suffice it to say at this point that the research training that health psychologists receive in their undergraduate and graduate school experiences makes them valuable parts of the research teams that attempt to understand how we stay healthy and why we get ill.