Health Psychology

The term “health psychology” pertains to our emotional and psychophysiological responses to our personal conditions of health and illness as well as thoughts, emotions and  behaviours  that either contribute to or hinder our well-being.

Often in the  Cartesian world of conventional  bio-medicine, individuals are split up as bodies and minds, implicitly  implying that the mind and the body are separate entities and not connected. This is because whatever the ailment whether it is cancer, auto immune diseases, irritable bowl syndrome, obesity etc.  the physical body is always treated with surgery and pharmaceutical drugs but the mind or rather the psyche is often left out and rarely given therapeutic attention.

This is unfortunate on two accounts, firstly,  people have very strong emotional reactions to their illnesses and physical disabilities,  which need to be treated as individuals could spiral into clinical depression, severe anxiety, anger or frustration in relation to not “feeling well,” which could hamper their recovery.

Secondly, our bodymind is an integrated system whose reciprocity needs to be acknowledged. Today, illnesses  such as fibromyalgia as well many neuro-endocrinological disorders are all pointing towards psychogenic causes of these conditions, as is the whole field of psychoneuroimmunology which emphasises the inter-connections between the psyche, nervous system and immune system.

The role of stress and anxiety in the cause and proliferation of illness ranging from cancer to coronary disease to diabetes  is getting highlighted, as last year in the US alone more 300$ billion dollars were spent on stress-related medical ailments. It is interesting to note that in contrast to conventional western medicine,  nonwestern medical systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine have always given importance to and have inquired into the subjective states of those who were sick and have underscored a deep connection between the mind and the body.

Drawing from Eastern philosophical  systems of understanding the psyche-sensorium, I often work with people who are suffering or surviving from cancer or have recently recovered from heart attacks or those who have had Bariatric surgery with mindfulness-based cognitive therapeutic interventions. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helps  facilitate my clients to regulate their disturbing emotions regarding their physical conditions and enables them to tolerate  distress with more ease. Accepting and working with our emotional reactions to dis-ease has a huge impact for our recovery and ongoing maintenance of health. While not a substitute for medical attention, health-oriented psychotherapeutic attention is a very important complement and adjunct.

2 thoughts on “Health Psychology

  1. Mauricio

    I have a LOT of experience with “mindfulness.” Did it for 30 years. Taught for a while. But that’s not the imtnaprot point. The imtnaprot point is study design.Where are the controls? What’s the demonstration that the subjects were doing anything other than sitting around? How much of the time they were practicing were they actually being “mindful?” Did they receive any other training (often, mindfulness studies include various types of group teaching or therapy or other support)? Are there any counterfactual cohorts (e.g. people who get a massage, or take some drug, or watch a comedy on TV)?In other words, while I’m a fan of the practice, I’m NOT a fan of almost all of the studies that have been done.At a recent cognitive psych conference, the Dalai Lama was a special guest. Many of the researchers were ecstatic, because they’re true believers in meditation (and, often, Buddhism). Only a few of the attendees pointed out the bias of many of the researchers and asked why it was imtnaprot to have a Tibetan Buddhist at a cog-psy conference.

    • I think your raising some very important points here. Yes, there is always a researcher bias – true objectivity remains a fantasy, but phenomenologically and qualitatively, individuals (including myself) have felt shifts in their attention, concentration, awareness of “when the mind is running off” etc and this has enabled people(my clients and myself) more choice and the ability to dis-identify with unwanted or unproductive thoughts and behaviours. There is a lot of work done by Dan Siegal and others where MRI’s and PET scans of advanced meditator’s brains have been undertaken which show enhanced activity in the pre-frontal orbital complex. While I can understand that you may not agree with the methodology of double blinded random trials, there is evidence that mindfulness facilitates new ways of knowing and garnering novel neural pathways. . . . of course, this is subjective to practice. Yes, subjects could be just “sitting around” but not those who really get and understand the value of watching their mind . . . I don’t see any harm about the Dalai Lama being a special guest as I appreciate inter-cultural dialogue.

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