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Health and psychology are closely related. The effects of psychology on physical health have been abundantly documented. It is no wonder that more professional nurses come to realize the value of health psychology and its implications for nursing. I am a licensed nurse, and my background and experiences help me better understand the psychological processes underlying healthy and unhealthy behaviors. I am interested in health psychology, because I want to understand how psychological processes affect physical health and use my knowledge to manage individual health experiences in cross-cultural clinical environments.
Health psychology is one of the newest and most rapidly developing specialization areas in psychology. It is usually defined as “the practice and application of psychological methods to the study of behavior relevant to health, illness, and health care” (NHS Careers). In other words, health psychology examines how and why various psychological processes impact physical health and individual health experiences (Marks & Evans 7). Health psychologists focus on the study of public health problems and the way individuals respond to illness (NHS Careers). The field of health psychology is very broad, but it usually includes five important aspects. First, the discipline covers the analysis of health risk behaviors, such as smoking and drug abuse (NHS Careers). Second, the health psychology discipline aims to develop and sustain health protective behaviors (NHS Careers). Third, health psychologists study health cognitions and cognitive processes that mediate individual health behaviors (NHS Careers). Fourth, health psychology encompasses the elements of health care delivery and the quality of communication among health professionals and patients (NHS Careers). Fifth, professionals in the health psychology field examine the psychological effects of illness on individuals, their relatives, and the rest of society (NHS Careers). This being said, it comes as no surprise that many professional nurses want to expand their knowledge of health psychology.
I have chosen health psychology specialization for two reasons. First, the scope of psychological effects on health and vice versa has been widely documented. The past three decades have affirmed the value of psychological perspectives on health and confirmed that physiological and social processes greatly affect individual health outcomes (Suls & Rothman 119). Emotions and stress, social support and burnout have far-reaching implications for physical health, and professional nurses need this knowledge to improve the quality of care provided to patients. Professional nurses need to know why certain patients do not adhere to the prescribed regimens and why certain medical procedures cause adverse effects on their health. Health psychology can provide answers to all these and other questions. I believe that health psychology has the potential to reduce the risks of health complications in all population groups, and I feel that without this knowledge the picture of my profession will remain incomplete.
Second, most theories of nursing have been developed in the western world. Health psychology is no exception: we are professional nurses and we tend to interpret health and nursing processes from a western standpoint. However, patient diversity has already become part of our professional routines. Cultural and ethnic backgrounds of patients make it difficult to deliver high quality of nursing care. We often lack even the basic understanding of the cultural and psychological processes affecting patient health. Health psychology holds a promise to expand our cultural worldview. With the help of new knowledge, I will be able to understand the diversity of individual psychological and health experiences and avoid skepticism, stereotyping and ethnocentrism in my professional judgments. “More understanding of cross-cultural differences in methods for preserving well-being and healing the sick will facilitate both theory and practice” (Marks & Evans 8). I am convinced that the health psychology specialization will add more weight to my education and professional experiences in clinical nursing.