What is Health Psychology? Its Definitions, Nature & Aim

“Life span may be as wide as your smile: Th e bigger the smile, the longer the life”

What is Health? As per World Health Organisation (WHO), Health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

Bircher ( defines health as “a dynamic state of well-being characterised by a physical and mental potential, which satisfies the demands of life commensurate with age, culture, and personal responsibility.”

Models for defining health. (Source: Larson )

Medical modelThe absence of disease or disability
World health organization (WHO) modelState of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity
Wellness modelHealth promotion and progress toward higher functioning, energy, comfort, and integration of mind, body, and spirit
Environmental modelAdaptation to physical and social surroundings—a balance free from undue pain, discomfort, or disability

What is Psychology? Ciccarelli & Meyer (2006) defined psychology as “the scientific study of behavior and mental processes.”

Definitions of Health Psychology

Health psychology is a branch within the psychology field that focuses on how social, psychological, and biological factors combine to influence human health.

Taylor refers Health psychology is to understanding psychological influences on how people stay healthy, why they become ill, and how they respond when they do get ill.

Health psychology aggregate of the specific educational, scientific and professional contribution of the discipline
of psychology to the promotion and maintenance of health, the promotion and treatment of illness and related dysfunction (Matarazzo, 1980).

According to American Psychological Association (APA), Health Psychology (Division 38) is a subfield of psychology that focuses on

  • (a) the examination of the relationships between behavioral, cognitive, psychophysiological, and social and environmental factors and the establishment, maintenance, and detriment of health;
  • (b) the integration of psychological and biological research findings in the design of empirically based interventions for the prevention and treatment of illness; and
  • (c) the evaluation of physical and psychological status before, during, and after medical and psychological treatment.

Health psychology examines the psychological underpinnings of illnesses to understand how the mind and body are connected in terms of healing or illness.”

Health psychology emphasizes the role of psychological factors in the cause, progression and consequences of health and illness.

Aims of Health Psychology

The aims of health psychology can be divided into two sections

  1. Understanding, explaining, developing and testing theory.
    1. Evaluating the role of behaviour in illness. Ex- Coronary heart disease is related to behaviours- smoking, food intake, lack of exercise.
    2. Predicting unhealthy behaviours. Ex- Smoking, alcohol consumption and high fat diets are related to beliefs.
    3. Evaluating the interaction between psychology and physiology. Ex- The experience of stress relates to appraisal, coping and social support.
    4. Understanding the role of psychology in the experience of illness. Ex- Understanding the psychological consequences of illness could help to alleviate symptoms such as pain, nausea, vomiting, anxiety and depression.
    5. Evaluating the role of psychology in the treatment of illness. Ex- Changing behaviour and reducing stress could reduce the chances of a further heart attack.
  2. Aim of health psychology is to Put this theory into practice.
    1. Promoting healthy behaviour. Ex- 1. Understanding the role of behaviour in illness can allow unhealthy behaviours to be targeted. 2. understanding the beliefs that predict behaviors and make necessary changes.
    2. Preventing illness. Ex- 1. Behavioural interventions during illness (e.g. stopping smoking after a heart attack) may prevent further illness.2. Changing beliefss and modifying stress.


Ogden, J. (2017). Health psychology: A textbook (4th ed.).McGraw Hill Education.
Taylor, Shelley E. (2018). Health Psychology (10th ed). McGraw Hill Higher Education. Indian Edition

Larson J. S. The conceptualization of health. Medical Care Research and Review. 1999;56(2):123–136

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