This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Psychology and Medicine

Many different specialties within psychology relate to health and medicine. In this section of the chapter we will discuss six: psychosomatic medicine, psychoneuroimmunology, rehabilitation psychology, psychiatric rehabilitation, behavioral medicine, and health psychology. Then we will look at two topics—stress and addiction—that commonly concern health care workers as well as psychologists.

Psychosomatic Medicine

One of the oldest disciplines concerned with psychology and medicine is psychosomatic medicine. The field is concerned with psychological influences on medical syndromes. Psychosomatic medicine changed quite a bit, as a discipline. During the early 20th Century it was largely wedded to Freudian concepts. However, in the second half of the century it broadened its scientific base. Now it is open to virtually any form of research that relates a psychological variable to a medical condition.

What is the concern of psychosomatic medicine?

In the United States, the American Psychosomatic Society is the sponsor of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine and host of an annual convention where researchers share their results. Here is a sampling of the topics discussed at a recent convention, drawn from the abstracts (short descriptions) published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

—personality and blood pressure

—motivation and obesity

—ethnic differences in stress-related high blood pressure

—hostility and heart rate variability

—cancer-related fatigue and self-rated quality of life

—behavioral correlates of menstrual breast discomfort

—hormones, stress, and premenstrual depression

—emotional reactions to a diagnosis of Hepatitis C

—depression and suicidal thoughts in patients with disfiguring skin disorders

—effects of meditation on blood pressure

—Pavlovian conditioning of nausea

—psychological determinants of asthma control

—negative emotions in chronic lung disease

—anxiety and in vitro fertilization

—sexual and physical abuse as predictors of poor health after giving birth

—insecure attachment in a subgroup of ulcerative colitis sufferers

—reducing psychological distress in post-heart attack patients

—stress management in positive adaptation to breast cancer

—family factors affecting outcome of bone marrow transplant

—cognitive deficits after surgery and radiation treatment for brain tumors

—marital satisfaction related to blood pressure

—writing about traumatic experiences benefits asthmatics

—chronic stress influences variations in blood glucose levels

This is only a small fraction of the abstracts for the convention. Each project represents the efforts of a researcher or research team, sometimes extending over years. What all the topics have in common is that they investigate some psychological variable (mood, reactions to stress, life experiences) as it might relate to some medical condition such as asthma, recovery from surgery, or high blood pressure.

How does the list reflect a trend in psychology?

Notice the complete absence of Freudian constructs like oedipal complex or even neurosis and the mix of behavioral, cognitive, and biological persepctives. One could find no better illustration of the point made in Chapter 1, that psychology has moved past a preoccupation with competing schools of thought or theories toward a task- or problem-oriented approach. Researchers focus on tackling a problem with whatever tools are appropriate.


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