Pills, injections and surgery often work excellently for what they are designed to accomplish but there remain large areas of medicine where one true, efficient physical treatment has yet to be found. In these cases, and often alongside physical treatments like the pills, injections and surgery, one can turn to psychology for help.
by Leonid Pasternak
Health behavior treatments are an approach to recovery based in psychological treatment - by attacking a root emotional, cognitive, social or behavioral issue, professionals hope to relieve physical symptoms. A good example of this is in chronic pain management. Health care professionals may recommend a chiropractor or even an acupuncturist whose benefits are not scientifically proven and yet many report feeling better after visiting. Alternatively, the health professional may refer a patient directly to a psychologist. There, to quote APA.org1, they can expect the following:
The psychologist will ask about the pain you experience, where and when it occurs, and what factors may affect it. In addition, he or she will likely ask you to discuss any worries or stresses, including those related to your pain. You also may be asked to complete a questionnaire that allows you to record your own thoughts and feelings about your pain.
This information is used to form a holistic treatment plan with mental health supplements to any physical rehabilitation techniques that may already be in place. Relaxation techniques, mild cognitive behavior therapy to reform unhealthy thought patterns pertaining to the pain and working through mood problems surrounding the pain are all good components of a holistic treatment plan1.
There exist examples outside chronic pain too. Health behavior treatments for diabetes include psychotheraputic sessions designed to address overeating and mental blocks to exercise2. Writing about traumatic events has been shown to improve overall physical health as well as mental3. Alleviating depression can improve heart health - NIMH states that as many as 65% of heart attack sufferers had a history of depression4 - and psychological tactics for stress management can avoid stress effects weakening the immune system and leaving the body open to illness that way.
Truthfully, cost is the only downside to incorporating psychological treatment into a physical recovery plan.
1. Bruns, D. et al. (2013). Managing chronic pain: How psychologists can help with pain management. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/pain-management.aspx. [Last Accessed 6/5/2014].
2.McDonald, C. (2013). The Diabetes of Today Type 2. [ONLINE] Available at: http://healthpsychology.org/the-diabetes-of-today-type-2/. [Last Accessed 6/5/2014].
3. Balkie, K & Wilhelm, K., (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing.Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 11 (5), pp.338-46
4. NIMH (2011). Depression and Heart Disease. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-and-heart-disease/index.shtml. [Last Accessed 6/5/2014].