If you've ever been told an illness or physical discomfort is 'all in your head', you've encountered the basic question of health psychology - how much do psychological factors influence and/or contribute to physical health problems? Some aspects of the field have infiltrated popular knowledge, such as the placebo effect and psychosomatic symptoms, but there are many other important and interesting areas of study besides those - for example1:
- psychological factors to disease (and therefore, the possibility of prevention)
- mechanisms for interaction between psychological and biological factors
- lifespan and illness resistance benefits from psychological well-being
- child/adolescent psychological problems affecting physical health and development
- explaining health differences in ethnicity, social classes and sexual orientations by psychological differences
- the impact of advances in health sciences on psychology
- managing pain
Many famous psychologists and their work is relevant in the above areas, including but not limited to Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Selye's work on general adaption syndrome, cortisol etc. that concerns negative physical effects of mental stress. Some of the ideas even stretch as far back as ancient medieval Islamic physicians Abu Zayd al-Balkhi and Haly Abbas who noted correlations between mental and physical health2, a concept that Freud later took a great interest in with his theories of psychoanalysis. However, the field is a fairly recent one, only proposed in 1977 by Matarazzo3; much remains to be discovered.
2. Nurdeen Deuraseh and Mansor Abu Talib (2005), "Mental health in Islamic medical tradition", The International Medical Journal 4 (2), p. 76-79.