Even as the development of medical science and the technology of its instruments have taken modern healthcare system to a state-of-the-art height, the effective management of psychological factors still prove to be the axis of healthcare, where human touch and a thorough understanding of psychology are bare essentials to complement its other part. The medical science too admits it and accordingly various disciplines of study have come up to understand the finer details of human psychology that are entwined with the overall healing process.
Thus this essay explores the necessity and scope of health psychology, besides its inherent elements that have bearings in healing process, before reaching its conclusion. What is Health Psychology? Bio-psycho-social factors create a lot of impact on our health and well-being. Health psychology studies those impacts with an aim to eliminate the negative elements in bio-psycho-social factors besides incorporating the positive ones. Accordingly it encompasses areas like stress, coping strategies, perception of pain, personality determinants of health etc. besides the immune response to stress (psychoneuroimmunology).
Therefore, health psychology altogether covers a vast area of study and observation on human behavior, where it probes personality variables or traits and social environment before linking one’s impact on the other – as for example, whether stress in a person could lead to minor or major ailments, ranging from cold to cancer. In all, health psychology works on the interaction between physiological and the psychological system.
Accordingly, “biopsychosocial paradigm of health based on a bi-directional model (Knight & Carnic, 2004), propelled by the concept that health psychology can be instrumental in detection and alleviation of disease, as there is a strong coordination between body and mind. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes it significance and in fact lamented that this area of healthcare needs more thrust, where it could forge a “new alliance between mental and physical health disciplines” (WHO, 1997).
From this perspective, there is tremendous scope of development in the field of health psychology, as it a dynamic subject with a plethora of variable factors, which constantly hint on thousand of probabilities. How It Works While any illness is bound to create an emotional impact on the patients, the caregivers too cannot escape such effects. Thus coping with illness requires mental efforts from everyone involved in the proceedings.
A study conducted over 150 patients affected with various forms of psoriasis identified the “existence of psychic stress in 69% of all cases”, which, with the “involvement of a Liaison psychiatrist” proved to be immensely important towards their cure (Simonic et al. , 2000). Besides these, there are ethical and practical consideration too command in-depth understanding of psychological factors that stand between illness and effective care – especially when the severity of illness can inject pessimism in the patients or when patients’ erratic behavior under circumstance can influence the caregivers’ behavior.
Patients can emotionally be vulnerable due to physical conditions, and that can heavily influence their personality traits; in such situations, application of empathy and respect from the healthcare professionals’ side can help to restore the situation. Therefore, appropriate knowledge on health psychology can equip the caregivers for such situations. Significance of Psychoneuroimmunology Popularly known as PNI, psychoneuroimmunology deals with the interactions among behavior, brain and the immune system, aiming at determining its potential for mediating the effects of psychosocial factors in illness and disease.
The significance of PNI can be understood from a single fact that stress alone carries the possibility of 68 diseases, most of which are deadly. This state of affairs definitely commands a thorough view of health from the biopsychosocial perspective of health to counter stress. A brief description of stress would be pertinent here to further explain the significance of psychological factors in healthcare.
Stress, the Dreaded Menace Hans Selye proposed one of the most acclaimed definitions of stress in 1926, in which he said, “Stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it” (14 Day, 1991). He observed that stress stems out from the situations where humans face external changes or demands. This definition clearly indicates that no one can escape the influence of stress, as human life constantly faces such situations. This also clears the deck that external influence on humans will stay all along and thus biopsychosocial factors are embedded with any health problem.
If stress is now considered to be “an excessive or inappropriate activation of the body’s fight-or-flight response” (14 Day, 1991), then it has to be given its due importance in sphere of healthcare, where it should be armed with adequate knowledge about how stress can aggravate the health problems and how it can be diffused. That is where “Psychoneuroimmunology” steps in, delving deep into the relationship between the immune system and brain and observing the outcomes of its chemistry.
Psychoneuroimmunology and Healthcare According to PNI, “every part of our immune system is connected to the brain in some way, be it via a direct nervous tissue connection, or by the common chemical language of neuro-peptides and hormones”, where it suggests that the immune system, “which keeps us free from external invaders besides maintaining internal homoeostasis, is sensitive to outside influences” (Kooker, 2001). This is substantiated by the fact that chemicals secrete in the brain in response to mental-emotional processing like moods and feelings.
PNI was accepted as a new discipline in Yale University as early as in 1977, though then it was known as Behavioral Medicine, an outcome of the realization about its significance towards providing total therapeutic solution to patients. Boiling down to its simplest possible form, PNI collects healthy habits that can enhance the power of immunity in humans. This speaks of its broad range of activities, where it weighs the biopsychosocial factors to reach at the core of the health problem.
In fact PNI provides much needed attention on the dynamics of body-mind interactions where it acknowledges the fact that “our brains secrete hormones in response to our thoughts” (Lorraine, 2003). Thoughts Hold the Key The discoveries through PNI have proved that it healthcare cannot afford to keep psychological factors out of consideration. It has shown that thoughts, no matter where it comes from outside or from the subconscious, can heavily influence the body condition. Alongside, researches to this direction have been able to bring out the positive application of thought.
Thus the benefits of PNI have already been established. As for example, Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has able to determine the brain regions that respond to meditation, besides identifying the stress zones under duress (Lorraine, 2003). Findings like these would surely help in both enhancing immunity and preventing stress, as new techniques in stress management have already been stemming out of these findings.
Benefits of Transcendental Meditation Aligned to the progress of PNI as stated above, several techniques of thought regulation or control have been doing rounds. As for example, transcendental meditation has been found to produce a very beneficial state to human body, where it reduces blood pressure, respirator rate, oxygen consumption, blood flow to skeletal muscles, perspiration and muscle tension (Lorraine, 2003). This clearly shows that psychological factors are embedded with well being and in no way they can be kept outside the periphery of routine healthcare system.
Physician’s Viewpoint “We must work as psychologists to erase the line between health and mental health in research, practice, and public policy”, says Norine Gl Johnson, the former president of American Psychological Association in 2001. In her presentation at prestigious Psi Chi Distinguished Lecture she clearly points out the necessity of intertwining health and psychology, where “educators must be at the forefront of presenting to students and future psychologists the latest in psychology health research and health practices” (Johnson, 2002).
Nancy’s words only corroborates the age-old vision that medical treatment cannot be provided without the help of psychology, because psychological factors are the integral part of both illness and well being. Discussion On one hand the researchers have proved the deep impact of psychological factors on both patients and caregivers, while the discoveries regarding the efficacy of new techniques stemming out of modern research and study on biopsychosocial factors clearly show that they are no less potent tools towards managing illness as well as fostering well being.
The negative impact of stress or the positive influence of transcendental meditation as cited by studies above amply proves this fact. Accordingly, these facts have already been doing rounds in social and academic circles, thereby convincing people about the impact of psychological factors on both illness and well being. This state of affairs virtually makes it impossible for any healthcare setting to do without any provision of measuring psychological factors involved in any illness.
Besides this, the healthcare professionals too would be interested to be equipped with adequate knowledge and application techniques of psychotherapies, which would, in a way, work as their own shields against job stress associated with care giving. Conclusion Evidences show that psychological factors have great bearing on illness and its healing, thereby automatically qualifying them to occupy an important part in the healthcare setting.
Going by the experts’ opinion, it can be said that recognition of psychological factors in healthcare setting would not be an encroachment in the domain of conventional healthcare, but would be the advent of a new horizon in its sphere, where it would add tremendous value to the healthcare processes. Therefore, psychological factors form the axis of healthcare in modern day setting, in spite of the presence of state-of-the-art gadgets and availability of effective medicines.