We are delighted to welcome to the team, Dr Cheryl MacDonald, as Melon’s Health Psychologist. Cheryl is a Clinical Pyschologist and Registered nurse who has been practicing health psychology for thirty years. Cheryl is also author of Health Psychology for Everyday Life: A bio-psycho-social thinking approach and founder of Health Psychology of San Diego and Healthpsychology.org. Cheryl sees significant value in extending care, support and education beyond the clinic and empowering patients to co-manage their health through mobile technology.

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We asked Cheryl to explain what is health psychology?

In the field of physical health and psychological well-being, health psychology specializes in exploring biological, psychological, cultural, societal, and environmental factors of life, and how each of these affects physical health. It can also embrace the spiritual or religious aspects. While it may be common knowledge among certain populations to know about the negative effects that a person’s emotional mindset can have on their health, there continues to be a surprising amount of denial about the roles of the interactivity of these aspects in a person’s life. Physical Health can be directly effected by the environment in which we live.

Clinical Health Psychology attempts to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the relationship between emotional health, physical wellness and illness?

  2. What is the connection between the body, mind and environment?

  3. What role does psychology play in relationship to health and disease?

  4. How should a particular illness be treated?

Cheryl believes health psychology is about helping people understand how those biological, cultural, environmental, and psychological factors affect physical and/or emotional health. “I encourage people to take an active role in making health care decisions and develop new ways of managing their life” says Cheryl. Health Psychology focuses on ensuring peoples’ overall well-being. “I take into account the physical, emotional, and psychological factors that affect all areas of life and focus on health, wellness and prevention, despite any roadblocks that may be in the way, and realizing how social, cultural, family and friendships affect the progression of treatment success.”

It’s not the strongest of the species that survive nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.
Charles Darwin

The central strategy practiced within health psychology is the bio-psycho-social design. The British Health Society explains that health and disease are the effects of a blending of biological, psychological and social factors. Biological determinants consist of genetic conditions and inherited personality traits. Psychological factors are anxiety levels, personality features and lifestyle. Social determinants consist of cultural views, socio-economic (housing, education, income) family relationships and support systems.

Health psychology’s roots are in the belief that everyone deserves proper medical and psychological care even when daily habits, career, or family life problems contribute to the decrease in physical health and/or psychological well-being. The bio-psycho-social model views health, wellness and illness as being a result of several different inter-related factors effecting a person’s life from biological characteristics, to behavioral and social conditions (Belloc, N. & Breslow, 1972).

One way to describe the basics of health psychology is by exploring the smoking addiction. Part of the smoking habit is the physical component of addiction to nicotine as withdrawal symptoms set in once the process of quitting begins. A typical physician will prescribe medicines to suppress the physical addiction symptoms of withdrawal, treating the smoking addiction as just a physical problem. However, studies show that there is a remarkably strong probability that the individual will just start smoking again. A chain smoker that uses a nicotine patch may have difficulty quitting if smoking helps them relax. In these cases, even with the patch, the smoker may easily return to smoking when facing a stressful time. The average counselor or physician is only treating the physical withdrawal aspects of smoking. There is a psychological component to the addiction as the smoker stands to gain rewards, no matter how temporary from each cigarette. Smoking may suppress the appetite, offer an opportunity to relax and unwind, or provide a momentary distraction to current stresses. There is also a behavioral aspect to smoking, such as always lighting up when getting in the car, having a cigarette right after dinner, or using a cigarette as a stress reliever.

Cheryl believes that with some expert guidance and support people can experience the healthy, vibrant life that they desire, and all it takes is unlocking the secrets of the brain, the body, the mind, and behavior. “A simple fact of life is that human beings are extraordinarily complex and an illness can be the result of a myriad of factors. These factors emerge from biological, psychological and environmental facets of everyday life.” says Cheryl. More often than not, medications alone will not provide the positive results necessary for people to achieve maximum health. Just because medicines don’t work, does not mean that all options for improvement have been exhausted. Health psychology principles clearly have not been fully utilized or recognized at this point in time, by conventional western medicine.

How do I become a health psychologist?

  • Four years undergrad
  • Five years Masters & Doctorate Degree (2000 hrs in internships)
  • Post- Doctorate hours 2000 to qualify for 2 board Exams
  • 1-2 years Exam Process

(approx 10 -12 years).

For more information about health psychology go to http://healthpsychology.org/ and you can also connect with Cheryl on twitter at: @HPofSD