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Health psychologists help to promote health and well-being by preventing illness. Some illnesses can be treated better if they are caught early.Health Psychologists have worked to understand why some people do not go for screening or immunisations and are finding ways to encourage people to have health checks for illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. Health Psychologists are also finding ways to try to help people to avoid risky behaviours that may affect their health and well-being, such as unprotected sex and can also help to encourage regular teeth brushing or hand washing to prevent future ill health.Health psychologists also aim at educating health professionals, including physicians and nurses, in communicating effectively with patients in ways that overcome barriers to understanding, remembering, and implementing effective strategies for reducing exposures to risk factors and making health-enhancing behavior changes.There is also evidence from occupational health psychology that stress-reduction interventions at the workplace can be effective. For example, Kompier and his colleagues have shown that a number of interventions aimed at reducing stress in bus drivers has had beneficial effects for employees and bus companies.
Health psychologists investigate how disease affects individuals' psychological well-being. An individual who becomes seriously ill or injured faces many different practical stressors. The stressors include problems meeting medical and other bills; problems obtaining proper care when home from the hospital; obstacles to caring for dependents; having one's sense of self-reliance compromised; gaining a new, unwanted identity as a sick person; and so on. These stressors can lead to depression, reduced self-esteem, etc.
This set in train a series of events that led in 1977 to the formation of a division of the APA dedicated to health psychology, led by Joseph Matarazzo. At its first conference, Matarazzo gave a speech often seen as a foundation of health psychology, in which he defined the new field as "Health psychology is the aggregate of the specific educational, scientific and professional contributions of the discipline of psychology to the promotion and maintenance of health, the prevention and treatment of illness, the identification of diagnostic and etiologic correlates of health, illness and related dysfunction, and the analysis and improvement of the healthcare system and health policy formation". In the 1980s, similar organisations were set up in the UK as the British Psychological Society's Division of Health Psychology in 1986, and the European Health Psychology Society that same year. Similar organizations developed in other countries such as Australia and Japan. Training programs were set up in these countries, usually training health psychologists at graduate level, and in the United States, at postdoctoral level after completing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology such as the PsyD or PhD. In addition, PhDs began to be awarded in health psychology. Today, health psychology is one of the most popular courses in undergraduate psychology degrees, as a choice for Masters degrees such as MSc, and as a career choice in psychology.