So...Why See a Psychologist for a Health Problem?
There have been tremendous medical advances since the early 1900’s. Antibiotics, vaccinations, improved diagnostic procedures, the development of surgical procedures and radiation/chemotherapy treatments have clearly improved our health and life expectancy. The problem that arises is that high-tech medicine is necessary but not sufficient for addressing all our current health care needs. One only has to take a quick survey of the health problems facing this country to realize that there are millions of individuals suffering from physical illnesses for which our advanced technology has limited or only partial answers.
In fact the current leading six causes of death in this country now have significant lifestyle components to their cause and treatment. Furthermore, research has indicated that between 30 to 60% of all outpatient physician visits have no clearly defined physical findings. Prolonged stress has been linked to diverse conditions such as headaches, insomnia, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders, and an array of muscular skeletal and pain problems. Anger and emotional distress have been associated with a higher incidence of sudden death due to heart disease while those who experience depression or social isolation following a heart attack are significantly more likely to have a second heart attack. As the body of research examining the connection between emotions, the nervous system, and the immune system has grown, it has become increasingly clear that emotions can influence illnesses ranging from colds and allergies to cancer and AIDS.
Therefore, current medical knowledge suggests that a much broader view of physical illness is required to more fully serve our country’s health care needs. Psychological and behavioral services can successfully treat many stress related physical conditions, help reduce or manage symptoms of chronic conditions, and promote optimal health in chronic or terminal illness.
Specific areas where psychologists can assist include:
* Life style changes such as stress management, dietary changes, weight loss, and exercise programs that are
recommended for treating many illnesses including heart and lung disease, diabetes, and cancer.
* Addressing the causes of stress related illness such as headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, etc.
* Coping with the personal losses such as loss of jobs, change in marital roles, loss of physical functioning,
physical changes in body, etc. that often occur with serious chronic illnesses.
* Coping with having a terminal illness.
* Coping with relationship/sexual function problems that often arise due to medical illnesses
* Pain management
* Risk reduction for many illnesses through healthy life style changes.