What is Behavioral Medicine/Medical Psychology?


      Behavioral Medicine/Medical Psychology is a specialization within Clinical Psychology. The focus is on helping people learn to manage their chronic illness more effectively, which should lead to an overall improvement in the person's quality of life. Psychologists who specialize in this field will work closely with physicians, but the psychologist will use non-drug techniques to help the person manage their chronic illness better.
      For example, the psychologist may work with the individual on improving the number of coping strategies that the individual uses. By doing this, the person will have more "options" available to deal with obstacles that are related to the chronic illness. The psychologist may also teach stress-management techniques, as most symptoms have a tendency to get worse when the person is experiencing stress. Certainly, coping with a chronic illness on a daily basis is stressful enough! Thus, the person will have strategies to use when he or she is experiencing stress (even stress that is not related to the illness).
      The psychologist may also work with the person on the way he or she thinks about the illness. Having a chronic illness can quickly consume one's life -- dealing with managed health care, family, friends, co-workers, etc. Sometimes, individuals with chronic illnesses can start to misinterpret things or forget about other things that are important in their lives because the chronic illness has become the only focus. A psychologist who specializes in Behavioral Medicine/Medical Psychology can help the person identify how his or her thinking about the illness may be affecting the rest of his or her life.
      Overall, the specialization of Behavioral Medicine/Medical Psychology is designed to be a team effort between the psychologist, the person with the chronic illness, and significant others in the person's life to help improve the person's overall quality of life. Unlike many medical treatments, in which the person only needs to take medication, the treatments used in Behavioral Medicine/Medical Psychology require the person to take an active role and to do things. Individuals who are referred to a psychologist who specializes in Behavioral Medicine/Medical Psychology should NOT assume that they are "crazy" or that the physician thinks that the symptoms are "all in the person's head." The techniques used in Behavioral Medicine/Medical Psychology are designed to improve skills that a person has available to manage his or her illness. This type of treatment should be seen as a valuable addition to medical treatment, and it should be realized that the skills that are learned during treatment are skills that can be used long-term and really do not have the side-effects that are associated with medication.

* This web page is designed to provide information and does not constitute development of a professional relationship. You are strongly encouraged to speak to the health care professional(s) who are treating your chronic illness to obtain a suitable referral.