Tuesday, 24 February 2015 23:25

Why Clinical Health Psychology?

Written by Kristin Kleppe, Psy.D.
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Why Clinical Health Psychology?

The longer I am in practice in clinical psychology, the more I appreciate the importance of psychologists learning about the physical body as they endeavor to heal the mind or spirit. I often hear people complain about medical doctors who conceptualize cases from only the biological or physical and not understanding how the physical body is impacted by depression, anxiety, stress and interpersonal relationships. In other words, we want our medical doctors to practice from a “biopsychosocial” model. When I was on faculty at UC Irvine, in the Department of Family Medicine, part of my job was to train residents and medical students on the biopsychosocial model. Many family medicine residents were truly gifted in being able to conceptualize cause and effect – and healing – from this model and others struggled with it.

But how seldom is the same body and mind integration promoted in clinical psychology? I did not truly understand the importance of expanding my knowledge base to include health psychology until the last few years. Here are a few examples –

1    1) I ask patients to get new blood work when they start working with me and we often find they low Vitamin D or hypothyroidism which can cause depression. Correcting imbalances can reap great improvement in symptoms.

2)   2) I was amazed  when the suicide of comedian, Robin Williams, started a national discussion on mental health and depression last year. What was more relevant for me was the later news that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Most of us knew that Robin Williams had suffered with depression for much of his life but the tipping point for him in committing suicide appears to have been the added degeneration in “feel good” neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that can be part of Parkinson’s disease. For me, the conversation should have been about early screening and intervention for newly diagnosed patients with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s, MS or others.

3     3) I have a dear patient who has been going through aggressive treatment for cancer in the last few years. She said that every time she saw her oncologist, she completed forms on her symptoms. The forms included questions about depression and anxiety and every visit she would check off that she was struggling with symptoms of both and would like help. No one ever followed up with her or mentioned her responses on the forms. She found me on her own after suffering for over two years. How much would earlier treatment and support have helped her in her fight against cancer and how important it is for me to know the basics about the phenomena of cancer treatment and how it might impact her mental health.

I could list many more examples of why I promote the biopsychosocial model for clinical psychologists and why I am passionate in supporting other psychologists in developing clinical health competencies. This was part of the impetus in founding Orange County Health Psychologists. At OC Health Psych, we refer to the biopsychosocial model in the language of integrated care for healing mind, body, and spirit. As human beings, we consist of the physical, the mental and the spiritual, and – our health, well-being, and happiness depend on nurturing optimal health for all three. We welcome you to our practice.


Read 3402 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 03:12