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Psychology in Medicine

By Sowmiya T on December 5, 2022

Honestly, I never expected the Psychology chat in Schoolhouse’s Slack tutor community to have such a meaningful impact on me. The discussions about MBTI (a personality test known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and hearing about other tutors’ passion for psychology helped me realize how important this topic is to our daily lives. Naturally, my curiosity lead me to want to learn how psychology relates to medicine. I was amazed to find that the future of medicine relies on psychology to a large extent - there is even a branch of academia called psychological medicine!

Today’s article under the Future of Medicine series will focus on how these two fields are linked and their benefits!

Psychology and medicine can be linked when:

  1. Managing emotional aspects of an illness
  2. Reducing or preventing the physical symptoms of an illness

Managing the mental and emotional aspects of an illness

Physical illnesses vary in their impact on an individual. Two people diagnosed with the same condition may experience their illness differently. Many factors can come into play - such as differences in genetics, lifestyles, or environments. Some of these impacts can affect one’s mind or behavior - which is where psychology becomes involved.

To better understand psychology’s involvement, let’s look at a specific scenario. In this scenario, a child has been diagnosed with a disease that has caused a change in their physical appearance and this has led to a drop in their self-esteem. As a result, they have been exhibiting behaviors like social withdrawal and extreme changes to their diet. Evidently, the patient has been struggling to process the changes their body has been going through and these actions can possibly lead to consequences that could harm their body. This is especially prevalent in today’s context where social media has been shown to negatively influence users’ body image. Psychology can help patients understand their unique situation and ways to benefit their well-being, opposed to harming it. Depending on the health professional’s advice and the patient’s needs, there are a variety of approaches including therapy sessions, meditation, and mindful hobbies.

Let’s consider another scenario where a middle-aged adult has recently noticed abnormal changes in their body and later finds out that they are at the terminal stage of lung cancer. The news was shocking and they have been in denial ever since they received their diagnosis. The patient is unable to accept that they cannot be cured and has been behaving very erratically. It is very important, as a result, for their health professionals to pay attention to how the patient is coping. While the exact intervention types vary based on the patient’s specific needs, some treatment plans can involve grief counseling, pet therapy, wish fulfilling, and support network sessions.

Improving patients’ quality of life both physically and mentally is vital for effective healthcare.

Reducing or preventing the physical symptoms of an illness

As seen above, illnesses can negatively impact one’s mind or behavior. These negative impacts can further affect how the patient manages the disease physically. Psychology can help provide patients techniques that can improve their overall health. For example, patients can attend professional therapy sessions to help develop a healthy diet plan and exercise habits which may aid them in relieving the symptoms of their illness. Another example is pet therapy, where patients can be in the presence of a pet to help them feel more comfortable and peaceful, which may help ease the pain from their medications.

Research in the links between psychology and medicine has opened the discussion about how certain behaviors can affect both mental and physical well-being. In the article titled, "Sedentary behavior: a possible risk factor in teen mental health (A.Kandola et. al, 2020)", the researchers provide evidence that sitting for long periods as an early teen can increase the risk of displaying anxiety-related symptoms as they become older adolescents and that light physical activity may reduce this risk.

Psychological intervention can help patients potentially delay or avoid the symptoms of an illness. It is important for healthcare professionals to help their patients manage physical symptoms to avoid complications and ensure their safety long-term.

There is a long way to go when it comes to studying medicine and psychology - both of these fields still have many things that are yet to be discovered! If you are feeling inspired, consider attending AP Biology or Experimental sessions on to learn more about Biology and Psychology! Happy learning! I’ll see you in December when I talk about stem cell technology in Medicine!

Thank you Sharon V for editing this article! peer tutoring, for free.


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