Current Areas of Emphasis

The Center for Psychology and Health provides a foundation for new initiatives to advance psychology in health, as well as for consolidating ongoing work by the association and in collaboration with other organizations. The overriding focus of the center’s work is to highlight the contributions of psychology and psychologists to interprofessional health care teams, as well as interdisciplinary research teams, to prevent and treat serious physical diseases and disorders.

In addition to integrated health care, the center's current areas of interest include: obesity, cardiac disease, substance abuse and cancer. However, many risk factors associated with the etiology and progression of these conditions also serve as catalysts for other chronic health conditions. Therefore, the center is committed to expanding its areas of emphasis to address growing public health concerns.

Integrated Health Care

Many Americans must navigate a fragmented health care system where providers rarely consult with one another. Yet health care reform offers a more patient-centered approach. Integrated health care teams can bring together physicians, psychologists, nurses and other providers, depending upon the individual patient’s health care needs, to diagnose a health problem, plan and provide treatment and monitor and evaluate whether that treatment is effective.

Some psychologists are already involved in such teams, and researchers have found that their participation can enhance patient access to services, improve the quality of their care and better address co-occurring mental and physical health problems.

In fact, researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have found that (PDF, 482KB):

  • 68 percent of people with a mental disorder also have at least one physical health condition.

  • 29 percent of adults with a medical condition also have a mental disorder.

Obesity

Obesity in America has reached epidemic proportions. More than 78 million obese adults and 12.5 million obese children and teens face serious health consequences, including diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea and some forms of cancer. If the trend continues to escalate, American life expectancy will decline for the first time since the 1850s.

Psychologists are working to stem the obesity crisis on a variety of fronts, for example, by:

Psychologists are also on the frontlines of studying the ways that depression, anxiety and stress can lead people to develop unhealthy behaviors, and how obesity can, in turn, contribute to mental health problems.

Cancer

More than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year, and some research suggests that up to 95 percent of those cases could have been prevented through behavioral interventions, including quitting smoking, exercising more, staying out of the sun and eating more fruits and vegetables. In fact, some 30 percent of cancer-related deaths are due to tobacco and 35 percent are linked to diet. Additionally, there are significant health disparities, resulting in a 25 percent higher death rate for blacks than whites for the three deadliest kinds of cancer: lung, prostate and breast.

Psychologists are working to:

Substance Use

Illicit drug use is on the rise, with some 23 million Americans reporting that they used an illicit drug within the past month. In contrast, alcohol and tobacco use is declining, but still results in substantial health costs, especially among vulnerable populations. In 2011, less than 1 percent of Americans who needed treatment for drug or alcohol use received it.

Addiction is costly to both individuals and society, adding up to more than $600 billion a year in health care, incarceration and other costs. Psychologists are:

Cardiac Disease

Did you know that your thoughts, attitudes and emotions can put you at risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems? Research suggests that depressive symptoms increase your chances of having a heart attack even more than being exposed to second-hand smoke. And after a heart attack, even minor depression can increase a patient’s chances of dying in the following five years.

Psychologists are: