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Review of "The Health Psychology Handbook"

By Lee M. Cohen, Dennis E. McChargue and Frank L. Collins Jr. (Editors)
Sage Publications, 2003
Review by Yvonne Melia on Aug 2nd 2004
The Health Psychology Handbook

The Health Psychology Handbook is a reference text primarily aimed at Health Psychologists working in the area of behavioral medicine.  The text is divided into four sections.  The first of these deals with practical issues and provides an overview of the unique skills involved in practicing health psychology and the challenges of working in medical contexts.  Practice and psychological assessment screening in medical settings, working within a multidisciplinary team, and commonly used interventions (e.g. motivational interviewing, brief psychotherapies, group treatments) are covered here. 

Part II addresses those behaviors that may compromise overall health status.  Alcohol problems, nicotine dependence, obesity and body image disturbance, physical inactivity and chronic disease, stress, inappropriate medication-seeking behavior and adherence to medical recommendations are addressed.

Part III goes on to review the practice of clinical health psychology in relation to specific medical problems, including chronic pain, hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes, oncology, sexual dysfunctions, HIV, irritable bowel syndrome and sleep disorders.

Finally, Part IV examines special issues, including ethics, working with specific populations (e.g. women, older adults, ethnocultural diversity), research in medical settings and evaluating outcomes.  Issues pertinent to the future progression of the field are also touched on, for instance, what health psychology could bring to public health and how this transition to the public health arena could be achieved, in terms of building on Health Psychologists existing skills and gaps in training.

A key feature of the Handbook is the attention it gives to evidence-based practice.  Clearly this has merit, and is in keeping with the scientist practitioner approach to clinical psychology.  However, this attention meant that some chapters appeared to have more of a flavor of a literature review than of a practical resource that clinicians could use and apply in their work.  Much more useful were those chapters, such as the one on sleep disorders which provided succinct summaries of treatment approaches and included useful examples and suggestions for how these could be applied in clinical practice.  Whilst the text did include some chapters on working with special populations, in general, the evidence base was reviewed as though the demographics of participants across research studies were homogeneous.  For instance, the absence of information about working with children with medical problems was conspicuous. 

One must allude to the Foreword to the Handbook by Cynthia Belar however and the reference she makes to the youth of the formalized practice of health psychology in the US, being only 25 years old in 2003. Belar also refers to the previous dearth of available practical resources for Health Psychologists.  Clearly, despite minor shortcomings, the Health Psychology Handbook represents a useful addition to the body of published practical advice available for Health Psychologists.  The text is a useful reference for Health Psychologists in training through to experienced practitioners.  It sets out the nature of key health problems encountered by Health Psychologists in their clinical practice, defines related psychological concepts, and addresses assessment and measurement issues and interventions (both individual and group).  Each chapter concludes with a useful case study to illustrate how the concepts addressed in the chapter work in practice.  Whilst the text is US-focused, it clearly would provide a useful contribution to practitioners working in the UK, given the early stage formalized practice of health psychology is at here.    

 

© 2004 Yvonne Melia

 

Yvonne Melia writes about herself:

I am presently employed as an Assistant Psychologist in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services at Gulson Clinic, Coventry, UK, and commence my doctoral training in clinical psychology in the autumn.

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