Health psychologists help adult or pediatric patients address psychological and social aspects of physical health. Whether you, your child or a family member is managing chronic pain or making healthy lifestyle changes, a health psychologist is an integral part of your care team. At UChicago Medicine, the best health outcomes come from treating the mind and the body together.

What is Health Psychology?

Health psychology focuses on how biological, psychological and social factors influence health and illness. Health psychologists are clinical psychologists with special training to support patients with medical concerns. They typically meet with patients in individual or group psychotherapy (i.e., psychological or “talk” therapy) sessions to address specific goals for improving health and well-being.

Pediatric health psychologists work with children and adolescents to support behavioral, developmental and psychological needs.

The following are some reasons to work with a health psychologist:

  • Cope with a new diagnosis or treatment
  • Help with managing the physical symptoms of an illness
  • Improve lifestyle behaviors (e.g., sleep, eating behaviors, exercise) to prevent or improve a chronic condition
  • Managing stress and anxiety
  • Improving communication between the patient and the medical care team to help reach treatment goals

Patients achieve better health outcomes by addressing the behavioral and psychological aspects of medical problems, including the stress of managing treatment from the start.

Health psychologists are part of the following integrated specialty programs:

What to Expect from Treatment with a Health Psychologist

If you are referred for an evaluation by a health psychologist, you will have the chance to discuss the following:

  • Your diagnosis
  • Medication management
  • Symptom management
  • Any stress or support at home
  • How to maintain activities of daily living

Recommendations may include completing a course of therapy with a health psychologist or another provider.

You can expect to meet with a health psychologist early in your care journey. Some patients meet with health psychologists for individual therapy one or two times. Others may meet with a provider for a short course of five or six therapy sessions. Patients who need a different or longer-term behavioral health treatment may be referred to another provider.

Because health psychologists are embedded in departments like oncology and pain management, they are familiar with patients’ treatment and challenges. They can be a sounding board and a key advisor in navigating any necessary decision-making. Health psychology appointments are another opportunity to ask questions and gain insight into what to expect throughout treatment.

With your permission, your health psychologist will collaborate with your medical team so their input becomes part of the treatment plan.

Health Psychology Research

Health psychologists at UChicago Medicine work in clinical and research settings. Patients benefit from the psychologists’ expertise and depth of knowledge about the latest research.

Research shows that patients who work with health psychologists experience lower levels of distress, including less depression, lower levels of anxiety, better symptom control and improved quality of life.

Research our health psychologists are currently involved in includes:

  • Understanding psychological factors associated with improved post-surgical outcomes for patients with median arcuate ligament syndrome
  • Reducing psychological distress among children, teens and young adults undergoing stem cell transplantation
  • Benefits of teletherapy in reducing racial disparities in psychosocial oncology