The Mental and Physical Health Domain

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the basic interests and applications of abnormal, clinical, and health psychology
Image of five pillars, showing the biological, cognitive, developmental, social and personality, and mental and physical health.

Figure 1. The mental and physical health domain of psychology covers mental disorders, treatments for disorders, as well as the study of health and happiness.

This domain of psychology is what many people think of when they think about psychology—mental disorders and counseling. This includes the study of abnormal psychology, with its focus on abnormal thoughts and behaviors, as well as counseling and treatment methods, and recommendations for coping with stress and living a healthy life.

The names and classifications of mental disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is currently in its 5th edition (DSM-V) and has been designed for use in a wide variety of contexts and across clinical settings (including inpatient, outpatient, partial hospital, clinic, private practice, and primary care). The diagnostic manual includes a total of 237 specific diagnosable disorders, each described in detail, including its symptoms, prevalence, risk factors, and comorbidity. Over time, the number of diagnosable conditions listed in the DSM has grown steadily, prompting criticism from some. Nevertheless, the diagnostic criteria in the DSM are more explicit than those of any other system, which makes the DSM system highly desirable for both clinical diagnosis and research.

Graph of DSM disorders showing lifetime prevalence rates. Appropriate alternative text can be found in the data table displayed below this image. Major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, and drug abuse top the list, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and dysthymia.

Figure 2. Lifetime prevalence rates for major psychological disorders.

Table 1. DSM Disorder Lifetime Prevalence Rates
DSM Disorder Total Females Males
Major Depressive Disorder 17% 20% 13%
Alcohol Abuse 13% 7% 20%
Specific Phobia 13% 16% 8%
Social Anxiety Disorder 12% 13% 11%
Drug Abuse 8% 5% 12%
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder 7% 10% 3%
Generalized Anxiety Disorder 6% 7% 4%
Panic Disorder 5% 6% 3%
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 3% 3% 2%
Dysthymia 3% 3% 2%

Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is the area of psychology that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders and other problematic patterns of behavior. As such, it is generally considered to be a more applied area within psychology; however, some clinicians are also actively engaged in scientific research. Counseling psychology is a similar discipline that focuses on emotional, social, vocational, and health-related outcomes in individuals who are considered psychologically healthy. As mentioned earlier, both Freud and Rogers provided perspectives that have been influential in shaping how clinicians interact with people seeking psychotherapy. While aspects of the psychoanalytic theory are still found among some of today’s therapists who are trained from a psychodynamic perspective, Roger’s ideas about client-centered therapy have been especially influential in shaping how many clinicians operate. Furthermore, both behaviorism and the cognitive revolution have shaped clinical practice in the forms of behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Issues related to the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders and problematic patterns of behavior will be discussed in detail later in this textbook.
The points of an equilateral triangle are labeled “thoughts,” “behaviors,” and “emotions.” There are arrows running along the sides of the triangle with points on both ends, pointing to the labels.

Figure 3. Cognitive-behavioral therapists take cognitive processes and behaviors into account when providing psychotherapy. This is one of several strategies that may be used by practicing clinical psychologists.

By far, this is the area of psychology that receives the most attention in popular media, and many people mistakenly assume that all psychology is clinical psychology.

Health Psychology

Health psychology focuses on how health is affected by the interaction of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. This particular approach is known as the biopsychosocial model. Health psychologists are interested in helping individuals achieve better health through public policy, education, intervention, and research. Health psychologists might conduct research that explores the relationship between one’s genetic makeup, patterns of behavior, relationships, psychological stress, and health. They may research effective ways to motivate people to address patterns of behavior that contribute to poorer health (MacDonald, 2013).

Three circles overlap in the middle. The circles are labeled Biological, Psychological, and Social.

Figure 4. The biopsychosocial model suggests that health/illness is determined by an interaction of these three factors.

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Glossary

biopsychosocial model: perspective that asserts that biology, psychology, and social factors interact to determine an individual’s health
clinical psychology: area of psychology that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders and other problematic patterns of behavior

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