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Medical psychology is a new and rapidly growing field in health care. Medical psychologists are experts in the biomedical basis of behavior.
Medical psychologists undergo specialized medical training that allows them to prescribe medication and treat both the physical and psychological symptoms of illnesses.
The duties of clinical psychologists and medical psychologists have much overlap. However, in addition to the psychotherapeutic aspects of clinical psychology, medical psychologists receive advanced training in the ways that psychological factors affect physical illness. Medical psychologists call on their training in general medicine, psychopharmacology, physiology and rehabilitation to treat the types of patients they see on the job.
Some common responsibilities of medical psychologists include:
· Psychotherapy - helping patients manage the emotional aspects of chronic illnesses.
· Pain Management - finding ways to curb the physical symptoms of a disease and minimize the side effects of treatments.
· Pharmacology - prescribing psychotropic medications for patients with mental issues or disorders.
· Behavior Therapy - initiating and implementing behavioral interventions and stress reduction techniques that will positively affect patients' immune systems.
Medical psychologists work in a variety of settings. Many take positions at hospitals, medical centers or health care facilities. Some medical psychologists work solely in research positions, studying the ways that mental and physical factors are interrelated. Medical psychologists also work as consultants to other psychologists and health care professionals.
Although specific salary information for medical psychologists is unavailable, salaries in medical psychology are similar, if not higher than those in clinical psychology. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), the median salary for a licensed clinical psychologist was $85,000 in 2007. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the annual salary for clinical psychologists working in scientific research or scientific consulting services”both popular career paths for medical psychologists "obtained a mean annual salary of $88,830 and $150,890 respectively. Those working in medical offices made a mean annual salary of $93,330.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts faster than average growth for all psychology jobs in the next several years. As the medical community continues to discover the manners in which mental and physical health intersect, jobs in medical psychology should grow along with all healthcare positions.
American College of Forensic Examiners
The American Board of Psychological Specialties, a division of The American College of Forensic Examiners, has created a board certified specialty in the area of Medical Psychology. Medical psychologists have post doctoral training in various methods to help patients who have chronic and/or serious medical problems. Typically this includes working with the person on managing the emotional aspects of their illness, and also, reducing physical symptoms of the disease and the side effects of various treatments.
In 1986, research on neuropeptides by neuroscientist Candace Pert at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) demonstrated that we truly are a body/mind, as opposed to a separate body and mind. Pert showed that every cell in the body has both physical and emotional memory and function. The implications of this research are far reaching, and have served as a theoretical basis for much of the work of medical psychologists.
Most diseases common in modern society are opportunistic. When we experience a traumatic event or live in a state of chronic stress, the immune system is severely compromised. As a result, the body becomes more hospitable to everything from allergies to cancer. A medical psychologist helps clients properly process the stresses in their lives with the intention of bolstering the immune system. They also help clients manage specific conditions. For example, a patient with cancer might be in a state of shock from the diagnosis, feel fear and confusion about the treatment options, or depression over a poor prognosis or the limitations the disease poses. They might also worry about the effect the illness will have on loved ones. The medical psychologist helps the person manage this emotional turmoil.
Medical psychologists are also trained in various interventions to help patients minimize physical symptoms. Some of the techniques that are commonly used are behavioral interventions and relaxationtechniques, hypnosis, and guided imagery, which all tend to effect physical changes by enhancing the person’s immune system and decreasing tension. Energy medicines such as acupressure, bodywork, and homeopathy are also frequently used. Different practitioners have different training and specialties.
Individual practitioners may have specific areas of focus. Pain management is one of the most common, because pain responds so well to psychological intervention. Pain is a combination of many things – the actual physical site of the pain, exacerbated by tension, fear, and anxiety. When the patient can learn to relax his or her body, there is a natural reduction of pain. Most of my work in MedicalPsychology is as a pain specialist (cancer, fibromyalgia,arthritis, etc.) and allergy elimination work (yes, in most cases, allergies can be permanently eliminated). Others specialize in neuromuscular, genetic, or birth disorders, gynecological problems, or other specific ailments. Most medical psychologists will work with any presenting problem, in conjunction and consultation with other health care providers.
Medical psychology, as defined by Division 55 of the American Psychological Association (APA), "is that branch of psychology that integrates somatic and psychotherapeutic modalities into the management of mental illness and emotional, cognitive, behavioral and substance use disorders." The specialty of medical psychology has established a specialty board certification, American Board of Medical Psychology and an Academy of Medical Psychology (http://www.amphome.org/) requiring a doctorate degree in psychology and extensive post doctoral training in the specialty and the passage of an oral or written examination. Medical psychologists are qualified to be members of the national practitioner association (National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers-NAPPP (http://nappp.org/) and are trained to treat the behavioral and psychological aspects of physical disorders and to treat mental disorders in primary care centers, hospitals, and nursing homes. Qualified psychologists can also become board certified in Behavioral Health Practice (http://abbhp.org/) and have their practices accredited by the National Institute of Behavioral Health Quality (http://nibhq.org).