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Department of Psychology
University of Mississippi

PSY 410 | Health Psychology

Health Psychology is taught by several faculty members, including Todd Smitherman, who has a PhD from Auburn University, and Aaron Lee, who has a PhD from the University of Wyoming.

Dr. Smitherman’s research focuses on understanding the role of psychological factors in chronic medical conditions and physical health. The bulk of his work focuses on migraine and other headache disorders, investigating 1) psychiatric comorbidities (anxiety, depression, insomnia), 2) behavioral interventions for reducing pain and disability, 3) avoidance behaviors, 4) behavioral triggers of headache attacks (eg, poor sleep, missed meals, stress), and 5) other psychological constructs (e.g., fear of pain, anxiety sensitivity).

Dr. Lee’s research examines interaction of stress with psychosocial factors that contribute to sub-optimal health behaviors and cardiometabolic outcomes among adults with chronic disease. Specifically, it is focused on improving our current understanding of the ways that environmental stressors, psychological vulnerabilities (e.g., difficulties regulating emotion, maladaptive beliefs) as well as various types of social support impact individuals’ ability to effectively manage their chronic health conditions—particularly among adults with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

The Health Psychology course provides an overview of current topics in health psychology, with a particular focus on psychological approaches to promoting physical health and treating medical illnesses. It is designed to help students appreciate the role of psychological factors in physical health and illness from a biopsychosocial model. The many subtopics within the broader field of health psychology include promotion of health behaviors, primary prevention of disease, alcohol and smoking, stress and coping, and psychoneuroimmunology. Students also survey psychological approaches to treating specific medical conditions such as chronic pain and headache, cancer and other terminal illnesses, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.

This course is intended for psychology majors, pre-med students, and others in health fields (nutrition, exercise science, public health, etc.) interested in the interactions between psychological and physical health. It prepares students to work in health-related applied settings by providing a background in understanding psychological factors that are integral to promoting physical health and treating chronic medical illnesses.

Students learn to

  • Understand health psychology as the field devoted to understanding psychological influences on physical health and illness.
  • Develop proficiency interpreting academic journal articles pertinent to this field.
  • Develop an appreciation for the role of psychological factors in bodily processes from a biopsychosocial perspective.
  • Become familiar with psychological strategies for promoting health and preventing disease.
  • Develop an awareness of specific psychological strategies for managing chronic diseases.
  • Apply this knowledge to improve presentation skills.