In order to devise better and more effective solutions to the problems of physical illness and disease, Medical Psychology uses a conceptual model that synthesizes both the body and the mind as joined and indistinguishable from each other. This is not a new idea, since we Westerners have held this view at least since the times of Socrates
, only to discard it in favor of Cartesian
philosophical principles of the Early Modern
period (17th Century) that consider mind and body as separate. Not only was Descartes wrong then, but also that specific way of looking at health, still taught in modern allopathic medical schools, fails to account for the lack of progress in the treatment of chronic illnesses such as chronic pain and headaches, or in acute illnesses such as cancers. All in all, there are very few actual illnesses that are cured by a system of medicine that disregards that seamless interaction of mind and body. Medical (not Medicinal!) Psychology comes with a variety of monikers, including Clinical Health Psychology, Psychosomatic Medicine, Health Care Psychology, Behavioral Medicine, or Health Psychology. Regardless which specific name one uses, the intent of Medical Psychology is to apply knowledge from all branches of psychology and medicine in the prevention, assessment, and treatment of all forms of physical diseases. Medical psychology asserts its main function in the determination of personality styles of coping and the examination of attitudes of an individual in response to subjective and objective stressors. Medical psychologists also help in the determination of genetic, biochemical, and physiologic factors in illnesses and reaction to illness. These, then, are joined with psychosocial factors deemed contributory to diseases processes. Specific behavioral methods are then used to help the person match coping and management skills to the person’s abilities, character, and personality style. An important contribution of Medical Psychology is in the education of patients (psychoeducation) in disease processes. Frequently, such education of the patient and the family insures substantially better compliance with treatment recommendations by physicians. Medical Psychologists are particularly successful in the treatment of asthma, gastrointestinal illnesses, cardiac conditions, spinal cord and brain injuries, chronic pain, headaches, and addictions (drugs, smoking, eating, alcohol, etc.). Training in Medical Psychology entails a doctoral degree (Ph.D., or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology, an internship, and postdoctoral training in one of the branches of medicine traditionally associated with psychological fields: psychosomatic medicine, rehabilitation, neuropsychology (central nervous system functioning – brain functions), substance abuse, pain medicine, etc. Recently, the contribution of Medical Psychologist to general health care has been given a special boost by their use as Primary Care doctors in the world’s largest HMO, the California Kaiser Permanente. These psychologists work along with Primary Care Physicians in order to determine optimum treatment plans for all patients with physical and/or mental illnesses.