Health Sciences

Clinical Health Psychology

The Clinical Health Psychology Research Team commenced in March 2013. It focuses on the application of clinical health psychology to understanding, preventing and treating chronic disease. The Body Image, Eating and Weight Clinical Research Team also sits within the Clinical Health Psychology Research Team.

Clinical health psychology considers behavioural, emotional, cognitive, social and biological components in health and disease to promote health and wellbeing, prevent and treat illness and improve the health care system. It aims to improve understanding and treatment of the overlap between physical and mental illness. It considers how psychological factors (e.g., motivation, learning, memory, cognition) influence health behaviours, physical illness, injury and disability.

Our team focuses specifically on the national health priorities of obesity and diabetes. Over 60% of Australian adults are overweight, and obesity is the strongest risk factor for Type 2 diabetes – the highest contributor to Australia’s burden of disease. Importantly, both are lifestyle related disorders and their increasing prevalence is largely attributed to modifiable lifestyle factors.

In addition to their biological consequences (e.g., cardiovascular), diabetes and obesity are strongly associated with impaired psychological (e.g., depression) and social (e.g., discrimination) wellbeing. Treatments include lifestyle interventions targeting diet, physical activity and weight loss as well as pharmacological management of risk factors and comorbidities (e.g., blood glucose). Adherence to treatment, particularly lifestyle intervention, is typically poor and results are often suboptimal.

The high and increasing prevalence, negative biopsychosocial consequences, and treatment challenges highlight the important contributions clinical health psychology can make to understanding, preventing and treating obesity and diabetes. Yet there are very few Australian psychologists with relevant research and/or clinical expertise.

The Clinical Health Psychology Research Support Team is unique in applying behavioural, cognitive and physiological techniques to the issues of obesity and diabetes. The psychology-based team garners expertise in a range of research paradigms to better understand, prevent and treat obesity and diabetes. Short term goals include: (1) promoting cross campus research collaborations, (2) building research capacity, and (3) increasing research outputs (publications, funding). This will lay the foundation for the development of clinical health psychology as both an area of research strength within the school and a unique focus of the psychology clinics at ACU.