What Is Behavioral Medicine?

Behavioral Medicine

Behavioral medicine is the interdisciplinary field concerned with the development and integration of behavioral, psychosocial, and biomedical science knowledge and techniques relevant to the understanding of health and illness, and the application of this knowledge and these techniques to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. Consumers and a wide variety of health professionals are involved in behavioral medicine research and practice, including cardiologists, counselors, epidemiologists, exercise physiologists, family physicians, health educators, internists, nurses, nutritionists, pediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists. Behavioral medicine takes a lifespan approach to health and health care, working with children, teens, adults and seniors individually and in groups, and working with racially and ethnically diverse communities in the United States and abroad.

The article "Behavior Matters," written by several SBM members and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, effectively explains the central role of behavior in health and provides evidence for how behavioral interventions can be effectively used to prevent disease, improve management of existing disease, increase quality of life and reduce healthcare costs.

Behavioral Medicine Career Paths
Behavioral medicine specialists work in many different fields and can possess many different degrees. Degrees behavioral medicine specialists hold can include but are not limited to: PhD, MD, EdD, PsyD, DrPH, DDS, DSc/ScD, JD, NP, APRN, RD, RN, CHES, LPC, NCC, DCC, MBA, MSN, MEd/EdM, MSW, MPH, MSPH, MLIR/MLIS/MLS, MHK, MS, MA, MBBS, BScKin/BHK/BKin, BCB, BS and BA.

Some behavioral medicine professions include but are not limited to: psychologist, researcher, nurse, health educator, physician, epidemiologist, administrator, statistician, physiologist, nutritionist, sociologist, social worker, anthropologist, dentist, exercise physiologist, geneticist, pharmacist and anyone else that works to promote healthy behaviors to improve the health and well-being of people in our communities. Many behavioral medicine career paths can travel through several different career trajectories over the course of a lifetime.

Field of Behavioral Medicine Historical Timeline
Special thanks to Marc D. Gellman, PhD, and Sherry L. Pagoto, PhD, for their work on this timeline. Click for full timeline.

Areas of Behavioral Medicine Research and Intervention
Areas of behavioral medicine research include adolescent health, aging, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease (heart disease, hypertension, stroke), children's health, chronic pain, cystic fibrosis, depression, diabetes, disease-related pain, eating disorders, environmental health, headaches, HIV/AIDS, incontinence, insomnia, low back pain, minority health, myofascial pain, obesity, public health, pulmonary disease, quality of life, rehabilitation, sexually transmitted diseases, social support, sports medicine, substance abuse (alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs) and women's health.

Health and Behavior
Changes in behavior and lifestyle can improve health, prevent illness and reduce symptoms of illness. More than 25 years of research, clinical practice and community-based interventions in the field of behavioral medicine have shown that behavioral changes can help people feel better physically and emotionally, improve their health status, increase their self-care skills and improve their ability to live with chronic illness. Behavioral interventions also can improve the effectiveness of medical interventions, reduce overutilization of the healthcare system and reduce the overall costs of care.

Settings for Behavioral Medicine Research and Practice
Research and practice settings include athletic organizations, community-based organizations and groups, corporations, government entities, health clubs and fitness centers, health maintenance organizations, hospitals, long-term care, medical schools, nursing schools, office-based private practice, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation clinics, religious organizations and groups, schools of public health, senior centers, schools and universities, wellness centers and worksites.

Key Strategies for Successful Behavior Change
Lifestyle Changes
Improve nutrition, increase physical activity, stop smoking, use medications appropriately, practice safer sex, and prevent and reduce alcohol and drug abuse.
Coping, relaxation, self-monitoring, stress management, time management, pain management, problem-solving, communication skills, time management and priority-setting.
Social Support
Group education, caretaker support and training, health counseling, and community-based sports events.

New Areas in Development
Such areas include: integrating behavioral medicine strategies into primary care and managed care; increasing public awareness of behavioral interventions; including effective behavioral interventions in development of clinical practice guidelines; increasing use of information technology for behavioral interventions; and improving integration of research and practice.

Research Shows that Behavioral Interventions can Affect Health
Examples include: prevent disease onset; lower blood pressure; lower serum cholesterol; reduce body fat; reverse atherosclerosis; decrease pain; reduce surgical complications; decrease complications of pregnancy; enhance immune response; increase relaxation; increase functional capacity; improve sleep; improve productivity at work and school; improve strength, endurance and mobility; and improve quality of life.

Sources of Funding for Research
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institutes of Health (NHLBI, NIA, NIAAA, NIAID, NICHD, NIDR, NIDDK, NIDA, NINDS, NINR); and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Carnegie Foundation; Annie E. Casey Foundation; Fetzer Institute; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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