Two Models in Health Psychology

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Here, two models frequently used in health psychology are discussed. The first one is the biomedical model, and the second one the biopsychosocial model.

The Biomedical Model

Modern medicine arose in the 19th century and was strongly influenced by the biomedical model. According to this model, illnesses and conditions are purely physical and should be treated as such. The biomedical model can be summarized in the following five points:

  • Diseases have an uncontrollable biological cause. Some diseases come from outside (bacteria and viruses, for example), intrude the body and give rise to physiological changes. Others are initiated by an internal change caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic predisposition.
  • Individuals cannot be held responsible for their disease, they are the victim of uncontrollable circumstances.
  • Treatment should comprise a recovery of the physical condition, which can be achieved through, for example, medication, surgery or chemotherapy.
  • The responsibility for the treatment lies entirely with the physicians. The patient is expected to strictly follow their guidelines.
  • There is a strict distinction between sickness and health. When one is ill, one should be treated. And when one is not ill, there need not be any concern for his or her health.

This model has been an is still very influential. It has led to a great increase in knowledge about several conditions, and has provided many (partial) treatments. Nevertheless, from the 70’s and 80’s onwards, it became apparent that there is more to it.

The Biopsychosocial or Holistic Model

This recent model in health psychology can be summarized in the following five points:

  • Diseases and conditions arise from an interaction between biological, psychological and social factors.
  • Individuals have a certain amount of influence on the disease and the development of it. Their behavior can stimulate or inhibit the disease’s development.
  • Treatment of the physical symptoms is not always enough, especially with chronic conditions. Sometimes patients are required to change their behavior, their perspective or understand the importance of prolonged treatment.
  • The responsibility for the treatment lies with both the physician and the patient. This means that the physician explains everything to the patient and involves him or her in the treatment.
  • It is best to encourage or discourage certain behaviors when people are still healthy (preventive measures).

This second model is gaining importance in both the psychological and medicinal world and is currently an important part in the education of both physicians and psychologists.


  • Brannon, L. & Feist, J. (2009). Health Psychology: An introduction to behavior and health. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.
  • Ogden , J. (2004). Health Psychology: A textbook. Maidenhead: Open University.
  • Suls, J. & Rotman, A. (2004). Evolution of the Biopscychosocial Model: Prospects and Challenges for Health Psychology. Health Psychology 23(2), pp. 119 – 125.