Interview with health psychologist, Professor Alison Wearden
By Stephen Williams, Zozan Polat, Ellie Nicol Lowther & Ellie Kinney (Work Experience Students)
What really is Health Psychology?
Health psychology is the application of Psychological theory and practice to all aspects of physical health and illness. So, for example, health psychologists understand how people make decisions, they understand how people’s beliefs affect the way that they behave but always within the context of psychical health and illness. So it comprises things like coping with chronic illness, making a decision to go to the doctor, how you communicate with the doctor, it also comprises the connection between the mind and the body, so health psychologists also study thing like how stress affects your immune function for example.
So, is this what you have always wanted to do?
As a child I wanted to be a criminal psychologist really and in fact when I did my degree I went into the probation service and I did that several years before coming back to psychology.
What made you really change from criminal psychology to health psychology?
As I mentioned earlier, I went into the probation service and I worked as a probation officer for 9 years and then I had my children and I stayed at home for a few years. And I realised then that I didn’t want to go back into that, mainly because it’s a very stressful and emotionally tasked occupation. So I came back into academia which I find just as stressful!
What moment from your career has made you proudest?
Speaking about my career as a psychologist, I suppose the thing I did that I’m most proud of is I ran a large treatment trial of pragmatic rehabilitation treatment for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, which is a quiet controversial condition and it’s poorly understood and it’s been quite difficult to treat. We successfully carried that trial out and found a treatment that improved patients’ fatigue, so that’s probably the thing that I’m most proud of.
You’re the editor of the British Journal of Health Psychology, what does that entail?
As the editor of the journal, I don’t review papers myself so much anymore, I mainly do the job of sifting through them, so about half of the papers that come in we have to reject, because we just haven’t got the space to publish them all, and some of them aren’t very good! And then the rest of them we send out to our associate editors, who send them to reviewers, and then they come back. It’s really interesting work actually!
What else would you say has interested you from your career?
Well, people often think that academics think teaching gets in the way of their research. But I actually really like teaching as well, and one of the things I’ve really enjoyed doing is developing a master’s course in clinical and health psychology, because when you’re teaching at master’s level or at doctoral level, your research and teaching can really be tied together, because you’re teaching cutting-edge stuff, and I think you learn a lot from the students, you learn a lot from preparing your teaching, so I found that really interesting.
If you weren’t a health psychologist what would be your ideal job?
I like languages, maybe something with languages. I’ve always wanted to have a job that I feel is relatively useful. I’ve done some voluntary work with refugees so maybe something like that.