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MSc Health Psychology

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Illness & Health Care

Unit code PSYC69852
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Division of Psychology and Mental Health
Available as a free choice unit? No


This unit focusses on the experience of being unwell and needing health care, and how psychology has a role in ensuring people access appropriate care and manage their illness to achieve the best possible health outcomes. The course will consider the role of illness perceptions in responding to heath threats; factors influencing help-seeking; and how psychology can help people manage chronic illnesses and reduce disability. The psychology of adherence to treatment, and how psychology can improve adherence and therefore treatment outcomes will be discussed. Patient satisfaction with health care, the impact of hospitalisation, and how psychology can contribute to preparing people for medical procedures will be considered. Students will have the opportunity to investigate an area relevant to the course in more depth, and develop research skills, in conducting this unit’s systematic review assignment.



The unit aims to:

  • Provide a strong grounding in understanding the experience of illness and receiving health care from a psychological perspective.
  • Drawing on theory and evidence, understand how psychological processes (e.g. forming illness and treatment representations) can influence (and be influenced by) response to illness, interactions with healthcare services and influence health outcomes.
  • Provide students with an understanding of long term health problems and the underlying mechanisms (psychological and biological) that cause and maintain symptomatology.
  • Develop students’ skills relevant to systematic reviewing: developing a protocol, searching the literature effectively, and synthesising relevant data. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, students will be able to:

  • Understand the relevance of psychology to maximising health outcomes when patients and health care professionals respond to a patient’s health threat.
  • Understand the role of illness and treatment representations when a person is making sense of a health threat.
  • Critically evaluate evidence in understanding the patient’s response to health threats and the roles of health professionals in supporting patients seeking health care.
  • Develop a well-reasoned systematic review protocol and search strategy
  • Effectively conduct a systematic search of the literature.
  • Develop systematic review skills which will be beneficial in studying in other areas, and vital to future professional training (e.g. stage 2 health psychology training).
  • Develop a sympathetic understanding of how patients may understand and cope with health threats.

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will be delivered in 10 x 2 hour sessions. A range of formats will be used, with most sessions consisting of some lecture material, small group work and discussions with the whole group. Students will be provided with electronic resources on Blackboard including PowerPoint slides, reading lists and web links. Students will be encouraged to use a discussion board on Blackboard to discuss ideas with peers and staff and to ask questions.

Assessment methods

  1. Systematic review protocol - 1,500 words (30%)
  2. Systematic review; full write-up - 3,000 words (70%)


Recommended reading

Key readings are listed below. Additional references will be provided with individual sessions.

Cameron L.D., & Leventhal, H., Eds. (2003). The self-regulation of health and illness behaviour. Routledge, London.

Greenhalgh T. (1997) How to read a paper: papers that summarise other papers (systematic reviews and meta-analyses). BMJ, 315, 672-5.

Powell, R., Scott, N.W., Manyande, A., Bruce, J., Vögele, C., Byrne-Davis, L.M.T., Unsworth,

M., Osmer, C., Johnston, M. (2016) Psychological preparation and postoperative outcomes for adults undergoing surgery under general anaesthesia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD008646. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008646.pub2.

Blakemore A, Dickens C, Guthrie E, Bower P, Kontopantelis E, Afzal C, et al. (2014).  Depression and anxiety predict health-related quality of life in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 2014;9:1-12.

French, D.P., Scott, S.E. & Powell, R. (2016). Promoting early detection and screening for disease. In E Fisher, L Cameron, A Christensen, U Ehlert, B Oldenburg, F Snoek & A Zaini (eds.), Principles and Concepts of Behavioral Medicine: A Global Handbook. New York: Springer.

Horne R, Weinman J (1999) Patients’ beliefs about prescribed medication and their role in adherence to treatment in chronic physical illness. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 47 (6) 555-567.

Johnston, M & Vögele, C (1993). Benefits of psychological preparation for surgery: A metaanalysis. Annals of Behavioural Medicine, 15 (4), 245-256.

Morrison, V & Bennett, P (2012). Pain. In: An Introduction to Health Psychology (3rd Ed). Harlow: Pearson.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Joanna Brooks Unit coordinator

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