BSc Psychology / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Communication in Healthcare

Course unit fact file
Unit code PSYC31232
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Division of Psychology and Mental Health
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course unit builds upon the topics introduced in First and Second Year; students will be expected to be familiar with ideas and concepts as covered in the Adaptability and Wellbeing course units at these levels. Topics to be covered will include the role of illness and treatment beliefs in health care encounters, how medically unexplained conditions can be explained and managed, ways of improving how health care professionals and patients interact and risk and decision making. Cutting across these topic areas are the themes of theoretical underpinnings, measurement and application.


Building on previous knowledge (recommended PSYC21032 and PSYC21042), the unit aims to:

- To provide students with an understanding of a range of psychological aspects of communication within health care settings. These include understanding how health professionals and patients interact, what cognitive emotional and behavioural factors operate during these interactions, and the consequences these have for each party. The focus will be on situations which are particularly challenging for health professionals, for example explaining causes for medically unexplained symptoms, discussing risk information and uncertain findings, managing patients’ distress, talking about new medical technologies.

-To examine which forms of communication within health care encounters are measureable and amenable to intervention.



1 Introduction to clinical communication
2 Illness cognitions; Leventhal’s Common Sense Model
3 Treatment perceptions, adherence and self-management
4 Risk perception and decision making
5 The role of emotions in clinical interactions
6 Challenging interactions I : Medically unexplained illness
7 Challenging interactions II: communicating medical advances and at times of transition  (e.g. pregnancy, childbirth)
8 Challenging interactions III: families and children
9 Improving doctor-patient interactions: interventions with patients
10 Improving doctor-patient interactions: interventions with doctors
11 Revision session

Teaching and learning methods

This unit will be taught via lectures and seminars


Knowledge and understanding

  • Describe current theoretical perspectives on health care communication
  • Outline the cognitive behavioural and emotional factors that impact on communication between health care professionals and patients
  • Have an understanding of the consequences for doctors and patients of different communication patterns

Intellectual skills

  • Critically evaluate the effectiveness of a range of interventions to improve healthcare professional-patient interactions
  • Critically read and evaluate primary source journal articles reporting studies using a range of methodologies

Practical skills

  • Perform literature searches
  • Present material to the class in an engaging and informative manner

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Engage in group work to solve problems
  • Have a sympathetic understanding of the communication challenges for patients and professionals that occur within healthcare settings
  • Develop their skills in: Synthesising information; summarising theories and evidence; critical thinking; evaluating research; working in groups; communicating effectively both orally and in writing; presenting concise and persuasive arguments

Assessment methods

Written Assignment - 50%

Exam - 50%

Feedback methods

Students will receive a grade and written feedback for the assignment and a grade for the exam


Recommended reading

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


Peter Salmon (2000). Psychology of Medicine and Surgery. A guide for psychologists, counsellors, nurses and doctors.  Wiley: Chichester.



Hagger, M.S. and Orbell, S. A meta-analytic review of the common-sense model of illness representations. Psychology & Health,  18, 141-184.


Horne, R., & Weinman, J.A. (2002). Self-regulation and self-management in asthma: exploring the role of illness perceptions and treatment beliefs in explaining non-adherence to preventer medication. Psychology & Health, 17, 17-32.


Ulph, F., Leong, J., Glazebrook, C. & Townsend, E. (2010). A qualitative study exploring genetic counsellors experiences of counselling children European Journal of Human Genetics, 18, 1090-1094

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 152

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sarah Peters Unit coordinator

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