Throughout the nineteenth and for much of the twentieth century, disease and illness were considered to be entirely due to biological or genetic factors. This approach to the study of illness is known as the biomedical model. However, towards the end of the twentieth century, researchers recognised a need to take into account the role of psychological and social factors. Engel, an influential psychiatrist, proposed the biopsychosocial model, and health psychology was born.
As the name suggests, the biopsychosocial model aims to combine the traditional biomedical model (‘bio’) with psychological (‘psycho’) and environmental (‘social’) aspects. Engel’s model forms the basis of what is referred to as mainstream health psychology. However, in recent years, the concept of critical health psychology has also emerged, which challenges many of the theories that make up the main-stream approach. In particular, critical health psychologists seek to develop an understanding of health and illness in relation to people’s social and cultural context.
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