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What is Behavioral Medicine?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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Behavioral medicine is a broad field that applies general knowledge of psychology, biology, and health science to behavior and to behavioral problems. There are many different disorders that affect behavior; some are purely psychological while others have an identifiable physiological component that can be isolated and treated. The field of behavioral medicine seeks to understand and treat any type of disorder that strongly affects behavior. This includes anything from eating disorders and depression to Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. Just as the disorders of interest are incredibly varied, the possible treatments for them may range from biofeedback and hypnosis to medication and hospitalization.

People from a wide range of health-related fields are active in the wide field of behavioral medicine. Psychologists, for instance, may contribute to the field on a clinical level by helping people with behavioral problems in a therapeutic context. They may also contribute to the field on an academic level by conducting research at a university or elsewhere and contributing to journals of behavioral medicine. Physicians and nurses with proper training in behavioral psychology are also common practitioners in the field. Some focus purely on a patient's psychology while others try to examine the problems from a more holistic viewpoint by taking all aspects of the patient's overall health into consideration.

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The field of behavioral medicine is largely defined by the body of techniques used in its application. Some involve the use of medication while others involve close interaction with a therapist on a short- or long-term basis. Biofeedback, hypnosis, and other therapy methods are very common in the treatment of behavioral problems and are commonly used in behavioral medicine. Sometimes the best way to handle a behavioral problem is to understand the thoughts and feelings that lead to the problem and, if applicable, the environmental factors or past traumas that caused the problem to exist in the first place.

In some cases, it is not possible to treat behavioral problems through the intervention of a therapist alone. In these cases, it may become necessary to use various behavior-altering medications to treat problems in behavior. This is often true in the cases of major depression or schizophrenia in which regular meetings with a therapist are unable to control the behavioral symptoms of the disorder.

Behavioral medicine also has academic, research-based aspects. There are several different journals that are devoted to publishing research in the field of behavioral medicine. Some are specific to a particular subdiscipline of the broad field while others publish research about almost any aspect of the field as a whole. Research can involve case studies of individuals with behavior problems, studies analyzing the effects of new drugs, or even sociological studies on the behavior of large groups of people in various situations.

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