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Background Information on Behavioral Medicine

Behavioral Medicine for Mental Health Professionals

A Training Resource

By Jim Messina, Ph.D., CCMHC, NCC, DCMHS-T

What is Behavioral Medicine?

Definition of Behavioral Medicine
Behavioral Medicine is the interdisciplinary field concerned with the development and the integration of behavioral, psychosocial, and biomedical science knowledge and techniques relevant to the understanding of health and illness, and the application of this knowledge and these techniques to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. (Definition is provided by the Society of Behavioral Medicine on their website at: )


Focus of Behavioral Medicine
Behavioral medicine takes a life-span approach to health and health care, working with children, teens, adults, and seniors individually and in groups, and working with racially and ethnically diverse communities in the United States and abroad.


Impact of Behavioral Medicine

Changes in behavior and lifestyle can improve health, prevent illness, and reduce symptoms of illness. More than twenty-five years of research, clinical practice, and community-based interventions in the field of behavioral medicine have shown that behavioral changes can help people feel better physically and emotionally, improve their health status, increase their self-care skills, and improve their ability to live with chronic illness. Behavioral interventions also can improve the effectiveness of medical interventions, can help to reduce overutilization of the health care system, and can reduce the overall costs of care.

Key Strategies of Behavioral Medicine according to the SBM (at )


Lifestyle Changes: Improve nutrition, increase physical activity, stop smoking, use medications appropriately, practice safer sex, prevent and reduce alcohol and drug abuse.


Training: Coping, relaxation, self-monitoring, stress management, time management, pain management, problem-solving, communication skills, time management, priority-setting


Social Support: Group education, caretaker support and training, health counseling, community-based sports events

Behavioral Medicine Interventions Examples


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy



Guide Imagery


Clinical Self-Hypnosis

Relaxation Training

Progressive Muscle Relaxation


Tai Chi

Transcendental Meditation

Self-Regulation Skills-learn to put control of health under one own personal locus of control

Outcome Goals of Behavioral Medicine Interventions

  • Prevent disease onset
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower serum cholesterol
  • Reduce body fat
  • Reverse atherosclerosis
  • Decrease pain
  • Reduce surgical complications
  • Decrease complications of pregnancy
  • Increase compliance with treatment – medication plans
  • Enhance immune responseIncrease relaxation
  • Increase functional capacity
  • Improve sleepImprove productivity at work and school
  • Improve strength, endurance, and mobility
  • Improve quality of life

Behavioral Health Related Topics

Weight Management

  • Obesity
  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Nutrition
  • CBT
  • Body Image
  • Eating Disorders

Sleep Related

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep Hygiene
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Sleep Apnea and compliance with CPAP
  • Snoring
  • Narcolepsy
  • Restless Legs Syndrome
  • Circadian Rhythm Disorder (Jet lag or Shift Work related)
  • Somnambulism (Sleep walking)
  • Connection to Metabolism, Exercise, Productivity

Emotions Related

  • Coping with Depression
  • Coping with Bipolar Disorder
  • Coping with Panic Disorder
  • Coping with PTSD
  • Coping with Obsessive Compulsive disorder
  • Coping with Anxiety


  • Arthritis
  • Chronic Pain
  • Disease-Related Pain
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Low Back Pain
  • Myofascial Pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Accident related Pain
  • ALS


  • Developmental Disability
  • Accident Related
  • Neurological Condition Related
  • Aging Related

Pulmonary Related

  • Asthma
  • Allergy
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Pulmonary Disease

Allergies Related

  • Seasonal
  • Food
  • Environmental

Cardiovascular Related

  • Type A vs Type B Personality Style either chronic hostility vs lowered hostility
  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke

Gastrointestinal Related

  • Ulcers
  • Diabetes
  • Incontinence
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS

Renal Disease Related

  • Dialysis
  • Kidney Transplant Process

Neurological Related

  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders
  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Headaches
  • Epilepsy
  • TBI
  • TICS
  • Brain Plasticity


Cancer Related

  • Coping with Diagnosis
  • Coping with Treatments
  • Coping with physical health during treatment process

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

  • STD’s

Connectedness with others focused

  • Social Relationships
  • Isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Avoidance of Contact with Others
  • Sense of Community

Substance Abuse Related

  • Alcohol
  • Illegal Drugs
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Tobacco-Nicotine
  • Caffeine
Spirituality Focus
  • Internal vs External Locus of Control issues
  • Spiritual Practices which encourage healing and good health
  • Maintaining a Positive Outlook on Life which encourages physical healing and good health

Death and Dying Related

  • Coping with a Terminal Diagnosis
  • Making sense of Life from a new perspective
  • Maintaining one’s composure facing the end of life