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Psychology conference tackles health behaviours

Australian Psychological Society,health psychologi
Photo: Australian Psychological Society,health psychologi
The psychological aspects of cancer, eating behaviours and sexual dysfunction are some of the topics set to take centre stage at the Australian Psychological Society’s (APS) Health Psychology Conference next month.

Almost 200 psychologists, nurses and allied health professionals will attend the two-day conference, with the theme ‘Facilitating health behaviour change and maintenance’, in Sydney from April 10-11.

Health psychologist Lina Ricciardelli, chair of the conference’s organising committee and a Professor at Deakin University’s School of Psychology, said the conference will feature international and local keynote presentations, the latest health psychology research alongside practical workshops, in areas such as sexuality and sexual dysfunction.
“The strength of the conference is that it’s going to bring both researchers and practitioners together so it’s got the latest research in a lot of those health areas, such as cancer and eating behaviours and pain management, but it’s also going to have a lot of practical context for people so that they will be able to apply that to their practice settings.”

Professor Ricciardelli, who has 15 years’ experience in the field of health psychology, said the biennial conference is an opportunity to showcase some of the work of Australia’s 300 health psychologists, who specialise in understanding the relationship between psychological factors and health and illness.

“We have a focus on reducing ill health but also in promoting positive health and a lot of people are more interested in that dimension - health prevention and health promotion,” she said.

“Our conference theme is behaviour change and that’s one of the aspects that health psychologists specialise in.

“A lot of the chronic illnesses, the big killers, are preventable and behaviour change is really at the forefront of that,” she said.

“It’s not easy to do so that’s why we do often need to employ specialists to help us with health behaviour change.”

Professor Marita McCabe, director of the Institute for Health and Ageing at Melbourne’s Australian Catholic University, will discuss the role of medical conditions, childhood experiences, and psychological and relationship factors in sexual dysfunction in her keynote presentation.

Other highlights include Professor Falko Sniehotta’s keynote presentation on the role of theory in facilitating health behaviour change and maintenance, while one abstract will detail the development of a culturally responsive chronic pain management program for urban Indigenous Australians.

The conference will also feature abstracts on body image and health, professional issues, and understanding and promoting health behaviour, and will have a large focus on cancer and health.

It will showcase research examining the use of the distress thermometer for callers to a cancer telephone information line, along with a workshop on the psychosocial approaches to assisting partners of cancer patients when it comes to coping with cancer.

“Cancer and health is one of the biggest areas in our conference because a lot of the issues faced by people living with their cancer involve treating a lot of the psychological aspects that come with cancer - the fear, the pain, the worry, the anxiety,” Professor Ricciardelli said.

“We have also got a very large presence of abstracts looking at eating behaviours and that’s not just eating disorders, it’s also looking at healthy eating and reducing obesity levels and promoting healthier models of eating as well.”

Workshops will include group programs in managing chronic pain, panic disorder and its treatment in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and developing motivational interviewing skills for health professionals to improve patients’ chronic disease management.

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

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