Health psychology emerged as a distinct discipline in the field of psychology in Israel over several decades. In the 1970s, there were only a handful of psychologists working in general hospitals. These psychologists played limited and specific roles, such as aiding a physician to determine a patient’s psychological diagnosis, assisting in research, or on the rare occasion, providing psychological intervention at the physician’s request. The necessity for psychologists in the healthcare system was not well-established, and as a result, the availability of health psychologists in the healthcare settings was limited, often leaving basic psychological needs of the patients unmet. Although there has been progress since then, with health psychologists more broadly employed in hospitals, the Ministry of Health has still not developed a clearly stated policy nor offered a clear vision regarding the necessity for these positions and the resources required to fill them.
Previously, even mainstream organizations representing psychologists failed to adequately acknowledge the importance and uniqueness of health psychology, a shortcoming that forced psychologists in the medical system to fend for themselves in terms of their careers and professional struggles. However, in 1980 a group of psychologists in the field worked together to form an “association of health psychologists” in an attempt to fill the void and establish a community for learning and research in the field.
Then, in 1988, the Israeli Ministry of Health established a division for health psychology that was comprised of psychologists from a variety of subspecialties including health psychology, as well as researchers and university professors. The main goals of the division were threefold: 1) to contribute to the field of health in terms of understanding the role played by psychological issues in physical illnesses, diagnosis of these psychological issues, and the prevention of medical issues via attending to psychological issues,, 2) to advance clinical research in the field,, and 3) to provide formal and continuing education for those who work in the field.
In 2001, The Israel Psychological Association recognized health psychology as a unique subspecialty of psychology, a decision with legal backing. An official curriculum was established, and the guidelines and requirements for the residency in order to receive certification as a health psychologist were defined.
Education, training and professionalisation:
The first and only accredited graduate level health psychology (referred to as Medical Psychology) program in Israel was established by Professor Rebecca Jacoby at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. The core curriculum of the program includes courses on the basic principles that a clinician must be well-versed in, such as psychopathology, psychotherapy, and how to conduct an interview. The curriculum also emphasizes the medical aspects of the field, such as physiology, anatomy, and pharmacology. Lastly, the curriculum includes courses unique to the field of health psychology, such as health and illness behavior and sociology of medicine. Beyond the coursework, students are required to take part in a number of practicums in a hospital in both inpatient and outpatient clinics.
Further information about the program can be found on the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo’s website: www.mta.ac.il
At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a graduate program called “Sociology of Health” trains masters and doctoral students in the research aspects of the psychological, sociological, and emotional aspects of health and illness. The program was established by Professor Aaron Antonovsky in the early 70s and continues to this day. The program focuses on the relationship between stress, health and well-being.
There are many researchers in academia in Israel currently conducting research in fields related to health psychology including (in brief):
Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo
Professor Rebecca Jacoby: Hope, Illness narratives, Doctor-patient communication
Professor Gil Goldzweig: Psycho-Oncology, Sport psychology
Professor Ronit Avitsur-Hamiel: Psycho-neuro-immunology
Dr. Irit Heruti: Injury and illness perceptions
Dr. Michal Braun: Psycho-Oncology
Dr. Mairav Cohen-Zion: Sleep and health
Assuta Medical Center, Tel-Aviv
Professor Lea Baider: Psycho-Oncology
Professor Ilanit Hasson Ohayon: Psycho-Oncology, Mourning and grief
Professor Varda Soskolne: Psychosocial and behavioral factors in health and illness, Family caregivers, Health inequalities
Dr. Noa Vilchinsky: Psycho-Cardiology
Ben Gurion University
Professor Golan Shahar: Self-criticism, Psychotherapy integration
Dr. Leeat Granek: Psycho-Oncology, Healthcare professional well-being, End of life and palliative care, Women’s mental and physical health, Grief and mourning
Professor Talma Kushnir: Medical & health profession education, Physician-patient communication, Physician quality of work life
Ruppin Academic Center
Dr. Efrat Netter: Changing health behaviors, eHealth literacy
Professor Ada Zohar: Personality and health
Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer
Professor Shulamit Kreitler: Psycho-Oncology, Coping, Quality of life.
Tel Aviv University
Professor Shmuel Melamed: Psychosocial factors at work, Burnout and health, Health behavior
Professor Yael Benyamini: Women’s reproductive health, Pain and chronic disease, Aging and health
Professor Karni Ginzburg: Stress and health
Professor Shoshana Shiloh: Health behaviors
Professor Shamgar Ben Eliyahu: Psycho-neuro-immunology
Professor Reuven Dar: Psychological and biological determinants of smoking
The Gertner Research Institute
Saralee Glasser: Postpartum depression, women & children’s health