Ewa Gruszczyńska

Department of Psychology
SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities
Chodakowska 19/31
03-815 Warsaw (Poland)

Health psychology has been in existence for more than 30 years now. Taking into account, how difficult all that time has been for the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, it is quite amazing that this discipline has already had nearly two decades of history in Poland. It has become fairly well developed, especially in the area of scientific research and higher education. Members of the national association are active on the international forum and participate in well-known scientific societies. In recognition of this activity, they were requested to organize the 20th jubilee conferences of the Stress and Anxiety Research Society (1999, Cracow) as well as the European Health Psychology Society (2006, Warsaw) – both of which held for the first time in the Central-Eastern Europe.

However, although psychology, both theoretical and applied, is popular in Poland (not to say in fashion) this unique contribution it can make to support and facilitate positive changes in psychosocial life has been underestimated. Psychologists hardly ever work as governmental consultants so their influence on important polices, also on health policy, is practically insignificant.

Thus, some fundamental barriers still have to be overcome on the road to a mature professional identity of health psychologists.

National Associations:

The first professional organization for psychologists involved in the area of somatic health and illness in Poland was brought to life in 1983 as the Somatic Patient Section of Polish Psychological Association. Almost ten years later, in 1992 the Polish Section of the European Health Psychology Society was formed. In 2002 these two sections were joined to create the Health Psychology Section of Polish Psychological Association. Now it consists of about 70 members, most of whom are scholars rather than practitioners. National conferences are held every two years and the collective volumes summarizing the best papers presented there are published.

Basic information can be found at http://www.ptp.org.pl/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=321

Education, training and professionalisation:

There are 18 academic centers which provide five-year psychology studies: the majority of them are state universities, although the biggest one (in terms of a number of psychology students) is non-public.

Health psychology has been taught since the late 1980s. At the beginning it was not a separate subject, but a component of clinical psychology courses. Now it is on the curricula in nine university centres, either as one of major courses for undergraduate students, an optional course, or part of post-diploma studies. It is possible to receive a degree preparing master’s thesis or doctor’s dissertation strictly on health psychology.

The first originally Polish handbook in health psychology by I. Heszen and H. Sęk was published in 2007, which reflects not only the needs of a growing number of students but also the maturity of that discipline in Poland.

In that light it seems paradoxical that there is still no legal regulation of the conditions for practising a profession of a psychologist in Poland: the binding act has no executory provisions. As a consequence, formally recognized procedure of authorizations of specialists does not exist.

What is more, the tracks for career in research and in practice are separate. Such a situation hinders cooperation not only among psychologists themselves but also between psychologists and other health practitioners. Overcoming this deficiency is probably the most important task for this profession in the nearest future.

At the time being, there are more than 10 thousand psychology students in Poland. Every year almost 2,000 of them receive a master degree in psychology. Anyway, because of the reasons mentioned above, it can hardly be estimated how many of them professionally identify themselves as health psychologists.


The academic centers also provide relevant research. The very first studies relevant to a contemporary definition of health psychology are dated back to the 1970s. The main areas of current research include clinical health psychology as well as occupational health psychology, namely stress appraisal and coping with different somatic illnesses, psychooncology; spirituality, sense of coherence and other personal resources (developmental aspects, role in coping process, relation to quality of life), post-traumatic stress disorder, job and unemployment, social support, health behaviours and youth prevention programmes (prevention of adolescent substance use through school-based programmes). Many of these projects are supported by the grants from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.