Health Psychology and Communication Skills

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Course Information
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

Students should have taken at least one introductory course in Psychology.

Additional student cost: 



This course provides a general introduction to the theoretical basis and practical approach to issues of psychology of health and health behavior change. It therefore follows two different paths to explain and explore human health issues in order to identify effective methods to enhance the general and individual quality of life.

On the one hand, main concepts of Health Psychology will be introduced and connected to the question of how healthy or unhealthy Austrians in European and in international comparison live and which specific health issues can be promoted by public health policies. The symptoms and interventions concerning specific health behaviors and illness experiences will build the core of the course.

On the other hand, students will be given an overview on communication models and counseling guidelines before undertaking a short practical training in communication skills to learn how to explore, counsel and intervene effectively by respecting and improving patients’ health resources.

The course will include several excursions which will be announced as soon as possible.

Attendance policy: 

Because IES Abroad courses are designed to take advantage of the unique contribution of the instruction and the lecture/discussion format, regular class attendance is mandatory. Any missed class, without a legitimate reason will be reflected in the final grade. A legitimate reason would include a documented illness or family bereavement. Travel, (including travel delays) is not a legitimate reason.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Explain the main theoretical concepts of Health Psychology and communication
  • Distinguish between health promotion policies and health promoting treatment methods
  • Identify the symptoms and intervention programs of specific health issues (dehabituation of smoking, psycho-oncology etc.)
  • Understand various pathways through which cultural surrounding, cognitions and behaviors influence  health and illness
  • Follow guidelines of best practice communication
  • Interact effectively and sensitively with people of diverse health status
  • Critically self-reflect on communicative abilities
Method of presentation: 
  • Lectures
  • Video-demonstrations
  • Self-assessment-scales and role-play
  • Discussions
  • Oral presentations
  • Live patient-interviews
  • Online-resources
  • Excursions
Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Participation and Discussion - 10%
  • Oral Presentation - 20%
  • Participation in role-playing: 20%
  • Written Paper - 30%
  • Final Written Paper - 20%
Week Content Readings
  • Introduction to the field of Health Psychology and presentation of main concepts of Health Psychology such as the bio-psycho-social-spiritual model of health and the model of Salutogenesis by Antonovsky by lecture, readings, self-assessment and test interpretation.
  • Introduction to the Seminar.
  • Lecture on Basics of Health Psychology
  • Marks D.F. et al. (2011). Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice. Sage Publications Ltd, Part 1, pp 1-39.
  • The students will learn about public health policies in Austria in international comparison (lecture), measurements and statistics of health status in different countries and how to acquire and compare available data.
  • Antonovsky, A. (1996). The salutogenic model as a theory to guide health promotion. In Health promotion International, Vol 11, Issue 1, pp 11-18.
  • Antonovsky’s Sense of Coherence (SOC) scale – self-assessment and analysis
  • Lindström, B and Eriksson M. (2007).Contextualizing salutogenesis and Antonovsky in public health development. Health Promotion International, Vol 21, Issue 3, pp 238-244.
  • Becker, C. M., Glascoff, M. A., & Felts, W. M. (2010). Salutogenesis 30 Years Later: Where do we go from here? International Electronic Journal of Health Education, 13, 25-32.
  • OECD-studies on Public Health Data 2014.
  • OECD (2008).Mental Health in OECD countries. pp 1-8.
  • Hofmarcher, M., Rack, H. (2006). Health Care Systems in Transition. European Observatory on health Systems and Policies. WHO regional Office
  • Federal Ministry of Health and Women (2005). Public Health in Austria.
  • Austrian Federal Ministry of Health (2010). The Austrian Health Care System – Key Facts.
  • World Health Organization (2011). Noncommunicable diseases country profiles 2011. WHO global report.
  • The general knowledge of health issues will be the basis for further readings and oral presentations on special psychological health problems and their treatment, such as unhealthy eating habits, sexuality, addictive behavior (smoking, alcohol) and chronic diseases (e.g. cancer).
  • Presentation should include:
    • Epidemiology and Statistics, Definition and Classification
    • Symptoms and Consequences on an individual and a community level
    • Treatment and Interventions both on an individual and a public health level 
  • Sassi, F. (2010). Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit not Fat. OECD
  • WHO. Suicide Prevention.
  • Holland, J., Lewis, S. (2001). The human side of Cancer. Living with Hope, Coping with Uncertainty. Harper Collins. Chapter 2 and 3, pp 13-39.
  • Marks D.F. et al. (2011). Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice. Sage Publications Ltd, Part 2, pp 113-140 (sexual health), pp. 141-166 (food, eating and the environment), pp. 167-188 (alcohol and drinking), pp. 189-216 (tobacco and smoking).
  • The model of different levels of preventions will be introduced and help to distinguish between diverse approaches to preventive and treatment methods in Health Psychology such as psychoeducation, counseling, preventive target group oriented programs etc.
  • Furthermore the most important communication theories and practical guidelines of communication skills will be taught.
  • Introduction to Counselling – Lecture and Exercises
  • Nelson-Jones R. (2005). Practical Counselling & Helping Skills: Text and Activities for the Lifeskills Counselling Model. Sage Publications Ltd, Chapters 2, 4 and 8, pp 14-22, 42-63 and pp 124-143.
  • Perry W. (2008). Basic Counseling Techniques:: A Beginning Therapist's Tool Kit
  • Chapter 1, pp 17-33.

In small groups students will analyze their communicative habits and, in guided role plays, they will practice the skills on how to conduct different professional conversations within client-practitioner-relations (exploration, first interventions, difficult conversations,…).


  • We will concentrate on practical exercises to gain communication skills, mainly through role play. We will also work with video analysis as well as show professional best practice examples and film clips for demonstration. We will do exercises on assessing emotions and physical reactions.
  • Further readings and professional practice guidelines in counseling psychology will be announced as decided upon.
  • Nelson-Jones R. (2005). Practical Counselling & Helping Skills: Text and Activities for the Lifeskills Counselling Model. Sage Publications Ltd, Chapter 6 and 13, pp 77-89 and pp 208-219.
  • Final Written Analysis of a Role Play
  • Final Written Exam




Required readings: 
  • Marks D.F. et al. (2011). Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice. Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Nelson-Jones R. (2005). Practical Counselling & Helping Skills: Text and Activities for the Lifeskills Counselling Model. Sage Publications Ltd.

Further articles and book chapters will be assigned in advance for the following week; some of them are available on the Internet (e.g. EOCD-studies).