Traditional models of stress

Discuss the methodological problems and theoretical limitations associated with traditional models of stress. How have critical health psychologists sought to reformulate and research this problem? Health psychology is concerned with applying psychological knowledge and techniques to health and illness, it is predominantly concerned with the dualistic relationship between the mind and body. ‘We learn in health psychology that the mind and the body are thoroughly intertwined’ (Sarafino 1990).

The biopsycholsocial model of health plays a central role, determining Illness can be caused by a combination of biological (virus), psychological (behaviours and beliefs), and social (employment) factors. A key concept in health psychology is stress, in this essay I shall be discussing this major health issue in relation to both mainstream and critical perspectives. Stress as a mainstream concept has produced many theories, which have been developed to explain the causes, experiences and effects of stress and numerous methods used to investigate.

As well as a disease in its own right stress has also been recognised as a causal factor for other illness’s such as Conerary Heart Disease and further, more recent research has seen the development of psychroneuroimmunology, the relationship between psycho-social process and the immune system. Due to traditional research methods concerns have been justified towards the issue of gender and how women have been insufficiently studied.

Critical health psychology disagrees with mainstream views as they present inadequate and questionable judgements, offering different perspectives and theories on how stress should be approached. It is critiqued that there is a focus on individualism disregarding social and cultural factors. They argue for additional methods of research a more hermeneutic approach, where the importance of meanings and experiences of suffering stress can be unravelled. Critical health psychologists have lead new research into the current discourse surrounding stress including its social and political role.

Furthermore they identify various ways stress can be defined, and how narratives and rhetorical devises can expand the current limited discourse of stress. This essay shall discus the major mainstream theories, there limitations and how critical health psychology has reformed these traditional methods to form a better understanding of the illness, stress. ‘The original concept of stress, however, has been the object of confusion and controversy’ (Selye 1976).

However, it could be considered that stress is where your ability to cope collapses. The biopsychosocial model can be used to emphasize that there are both internal (biological) causal factors and external (social and environmental) causal factors. Throughout the twentieth century, models of stress have varied in terms of the definitions of stress, their differing emphasis on physiological and psychological factors, and their description of the relationship between individuals and their environment’. (Ogden 1996).

Traditionally there are three contemporary models of conceptualising stress, as a stimulus to external stressors (The Social Readjustment Rating Scale Holmes and Rach 1967) as response to a internal physiological or psychological dysfunctions (General Adaptation Syndrome Seyle 1956) ‘non-specific re-sponce of the body to any demand made upon it’ (Bartlett 1998). Finally stress can be regarded as a transaction (The Transaction Theory Lazarus 1975, Lazarus and Folkman 1984). ‘Stress was the result of interpretations appraisal and adaptation to physical stressors- the mind and body are integrated to create the experience of stress’ (Marks 2002)

It is difficult to distinguish what is considered to be a stressful event, a catastrophic event such as trauma from an accident or the death of a loved one, would obviously cause a great deal of stress, however a combination of daily hassles can also be considered stressful, events are stressful when perceived has both negative and uncontrollable. What needs to be considered is the state of mind of the individual involved in a stressful act and their ability to cope, the body has different ways of responding to stress, and both genetically and psychologically some people are more capable than others.

‘It appears that the impact of any potential stressful event is significantly influenced by how a person evaluates it’ (Sarafino 1990), it is apparent that there are many differing factors to consider. As previously discussed, there is no single definition of stress, there are a numerous definitions that are disagreed over, they obviously depend on who is defining (what particular field in psychology they study and which theory there are employing). The theoretical limitations discussed by Radley (1994) which are linked to key concepts dominant in mainstream theories.

Stress, is considered to be caused by either general, e. g. caused by social structure or specific reaction, by a particular event, (Holmes and Rach 1967). It also focus’s on how stress should be recognized, as an inner coping mechanisms of the individual, or an outer external stimuli e. g. stressors. The four prominent approaches, which are researched into understanding stress and its causes are causal chains and coping strategies, life events, social structure, social type, however these can all be methodologically critiqued.

Casual chains and coping strategies focus how the individual adjusts to a stressor, support from family is considered to help in a distressing time, enabling your ability to cope. Current discourse surrounding stress, that the individual is simple unable to cope, may deter them from revealing there illness. The research surrounding life events can be linked to ‘The Social Readjustment Scale’ by Homes and Rach (1967), which apparently represents the individuals state of health, by answering a series of statements which are rated as stressful.

This theory has been criticized as life events are quantified, each person has there own individual meaning as to how stressful a situation is, whereas there are set points for stressful life events. There is a limited choice of scenarios, and not all are related to stress, the scale doesn’t take into account smaller events which can be as significant. There is no consideration for coping strategies or for those moments in life, which have a positive effect.

It is also assumed that there has to be a number of stressful events in life for someone to fall ill, where it could be one simple act such as trauma form a serious accident From a humanistic perspective, each life incident has a different outcome and meaning for each person. The significance behind falling ill which is a very personal experience also isn’t taken into consideration. Stress is perceived as essentialist, rather than an experience.

CBT combines both the cognitive and behavioural approaches to psychology to provide a treatment for many things, in this case stress. It is based on two assumptions. 1) Abnormal behaviour is the result of thinking traps e.g. catastrophising, black or white …

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Psychologists have defined stress in many different ways. Lazarus and Launier (1978), regarded stress as a transaction between people and the environment. They have also differentiated between stress as being harmful and damaging (distress) and positive and beneficial (eustress). Psychologist …

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