Health Psychology Can Lead to a Healthier Life and Broaden Perspectives
Laura Regzdiņa, a first-year student in the Health Psychology master's study programme, already had impressive educational and professional experience upon starting her studies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). Laura has a bachelor's degree in the field of classical philology as well as in psychology. She also has extensive work experience: she has worked in advertising and marketing, produced television broadcasts and organised events and educational camps for young people.
‘My personal interests regarding the human psyche, physiology, and the social aspects of life coincided with my professional interests, so studying psychology seemed like a logical step for me,’ says Laura.
Laura Regzdiņa by lake Iseo in Italy, 2017. Photo from private archive
Why did you choose to study health psychology at RSU, rather than a more classic field of psychology?
To me, RSU looked like an innovative university that introduced and developed new study programmes in internationally important fields like study courses on health behaviour, social neuroscience, and applying digital technologies in psychology.
After obtaining a bachelor's degree in psychology at RSU, it felt natural to choose to continue my master's studies here. Health psychology offers a wide perspective over the biological, psychological, and social aspects of humans, and that is the exact field that I wanted to study.
The perception of health as being something more than just a lack of disease or disability, as a state of physical, psychological, and social well-being is growing in popularity. Studies show that of all factors it is lifestyle that has the greatest impact on health.
Lifestyle largely comes down to choices, and if there is a desire or need to make changes, the support of a health psychologist can be helpful.
After graduating, I would like to work in an interdisciplinary field, so that what I do – my projects and products – are at the intersection of psychology, psychotherapy, culture, art, science, education, and medicine.
What are the studies like in terms of content, lecturers, and your classmates?
We study both classical and innovative study courses – not only research in the fields of personality and cognition, individual and group counselling, but also, for example, in social neuroscience and neuropsychology.
We learn about the possibilities of providing both individual and group therapy. We also learn to work in the field of psychosocial rehabilitation and understand the contribution that a health psychologist can make to a multidisciplinary team.
I remember my placement at Riga East Clinical University Hospital when I put on my lab coat and went out into the hallway all by myself. At once, several people gathered around me, asked different questions, and waited for support and answers. At that moment, I imagined what it was like to be one of the members of a multidisciplinary team in a medical institution and I felt a lot of responsibility for my words and actions, which I later used as a motivation for my studies.
Placement is an essential part of studies: I have conducted cognitive research and counselled adults and children, developed programmes for group work and then implemented them in group sessions.
Laura after obtaining her bachelor’s diploma next to the RSU main building in 2019. Photo from private archive
I created a self-development programme for identifying and developing personal resources as part of my studies, as well as for finding and mastering tailor-made relaxation methods that received positive feedback during the trial period. My work on developing the project is on-going so that it can be implemented in practice after I complete my master's studies.
I believe that studying psychology has allowed me to expand my horizons and to see more complex underlying patterns. I have become more accepting, understanding and respectful towards myself and others, less categorical and more flexible.
Lecturers have always supported me when choosing placements, conducting research, and discovering my professional interests. My study group is very supportive and inspiring, which is essential because we have quite a heavy workload.
I am truly grateful and appreciative of the rapid reaction and contribution that the heads of programmes and lecturers made when we suddenly had to switch to online classes due to the crisis.
What is it like to conduct research during your studies? What is the research topic you have chosen for your thesis?
Research is an important part of the study process: we learn how to design a study and practice critical thinking.
Lecturers offer students the chance to engage in various research projects and we also have the opportunity to participate in the RSU International Student Conference as well as the International Scientific Practical Conference organised by the Department of Health Psychology and Paedagogy.
My master's thesis will be about travellers sailing across the ocean – I will study the experience that people go through in circumstances where they are in contact with nature for a prolonged period of time, their reaction to living in the confined space of a yacht, and the importance of small teams and the relationships within them.
You work in the RSU Psychology Laboratory parallel to your studies. What are your responsibilities there?
I carry out administrative work at the RSU Psychology Laboratory, like compiling tests and surveys that the university creates into a single register. I am also a voluntary assistant in an RSU study of the use of the electroencephalography method.
In Alūksne in 2019. Photo from private archive
The laboratory is very welcoming to students and graduates - it offers the opportunity to provide therapy to clients and psychologist supervisions, because according to the law, it is necessary to work 500 hours under a psychologist’s supervision until you can get certified.
What other professional opportunities are available to health psychologists?
Health psychologists have a broad spectrum of employment opportunities, and I think they will become even more diverse in the years to come because of technological advancements and the development of healthcare towards more personalised medicine and prevention.
Lecturers always tell us that we should not limit ourselves to existing offers and jobs. They also inspire us to create and implement our own projects and to disseminate health-enhancing ideas: to create and develop methods, to carry out studies and measurements, to develop helpful approaches and to inform people about ways to maintain and improve health.