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Module PHP-3006:
Topics in Illness & Disability

Module Facts

Run by School of Psychology

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Prof Valerie Morrison

Overall aims and purpose

This module will draw from health psychological theory relevant to the experience of illness, pain, disability and healthcare. Starting with theory, students shall be taught the classic psychological theories pertaining to stress appraisal and the self regulation of cognition, emotion and coping. Evidence of cultural, group and individual differences in these will be considered in terms of how they moderate or mediate illness outcomes. Evidence from empirical studies will be described within lectures and supplemented with a fortnightly workshop either in the form of a) a debate around a controversial issue, for example in relation to perceptions of disability/ability; positives and negatives of the caregiver experience, b) review and critique of assessment materials, or c) case material presented through video. For each workshop reading lists are provided in advance for students to prepare an informed contribution. By the end of semester students will be expected to have designed an evidence- based intervention proposal targeted at improving health status of patients and/or their carers.

Course content

Models of health and illness; biomedical, social-environmental and biopsychosocial models of disability; illness perceptions and the self-regulation of illness; the role of assistive technology; coping; pain; cognitive, emotional and behavioural models of illness outcomes; families and disease; carer strain and gain; assessing patient outcomes, mood and QoL; dr-patient communication and healthcare decision-making; developing and evaluating interventions

Assessment Criteria


Reasonably comprehensive coverage of both the underlying theory and empirical material relevant to health psychology. Well organised and structured answer demonstrating a good understanding of health psychology concepts and their application in research and practice


Comprehensive and accurate coverage of the area demonstrating a synthesis of relevant material, clarity of argument and expression. Depth of insight into theoretical issues with back up from empirical evidence base showing a strong grasp of health psychology concepts and their application in research and practice.


Adequate answer to the question, largely based on lecture material. No real development of arguments or evidence of critique.

Learning outcomes

  1. Understand the principles underlying biomedical and biopsychosocial explanations of illness and how these underpin theories of symptom perception, interpretation and coping response

  2. Interpret and demonstrate understanding both orally and in writing (both assessed) of empirical findings from correlational, prospective or 
interventional studies in terms of their relevance to a) assessment b) theory and c) 
healthcare practice and intervention

  3. Demonstrate an advanced level of understanding of current theories of responses to illness through critical evaluation of competing explanations of illness and disability (cultural, social, individual, biomedical), and place these within contemporary health psychology.

  4. Demonstrate how theory is applied in psychological assessments common to the practice of health psychology by means of evaluation published intervention studies in terms of their processes and outcomes.

  5. Review and sythesise empirical evidence so as to generate a proposal for a theoretically derived and evidence-based intervention targeted at patients, their informal carers, or health care practitioners.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
GROUP PRESENTATION Group presentation of journal article

This is an in-class group presentation (Week 4) that requires working together in advance in order to prepare and present a coherent powerpoint/prezi presentation. The content is based on reviewing a selected empirical paper. Individual grades are obtained which are moderated by the group's overall performance and cohesion. All students are required to complete this presentation component as it maps onto key LO's. A choice of paper will be available to each group. Presentations will be developed and delivered in groups of 5-6 with the group apportioning a section of the paper to each individual speaker i.e. background; aims; methods; results; conclusion & critique; implications. Fifteen minute presentation, plus five for questions.
 All presentations are marked by two independent markers on criteria that are made available to students in advance, with grades agreed between markers in discussion on completion of the session. Given the speed and demands of the session, written feedback is limited and only provided on request.


This exam will consist of a) a compulsory MCQ section which will be metacognitively marked and worth 40% of the exam, and b) a compulsory Short Answer Question section with three questions, in total worth 60% of the exam. The exam will draw from material covered in the module (lectures, workshops, core readings) from Week One to Week 8 inclusive.

INDIVIDUAL PRESENTATION Poster -Intervention Development and Presentation

Students are required to prepare a theoretically informed and original idea for a psychological/psychosocial intervention and outcome evaluation. An individually developed poster (A3) will target a patient or carer population affected by chronic disease or disability. The proposed intervention should describe the contribution of a health psychologist to a multi-disciplinary team working with one of the following populations a) a person who has had a stroke and/or a loved one/carer b) a person with Multiple Sclerosis and/or a loved one carer c) a person with a form of cancer and/or a loved one/carer, or d) a person with dementia and/or a loved one/carer. The poster will be displayed in an extended Week 12 timetabled workshop slot and each student with have a brief Q&A session with the MO and TA in this session. They do not present to the class but stand by their poster only to speak to the markers. The questioning session will add to fuller marking of the electronic submission. Students who do not attend and present their poster will not have their written poster marked (unless extenuating circumstances are approved eg illness on the day, in which case alternative presentation arrangements will be made).


Teaching and Learning Strategy


Powerpoint based lectures will present and summarise core theory and collate evidence whilst also pointing students to further readings

Private study

There is a core textbook attached to this module as it is the first time students fully encounter Health Psychology. Each lecture relates to core chapters of this book PLUS each lecture provides students with additional readings, from which to start their own searches in order to best inform their later assignments


Class debate and discussion around pre-set topics described on the module outline handout provided at the start of term. Students are expected to come prepared to these workshops which add value to lecture content and enable more in-depth review and critigue of concepts and models, measures and methods.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • Understand the scientific underpinnings of psychology as a discipline.
  • Apply multiple perspectives to psychological issues and integrate ideas and findings across the multiple perspectives in psychology.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in written form.
  • Communicate psychological concepts effectively in oral form.
  • Be computer literate for the purpose of processing and disseminating psychological data and information.
  • Retrieve and organise information effectively.
  • Handle primary source material critically.
  • Engage in effective teamwork for the purpose of collaborating on psychological projects.
  • Be sensitive and react appropriately to contextual and interpersonal psychological factors.
  • Use effectively personal planning and project management skills.
  • Work effectively under pressure (time pressure, limited resources, etc) as independent and pragmatic learners.
  • Problem-solve by clarifying questions, considering alternative solutions, making critical judgements, and evaluating outcomes.
  • Reason scientifically and demonstrate the relationship between theory and evidence.
  • Understand and investigate the role of brain function in all human behaviour and experience.
  • Employ evidence-based reasoning and examine practical, theoretical and ethical issues associated with the use of different methodologies, paradigms and methods of analysis in psychology.
  • Be aware of ethical principles and approval procedures.


Resource implications for students

Students will need to prepare an A3 poster - if they choose to laminate it they will need to meet the costs

Talis Reading list

Reading list

Recommended Reading: In addition to the articles listed next to the lectures each week, the following text is a recommended purchase (also available on short-loan). Morrison V & Bennett P (2016) An Introduction to Health Psychology. 4th edition. London: Pearson/Prentice Hall

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: