Australia exports health psychology expertise to China

The Happy Life Club, a successful Australian chronic disease management programme using health psychology principles, is being rolled out in China.

Monash University is leading the intervention, Fangzhuang Hospital in Beijing is leading the clinical components of the trial and the Australian Psychological Society is providing the training of the Chinese doctors and nurses in psychological health behaviour strategies relevant to chronic disease management, including diabetes.

Introduced to Bejing in 2009, the programme is now being expanded to Nanjing and there are plans to roll it out across China.

Happy Life Club training leader and clinical health psychologist Dr Helen Lindner from the Australian Psychological Society says, "The Happy Life Club project has already shown positive health outcomes for Bejing patients with chronic disease, with improvements in weight management, increased levels of exercise and adherence to medical and pharmacological treatments so the Chinese government is expanding it to Nanjing."

APS Fellow Professor Colette Browning from Monash University says, "China is undergoing a revolution in the way it delivers health services to the community and the Happy Life Club is providing a model for patient centred care."

Around 60 per cent of mortality globally is attributable to chronic disease (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory illnesses) and chronic disease accounts for a large proportion of the disease burden globally, impacting on quality of life. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states that more than half of all potentially preventable hospitalisations are from selected chronic conditions.

"Many illnesses, including diabetes, require patients to modify their daily behaviours to manage their illness better," Dr Lindner says. "Although many patients know they should take their medicines, monitor blood pressure or check blood sugar levels, and change unhealthy behaviours, without specific help, they struggle to do so. Psychologists have the behavioural expertise to identify barriers to change, and to assist people to make successful changes that they can integrate into their lives, maintain over the long term and which will improve their health."

Health psychology research shows that patients typically go through stages in their behaviour change process. The Happy Life Club uses these stages of change and motivational techniques in the program design to accelerate and sustain behaviour change.

In the Happy Life Club, the health coaches target lifestyle behaviours associated with the prevention and management of diabetes, such as changes in diet, reductions in alcohol intake, weight loss, increasing physical activtities, cessation of smoking, stress reduction, monitoring of blood sugar, monitoring feet for sores, and taking medication as prescribed.

The program is so successful and well respected that in 2009 it was chosen to be showcased as a demonstration project in the Chinese Communist Party's 60th anniversary celebrations.

"This is a highly significant outcome for the programme and demonstrates the value China is placing on Australian expertise in chronic illness management," says Professor Shane Thomas from Monash University.

"It is great to be able to export Australian health psychology and health services expertise to China in this way," Dr Lindner says. "The potential to achieve major health changes in a population that size is monumental."


The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 19,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.


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