Reflections on Health Psychology and Social Entrepreneurship Orna Murray
Orna Murray completed her BA in Applied Psychology before completing a MA Health Psychology at NUIG. Orna is a Social Entrepreneur and founded Your Health Psychology in January 2020. Orna is on Twitter @orna_murray
Most discussions, projects and work in psychology begin with a question. When I was playing sport as a teenager I realised that when I moved my body I felt better afterward and my question was why and how this happened – what was the link?
Before I was 20, I had represented Ireland internationally in both squash and distance running. I understood the importance of mindset when training and performing and saw how working the body was an opportunity to influence the mind. However, I had (and still have) more questions that I wanted to explore.
During this time I was studying Applied Psychology in UCC for my undergraduate degree, before I moved to NUIG to do a Masters in Health Psychology. After graduating I stepped into the world of sports science; in this field, there was strong integration of mind-body and I began to see patterns emerging across both fields. The techniques elite athletes use to recover from training are the same strategies that prevent lifestyle illnesses. A balanced diet, good sleep hygiene, stress management and an appropriate amount of exercise are the keystones of an athlete’s high performance. They are also the main protective factors of lifestyle diseases.
Female Specific Health
A considerable difference between health psychology and sport science is the focus on the often-forgotten area of research that is female-specific health, that is relating to the physiology of females and the menstrual cycle. In general, this is not a topic that is in the mainstream health conversation, given that only 4% of all medical research is conducted specifically on females (Costello, Bieuzen & Bleakley, 2014). However, 51% of the population is female with a distinct physiology to males (Ross et al., 2020), I find this research gap, this silence around common issues for women unacceptable and quite frankly, outrageous.
It’s essential that the tools of psychology be adapted to the world we live in. Psychology is a new science (relatively speaking), and so we should all take responsibility for the progression and development of the type of work and manner in which that work is carried out. We cannot leave the change, development, and adaptation of psychology to a minority within the field. However, this will require adjustments, outliers, messy mistakes and at times, non-linear progression.
Sport is a Universally Shared Human Culture
Sport is a playground for learning and observing psychological theories in real life (often highlighting that theories do not always fully capture the lived experience). Keeping this in mind, shockingly 80% of Irish girls are not reaching the minimum recommended amount of physical activity a week (Woods et al., 2018).
This is why I created the Women in Sports Project – a social entrepreneurship program. This project is focused on supporting female athletes at every level; all women and girls regardless of how much or how little they want to play, train and compete. https://yourhealthpsychology.ie/the-wis-project/
Social enterprise is another word for ‘early-stage, community-based intervention’. Everyone exists within their own contexts, cultures, communities and environments. The interplay of these factors results in certain behaviours. Therefore, we must navigate and understand these contexts to instigate real change in people’s behaviour.
I realised that I had a responsibility to ensure that the next generation of girls are educated so that they do not face the same hidden barriers many generations (including my own) did. I want to see the next generation of girls supported in a way that many of my peers were not. The sporting world offers the opportunity to challenge life assumptions and to develop an independent sense of self. My aim is to help young women grow in confidence and develop their own voices. It is a project focused on sport with the outcomes extending beyond the sporting world.
Be the Change You Want to See in the World
I have one foot in the world of health psychology and one in the world of social enterprise. Initially, I had reservations about mixing the two but I took my own advice and stepped into a role that will hopefully shape the direction and growth of health psychology. I saw a hugely important but neglected area that needed time, investment and expertise. If I was not going to do it, who else would? I believe that if you see a gap or an area that needs to be developed, do not wait for someone you believe is more qualified or experienced to do it. If you are interested and motivated you can contribute to the direction and the structure of the field.
Woods C. B, Powell C, Saunders J. A, O’Brien W, Murphy M. H, Duff C, Farmer O, Johnston A., Connolly S. and Belton S. (2018). The Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study (CSPPA). Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences.
Costello, J. T., Bieuzen, F., & Bleakley, C. M. (2014). Where are all the female participants in Sports and Exercise Medicine research?. European journal of sport science, 14(8), 847–851.
Ross. Emma., Elliott-Sale. K., Burden, R., & Hicks, K. (2020). The BASES Expert Statement on Conducting and Implementing Female Athlete-Based Research. The Sport and Exercise Scientist, 65(7).
For more on this story contact:
Your Health Psychology
Instagram – yourhealthpsychology
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Website – www.yourhealthpsychology.ie
Your Health Psychology started as a passion project, born as I moved through different work environments, clubs and sporting teams. I began to understand that the people who need the research and education of health psychology are often not in a position to access it.
Integrating social enterprise and research from health psychology, the goal is to make health simple, accessible and inexpensive.