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Pharmacological and Biological Approaches to Clinical and Health Psychology


Entry requirements

Personality, Clinical & Health Psychology or similar courses.


Our understanding of the role of psychological factors in psychopathology and health problems and their treatment has increased considerably in the past decades. This is due to rapid developments in the fields of pharmacology, (functional) neuroimaging, genetics, and psychoneuroimmunology. Basic knowledge of biology and pharmacology is essential to understand the underlying mechanisms of disorders, but also to understand diagnostics and treatment. These new developments also raise important questions about what is desirable and ethically acceptable (e.g., the possibility to change our DNA).

This course focuses on basic knowledge of the role of biological processes in the development and course of psychopathology (in particular, mood and anxiety disorders), and health problems (e.g., pain and allergic reactions). We present a selection of topics, including genetics, immunology, endocrinologye (hormonal) and brain stimulation in relation to psychopathology and health psychology. The goal of this course is to provide some basic knowledge and an appreciation of the complexity of this field. Biological mechanisms of non-pharmacological and pharmacological therapies and treatments are reviewed. Attention is also paid to recent developments in treatment, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), bright light therapy and innovative approaches to adjunctive psychopharmacology.

Course objectives

After completion of the course, students are able to:

  • Describe basic biological processes, such as (neuro)endocrine, immune and genetic processes, and how these processes can be studied.

  • Describe how these biological processes are involved in, among others, mood and anxiety disorders, pain and allergy.

  • Understand how these biological processes are likely involved in current pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments.

  • Understand the working mechanisms of several promising innovative biologically oriented (psychological) treatments.


For the timetable of this course please refer to MyTimetable



Students must register themselves for all course components (lectures, tutorials and practicals) they wish to follow. You can register up to 5 days prior to the start of the course. The exception here is that first-year bachelor students are assigned and registered for all components in the first semester or academic year by the administration of their bachelor programme. The programme will communicate to these students for which course components and for which period the registration applies.


It is mandatory for all students, including first-year bachelor students, to register for each exam and to confirm registration for each exam in My Studymap. This is possible up to and including 10 calendar days prior to the examination. You cannot take an exam without a valid pre-registration and confirmation in My Studymap.

Carefully read all information about the procedures and deadlines for registering for courses and exams.

Students who take this course as part of a LDE minor or a premaster programme, exchange students and external guest students will be informed by the education administration about the current registration procedure.

Mode of instruction

This course offers eight lectures of two hours. Attendance is not mandatory. The weblectures and slides will be made available on Brightspace (barring technical difficulties).

The literature, lectures and slides are in English. The exam questions are in English and can be answered in English or Dutch.

Assessment method

The written exam consists of 40 closed questions (which determine 70% of the grade) and five essay questions (30%). These questions test your knowledge of the course material. The examination questions cover the book, syllabus and lecture handouts. Detailed information about the exact course material from the book and syllabus will be made available on Brightspace at the start of the course.

The Institute of Psychology uses fixed rules for grade calculation and compulsory attendance. It also follows the policy of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences to systematically check student papers for plagiarism with the help of software. Disciplinary measures will be taken when fraud is detected. Students are expected to be familiar with and understand the implications of these three policies.

Reading list

  • Lecture handouts

  • Syllabus with selected readings (see Brightspace)

  • R.H. Ettinger (2017). Psychopharmacology: Second Edition. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group / Psychology Press. ISBN-13: 9781138833081

Contact information