How can we sustainably strengthen people's mental well-being? This is not an insignificant question at a time when one million people take antidepressants daily and one in seven adults struggle with exhaustion symptoms. Ernst Bohlmeijer's research is based on positive psychology.
In his view, positive psychology is the psychology of the art of living: getting the best out of yourself and others, even in challenging or difficult life situations. Scientific research in lab experiments shows that accepting negative emotions, sufficiently experiencing positive emotions, having meaningful relationships, self-kindness, awareness of values and using one’s strengths make people more resilient and function better.
In his work, Bohlmeijer tries to make these insights accessible and to investigate them in people's daily lives. In recent years he has contributed to dozens of new interventions and researched them for effectiveness on mental well-being. These interventions are used as prevention, as self-management of chronic disorders and as part of the treatment of people with mental health problems in mental health care.
Technology can make an important contribution to strengthening mental health in our challenging society. Think of broadening the scope of interventions with eHealth, personalizing interventions and coaching people in daily life with apps, monitoring physical processes and mental experiences. It is becoming increasingly important to involve users of interventions in the design process from the start. For example, Bohlmeijer's research group is developing a compassion app for cancer patients, funded by the Cancer Scientific Fund and in collaboration with cancer patients and oncology nurses. "Nothing gives me as much satisfaction as the story of someone who has a positive attitude towards life again, even in the presence of a lasting vulnerability," says the scientist.
"I believe that a university should contribute not only to academic skills, but also to the professional identity and personal development of students. I think there is still much to be gained in the latter area. It is important that students quickly discover what their values and passion are. But also learning to deal with uncertainty and stress, for example. When they develop those basic life skills, they will study with more direction, pleasure and efficiency, is my expectation. I'd like to look into that."
In his lectures, Bohlmeijer always tries to tell something about his personal experiences. "Among other things, I teach positive clinical psychology in the master's subject. In this course, students learn about the scientific basis of and empirical research into positive psychology exercises, but they also have to apply and reflect on positive psychology exercises in their own lives. The cooperation with PhD students is an important part of the professor's work. "On the one hand I have ideas about where the research should go, and on the other hand I also want to give room for my own interpretation. A well-balanced and collaborative coaching team is crucial. I notice that the cooperation with PhD students gives me a lot of joy in my work."
Ernst Bohlmeijer is professor of mental health promotion. He obtained his PhD in 2007 on research into working with life stories in elderly people with depressive symptoms. Since then he has been the (co-)author of over 100 scientific articles in the field of mental wellbeing. He mainly researches applications of positive psychology, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and compassion training. He is editor of the manual Positive Psychology and is co-author of the book Psychology of the art of living and various successful methods (self-help books) including Living to the Full, Compassion as key to happiness and This is your life, experience the effects of positive psychology. In 2019 he received the Contributions to Positive Health Award from the International Positive Psychology Association.
These Press Photos can be used with no copyright restrictions with credit to Fokke Eenhoorn.