The Health Psychology Research programme (HPR) aims to contribute to knowledge about psychological and social processes that enable or impede people’s adaptation to chronic somatic illness. The intention is to resolve the psychological problems experienced by people with chronic somatic illness and their significant others. The ultimate goal is to develop adequate psychosocial care for people who experience difficulties in adapting to a chronic somatic illness. In pursuing these objectives, the programme aims to uphold the highest standards of scientific research and to share its knowledge through publications of its findings in renowned international journals and presentations for a broader audience (not only professional colleagues, but also patients). The training of junior researchers, at both the master’s and PhD levels, constitutes an essential part of the programme.
The first aim of the programme is to advance our understanding of basic psychological and social processes that enable or impede people’s adaptation to physical illness and the trajectories of change over time. For example, can we distinguish distinct trajectories of outcomes in various patient groups and identify at an early stage the patients most at risk for negative outcomes? Which coping strategies do people use and which are most successful in achieving life goals that are otherwise blocked by illness? How do patients and their intimate partners communicate about the illness and support each other? How does such communication affect physical health outcomes and daily functioning of patients, as well as patients’ and their significant others’ individual and relational wellbeing over time? The second aim is to understand, and provide a means for resolving, the psychological problems experienced by people with chronic somatic illness and those close to them. Specifically, the theory-driven, descriptive research line is used to develop interventions, including, most recently, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy. Goals may include reducing depressive symptoms of individual patients or enhancing collaborative coping and quality of relationships.
A wide variety of diseases are studied, including cancer, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and COPD. Specific treatments such as organ transplantation are also studied, with a particular focus on renal and liver transplantation. The outcomes of adaptation to illness studied include quality of life, emotional wellbeing (e.g. psychological distress, depressive symptoms and positive affect), daily functioning and biomedical variables. To further contribute to Healthy Aging (the strategic priority of the UMCG), future emphasis will also be on health behavior as an outcome and e-health interventions (partly in collaboration with the University of Twente) as a means to improve wellbeing and change behavior. To study both day-to-day adaptation and adaptation outcomes over a longer period of time, a full range of state-of-the-art designs and methods are used. The programme combines cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys, diary methods as well as observations of actual behavior in laboratory situations.
The HPR programme adheres to the highest standards of scientific research and disseminates its knowledge through publications in high impact international journals, but also presentations for a broader audience including clinicians, patients and patient advocacy groups, as well as fellow researchers. Training junior researchers, at both the PhD level and the preparatory MSc level (i.e. students in the research master Clinical and Psychosocial Epidemiology), is an important priority of the programme.
While recently we have turned to studies of adolescents with health problems as well, a main focus remains on older patient populations and their significant others/caregivers. It is expected that the prevalence of chronic somatic diseases among older persons will rise as a result of improved medical treatments with corresponding increased survival, as well as demographic trends leaning towards an aging population. An increasing number of older persons will have to live with a chronic disease, of which the long-term consequences are not yet fully understood. At the same time, older persons also experience a decline in physical, psychological and social resources that are needed to deal with chronic disease, as do their intimate partners on whom they rely. To design effective interventions for older people, it is important to identify this dual influence of psychological and social factors, and how it affects quality of life. For example, Prof BJM Steverink has designed and is now implementing self-management interventions to assist older people in using their personal and social resources to maintain their wellbeing.