Welcome to the research page of the Centre for Positive Health Sciences. Here, we embark on a transformative journey at the forefront of research, dedicated to unraveling the complexities of health and wellness.
Our multidisciplinary approach brings together a dynamic team of researchers, scholars, and practitioners who are passionately committed to advancing the boundaries of knowledge in the pursuit of positive health outcomes.
Through innovative studies, collaborative partnerships, and cutting-edge methodologies, we strive to pave the way for a healthier, happier, and more resilient future. Join us as we explore groundbreaking insights and contribute to the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, shaping a world where well-being flourishes and human potential thrives.
Dr Pádraic J. Dunne (PhD) – Principal Investigator
Pádraic is an immunologist (research scientist), practicing psychotherapist, accredited senior coach, certified lifestyle medicine professional and senior lecturer, based at the Centre for Positive Health Sciences.
As lead of the Digital Health Research Group, Pádraic is interested in the development of coach-led digital health platforms for communities, healthcare professionals and citizens with chronic disease diagnoses. The group’s mission is to co-design sustainable, science-informed, digital, and human-centred strategies for better living.
To date, he has published over 30 research articles in high impact scientific journals and 2 books. Pádraic has lectured in immunology, psychology and lifestyle medicine in Universities across Ireland and the UK. He is currently the co-director of the Centre for Positive Health Sciences’ MSc in Positive Health Coaching. As a practicing psychotherapist, Pádraic is a fully accredited member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP), specialising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Group Therapy. He is also a European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC)-accredited Senior Coach and an International Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Professional.
Dr Róisín O’Donovan (PhD) – Postdoctoral Researcher
Róisín, has managed the RCSI Coach Connect project (digital health coaching for hospital workers), which finished in 2022 and is currently managing the Connect5 project that is designed to investigate the capacity of a coach-led digital health platform to support participants to make small changes for better health.
Róisín completed her PhD research in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems at the University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland. This research focused on understanding and improving psychological safety in healthcare teams and was funded under the Irish Research Council Employment Based Postgraduate Programme and the Ireland East Hospital Group.
She is passionate about using research as a tool for positive change and about applying the results of this research to teaching in order to ensure that students are informed by emerging trends and developments in practice. As a qualified coach and psychologist, Róisín is interested in understanding the health and wellbeing needs of perinatal women and in the development of coach-led digital platforms to support these needs and provide bespoke support material.
Croía Loughnane – PhD Scholar
Croía is a qualified coach with a Masters in Applied positive Psychology from University College Cork and is funded by an Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme award, which is a joint academic/industry project involving RCSI and our industry partner Empeal (Wind of Change Ltd).
Croía is investigating the capacity of a coach-led digital health platform to support citizens in making small changes for better health. This online digital health platform is currently being trialled in Athy, Co. Kildare, in collaboration with Healthy Ireland and Slaintecare Healthy Communities Kildare. The project – Connect5 Athy – began in May 2023 with 50 participants who reside in the Athy area.
The aim is for the online health coach to co-design personal health and wellbeing plans in co-operation with participating citizens. This positive health coaching approach, although largely non-directive in nature with the participant as the expert, does involve an element of evidence-based supporting material.
Participants can access supporting material on lifestyle medicine (stress management, eating well, daily physical activity, cultivating positive relationships, avoiding risky substances like alcohol and tobacco as well as the importance of adequate sleep), positive psychology interventions (incorporating signature strengths into daily life, cultivating optimism and gratitude, meditation practice, as well as journaling), and elements of behaviour change science (cultivating sticky habits). Croía applies a patient and public involvement (PPI) framework, as well as a mixed-methods (quantitative and qualitative) approach to her research.
Croía has recently completed a qualification as a Business Analyst, which is part of her industry secondment with Empeal. Business analysts fulfil an important role in the technology sector by translating the needs of service users to engineers and technology developers. Part of her PhD project will also involve identifying areas where machine learning and intelligent assistance can be developed to support online coaches in tasks such as scheduling, providing reminders to participants, identifying at-risk users, analysing surveys and wearable metrics, as well as allocating bespoke support content. She will complete her PhD studies in 2026.
Jennifer Donnelly – PhD Scholar
Jennifer is a qualified occupational therapist (Glasgow Caledonian University) with a BSc in Psychology (also from Caledonian University). Jennifer’s project is entitled “Investigating the mitigating role of Positive Psychology Interventions on Chronic Spontaneous Urticaria (CSU) symptomology”.
CSU is defined by the presence of hives on the skin, anywhere on the body, almost daily for at least six weeks. The condition usually has a significant negative impact on quality of life. Although the pathophysiology is unknown, autoimmune mechanisms have been proposed. Treatment is often limited to high dose ant-histamines or the use of biological agents (Xolair); no cure is currently available.
Recent evidence from our Centre and St James’s Hospital Dublin has shown a substantial psycho-social association with the disease development; stress and early childhood events might also have a role to play in this debilitating disease. Jennifer’s project is conducted in collaboration with colleagues at the Department of Clinical Immunology at St. James’s Hospital, Dublin (led by Dr Niall Conlan).
One of the aims of her PhD project is to assess the psychosocial health of CSU patients attending this clinic. We have shown that the stress associated with CSU might be mitigated in part using an evidence-based meditation practice called Attention-based Training (ABT). ABT involves the daily practice of focusing on a central anchor (the breath, a chosen phrase or mantra, or an image such as a candle flame); each time the individual becomes distracted by thoughts, memories, emotions or sensations, they return to this anchor.
Our prior research has shown that this practice can reduce stress and burnout while simultaneously improving sleep, mental health and heart rate variability among emergency medicine staff, when practiced over an 8-week period.
Our recent pilot study as also described how ABT can mitigate disease development and improve overall wellbeing among a small cohort of individuals diagnosed with CSU. As part of her PhD, Jennifer has developed an online ABT programme that is currently being tested among Irish patients diagnosed with CSU. She is using a mixed methods approach (quantitative validated questionnaires along with semi-structured interviews) to examine the impact of this digital support programme on wellbeing and CSU symptomology, among study participants. Jennifer will complete her PhD in 2025.
Justin Laiti – PhD Scholar
Justin is a qualified biomedical engineer (Virginia Tech University, United States) and Fulbright PhD Scholar. His project is entitled “Development of an online coaching (text) platform with biofeedback monitoring for secondary school students and teachers: online coaching support for sustained health and wellbeing”.
Justin has recruited secondary school students from three Irish schools (Youth Reach school in Rush, Co. Dublin, St. Wolstan’s Community School, CO. Kildare and Corey Community School, Co. Wexford). Irish secondary school students experience significant stress, especially during the senior years of secondary school.
At the Centre rather than focus on anxiety, we focus on evidence-based supports that focus on promoting thriving during this often-difficult time. Justin is very much interested in the area of Positive Design; whereby positive psychology theory is used to design and develop support technology such as smartphone application and wearable devices.
Justin has engaged in Patient-Public Involvement (PPI) frameworks that have actively involved the students, their guardians and teachers in the co-design of the technology solutions on offer (smartphone app, style of online coaching, type of support material and bespoke wearable device).
Justin will develop a bespoke wearable device that will measure heart rate variability (HRV). He will build these wrist-worn devices rather than use commercially available products for two reasons: (1) students can develop a sense of ownership of their bespoke device by contributing to the co-design and personalisation (colour, name etc.); and (2) Justin will have access to all data collected from these devices, which is not always readily available from commercial devices.
These bespoke devices will be developed and calibrated in accordance with international best practice. HRV can be used as an indirect measure of stress management. Students can use their daily HRV scores as a measure of flourishing at home and at school. They will access their daily scores through the bespoke study app (also co-designed with Justin). Healthy lifestyle and stress management techniques like breath equalisation can improve HRV.
Volunteer, accredited coaches have agreed to provide asynchronous coaching to students on stress management, sleep and study techniques. Students will leave questions related to these topics only on the bespoke study app. Coaches will answer these questions within 48 hours and direct students to relevant support content or additional supports (e.g., student counselling supports).
He will subsequently test the capacity of an online asynchronous coaching app, online supporting material (evidence-based interventions on manging stress through breathwork, study techniques and how to get adequate sleep) and monitoring wellbeing through heart rate variability (measured by bespoke wearable device) to promote health and wellbeing and mitigate stress among senior level students (5th and 6th year). Justin will complete his PhD in 2026.
Positive Activities are positive psychological tools that provide evidence of improving well-being (e.g. psychological flourishing, richness, positive emotions, engagement), not only assess a decline in well-being (e.g. depression, anxiety). They include such tools as Counting Your Blessings, Acts of Kindness, or Best Possible Self. For more information about Positive Activities click here.
At our Positive Activity Research Lab, we explore how Positive Activities can be more effective in improving psychological flourishing and physiological health by combining them with behaviour-based interventions, applying them within various population settings, and exploring moderating and mediating factors of their effectiveness. We also test the effectiveness of Positive Activities in the context of Health (Positive Health Tools), which include patient groups and physiological measures.
Led by Dr Jolanta Burke, CPsychol, our team extends PhD and Professional Doctorate Scholars, Post-Doctoral Researcher, and Research Assistants.
Bespoke Approach to Positive Activity Practice (funded by Enterprise Ireland)
This project explores how the epigenetic theory of Vantage Sensitivity can explain and impact the effectiveness of positive activity practice.
VNiC-Health (funded by Science Foundation Ireland)
In this project, we explore the impact of Nature-based Interventions and the quality of nature on Psychological Wellbeing (e.g. Flourishing), Physiological Wellbeing (e.g. using wearable devices and fmri) and health behaviours.
Bee Well (funded by the Irish Research Council)
This project explores the impact of bee-keeping, as a community intervention, on psychological, emotional and social well-being.
Prudence at school (funded by Teaching Council)
In this Randomised Control Trial project, we develop a four-week positive school intervention, the aim of which is to develop students’ character strength of prudence and its impact on psychological well-being and lifestyle medicine pillars.
Applying Positive Activities in Orthodontics (funded by the Health Research Board)
This project develops and validates an evidence-based programme on how positive activities can be applied in Orthodontics to improve adolescents’ health behaviours.
Mindful Kitchen (funded by RCSI STaR Programme)
In this project, we explore the impact of a “Mindful Kitchen” positive-pedagogy intervention on tertiary students’ wellbeing.
Psychological safety in the workplace (funded by the RCSI STaR Programme)
This project explores the impact of a BioDash Wellbeing programme and the role psychological safety plays as a factor in moderating its effectiveness.
Solution-focused coaching as a wellbeing intervention in Healthcare (funded by RCSI STaR Programme)
In this project, we develop and validate a solution-focused coaching intervention to improve the team’s psychological and physiological well-being.
Wellbeing Arts (funded by the University of East London)
Using a Randomised Control Trial, this project explores the impact of a photography-based positive activity on individuals’ health and well-being.
The effects of occupational stress are a global issue with serious consequences for individual and societal health and for the growth of the economy. This is particularly evident in the health sector with up to one-third of doctors across the world experiencing burnout at any given time.
We have developed a cost-effective, practical programme for emergency department staff working in busy Irish hospitals that can reduce burnout, improve sleep and boost their immune systems. We are also currently developing programmes that integrate best practice in behaviour change science, lifestyle medicine and stress management (supported by smartphone and wearable technology) for staff in the corporate and healthcare sectors.
Students across the world face increasing academic demands that can negatively impact their health and wellbeing. In the short-term, this can lead to poor academic achievement, decreased motivation and increased school dropout, while long-term impacts can result in mental health issues (anxiety and depression), sleep disturbances, substance abuse and unemployment.
We have developed programmes for Irish secondary school students that develop resilience to stress using smartphone and wearable technology, in conjunction with tools to develop positive, flexible growth mind-sets for the future.
Creating art is a well-established therapeutic process in mental healthcare. We are interested in examining the therapeutic value of studio art practice by leveraging the positive psychology concept of flow and methods from phenomenology to explore the subjective lived experience of art-making. We explore how members of studio-based art-making groups become absorbed in and engage in creative processes to enhance a feeling of ‘at-homeness’ (reduced alienation and disconnection) and ‘meaningful activity’. Our research lends support to new phenomenological research which suggests that art-making has the potential to support a sense of self.