Our aim is to develop an engaged and inclusive research culture that embraces a broad community and provides the science behind Positive Health.

The Centre for Positive Health Sciences conducts and supports research in positive health, whilst being aware of the limits we may have to the data we can access and that different situations pose different types of questions.

In principle we, therefore, adopt an overall pragmatist approach to our research based on what works best to address the question at hand allowing for creative and innovative ways to conduct and disseminate our research.

Below we highlight the three main focus areas of the Centre for Positive Health Sciences.

Note: These areas overlap and are therefore not mutually exclusive.

Positive health coaching (PHC) is a form of positive psychology coaching that adopts the dialogical approach, balancing asking with telling, falling somewhere between facilitative and directive conversational interventions. PHC is essentially an intervention designed to support people to set health and wellbeing-related goals and then work towards them.

The intention of PHC is to treat clients with respect, empowering them and encouraging them to take more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. Digitalisation of positive health interventions, such as PHC, facilitates more equitable, scalable, and sustainable services.

Digital Positive Health coaching involves the integration of positive health coaching with digital technology. Our ongoing and areas of research interest in this area include:

  • Positive health coaching – radical listening and dialogic coaching: Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh is the Principal Investigator (PI) interested in research that examines the effect/experience on clients/patients when professionals adopt a 'radical listening' approach and the effect/experience on clients/patients when they are coached dialogically.
  • Coach-led digital health platforms: Dr Pádraic J. Dunne is the PI of this group that 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. Within this group are a number of ongoing research projects:
    Connect5 project: Dr Róisín O’Donovan (PhD), Croía Loughnane (PhD Scholar) – funded by the IRC with Dr Dr Pádraic J. Dunne and Sohini De – investigate the capacity of a coach-led digital health platform to support participants to make small changes for better health. Connect5 Athy began in May 2023 with 50 participants who reside in the Athy area.
    Perinatal women: Dr Róisín O’Donovan (PhD) is interested in understanding the health and well-being needs of perinatal women and in the development of coach-led digital platforms to support these needs and provide bespoke support material.
    Biofeedback monitoring and wearables: Justin Laiti (PhD Scholar) – funded by Fullbright Scholarship with Dr Pádraic J. Dunne and Dr Elaine Byrne – is examining online coaching support for sustained health and well-being through the development of an online coaching (text) platform with biofeedback monitoring for secondary school students and teachers.
    Attention-based training: Jennifer Donnelly (PhD Scholar), with Dr Pádraic J. Dunne and Dr Niall Conlan, is investigating the mitigating role of positive psychology interventions on chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU) symptomology. An online ABT programme that is currently being tested among Irish patients diagnosed with CSU. 

We all want to live a good life, but we take a different pathway to do it. At the Centre for Positive Health Sciences, our research explores what pathways individuals, teams and communities take to live a good life.

For some, it may be a life of service; for others, it may be a joy-seeking life. Regardless of the pathway, many of us end up living a worthwhile life. Our research at the centre examines the decisions people make and the factors (e.g. our environment) that play a role in living a good life. This helps us select evidence-based solutions for individuals, teams and communities to help them live good lives.

Ongoing and areas of research interest include:

Pathways in the natural environment

  • Bespoke approach to positive activity practice (funded by Enterprise Ireland) – Dr Jolanta Burke in 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) – Dr Jolanta Burke in this project explores the impact of nature-based interventions and the quality of nature on psychological well-being (e.g. flourishing), physiological well-being (e.g. using wearable devices and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and health behaviours.
  • Bee well (funded by the Irish Research Council) – Dr Jolanta Burke in this project explores the impact of bee-keeping, as a community intervention, on psychological, emotional and social well-being.

Pathways in the community

  • Well-being arts (funded by the University of East London) – Using a randomised control trial, Dr Jolanta Burke explores the impact of a photography-based positive activity on individuals’ health and well-being.

Pathways in education

  • Prudence at school (funded by Teaching Council) – In this Randomised Control Trial project, Dr Jolanta Burke in this project develops 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.
  • Mindful kitchen (funded by RCSI STaR Programme) – Annette Sweeney (PhD Scholar), Dr Jolanta Burke and Dr Trudy Meehan explore 'The Mindful Kitchen' approach to create an applied culinary arts educational framework, relevant to the contemporary needs of chefs through constructivist grounded theory research. The research is approached through developing a framework for evaluation the complex intervention and producing, testing and refining a theory on ‘The Mindful Kitchen’ approach.

Pathways in health

  • Applying positive activities in orthodontics (funded by the Health Research Board) – Ciara Scott (PhD Scholar), Dr Jolanta Burke and Dr Mary Collins develop and validate an evidence-based programme on how positive activities can be applied in orthodontics to improve adolescents’ health behaviours.
  • From self-stigma to thriving Dr Elaine Byrne explores how to promote mental health and well-being among individuals on the margins of society by designing interventions with and for them that help them move and grow from self-stigma to a position of thriving. Self-stigma – negative self-judgements or core beliefs – can result in feelings of shame, worthlessness and self-blame, and impacts social interaction, mental health and health service utilisation. Overall it can inhibit flourishing and thriving. Self-stigma occurs at the individual level, but also influences interpersonal relationships, community participation and engagement and, ability to access rights and health services. Visit the Beyond Stigma website for information.
  • Solution-focused coaching as a well-being intervention in healthcare (funded by RCSI STaR Programme) – Aine Garvey (PhD Scholar), Dr Jolanta Burke and Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh look at this interesting area of research.

Pathways in the workplace

  • Psychological safety in the workplace (funded by the RCSI STaR Programme) – Lucy Airs (PhD Scholar), Dr Jolanta Burke and Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh explore the impact of a BioDash well-being programme and the role psychological safety plays as a factor in moderating its effectiveness.
  • Workplace well-being – Dr Mary Collins research interests are leadership and workplace well-being, diversity, equality and inclusion around gender and age, and emotional resilience.

There has been a notable rise in research studies investigating how activities like painting, choirs, dance and poetry impact health and well-being.

Within our health, social and community care systems we have an increasing number of artists collaborating with health professionals, psychologists, researchers, and policymakers to better understand the connections between the arts, health, and well-being.

Dr Trudy Meehan (PI), with colleagues, is establishing the centre within the arts and health field and leading our research in the growing field of arts and positive health.

Ongoing and areas of research interest include:

Establishing collaborations and partnerships

  • This is what love feels like – Dr Trudy Meehan will lead an arts based research project and public workshop that explores how we experience connection. It aims to explore the lived experience of love and safety and develop an educational resource to orient people to ‘good’ relationships and build up their ability to recognise what safety, respect and what love feels like so they can find it and recognise it in their lives. Collaborating with the WHO and the Global Brain Health Institute for Creative Brain Week (with Professor Ciaran O’ Boyle) the workshop and research will be part of the offerings at the WHO sponsored Creative Brain Week 2024.
  • Well-being arts – Dr Trudy Meehan and Dr Jolanta Burke are collaborating with national and international experts in the area of arts and positive health in editing a handbook on well-being arts that aims to be the seminal book on this topic.

Creative engagement and creative outputs

  • Creative writing and illustration to support children experiencing complex loss – Dr Trudy Meehan is writing a picture book developed to support children bereaved by suicide. This project is supported by a seed grant from The Irish Hospice Foundation and Creative Ireland. It is also supported by the Public Patient Involvement seed fund to consult with those bereaved by suicide about the community and creative supports they might need.
  • The role of creative engagement in reducing self-stigma in youth living with HIV – Dr Elaine Byrne is working with the Wakakosha project run by Zvandira in Zimbabwe and supported by Beyond Stigma and Speak Up Sing Out in Ireland. Within this project we are exploring the value of creative engagement (e.g. singing, song-writing, dance, creative writing, visual art) in building and enhancing self-worth amongst young people living with HIV.
  • Listening with your heart ears: art practice in the university – Dr Trudy Meehan leads this group in examining the pedagogical and well-being value of art engagement for healthcare professionals while they are studying. We aim to develop pedagogical activities to support deep and attentive listening to improve diagnostic skills, support rapport building, aid communication, and foster compassion (to reduce empathic distress fatigue) and enhance patient experiences and outcomes.
  • Creativity and flourishing – Louise Foott (PhD Scholar) – funded by the RCSI STaR Programme – Dr Trudy Meehan and Dr Jolanta Burke adopt an arts-based qualitative research investigation of secondary school student experience and meaning making within positive health and well-being.