In this Issue

The meaning, spirituality, and health lab at the University of Connecticut

A unique lab exploring the psychological aspects of religion and spirituality.

By Crystal L. Park, PhD

The Meaning, Spirituality, and Health Lab at the University of Connecticut, led by Dr. Crystal L. Park, currently consists of Crystal, six graduate students, and approximately 25 undergraduates (our largest group ever!). We really love our lab, and feel very lucky to be a part of such an amazing and productive group.

Research projects within our lab center on topics of meaning, spirituality, and/or health but are quite diverse under that general umbrella. Amy Hale-Smith and Ian Gutierrez study religion and spirituality and stress and coping, Dalnim Cho looks at health behaviors in cancer populations and issues of stress-related growth, Tosca Braun studies yoga and embodied cognition, Login George is interested in meaning and existential concerns, and Kristen Riley studies rumination and stress. We value camaraderie and collaboration and work together on many different projects, including designing and implementing studies and writing papers and chapters together. We enjoy our time together outside of school as well, both working (e.g., group writing or study sessions at Starbucks) and playing (dinners or a group day trips).

We meet every Wednesday during the semester for two hours, in which we discuss literature, develop research ideas, and brainstorm solutions to specific project-related issues. The first hour consists of a discussion among graduate and undergraduate students, usually a journal club discussing a recent research article. Many of our undergraduates become integral team members and assist the research progress in many critical ways. Undergraduates are frequently authors on papers and chapters published from the studies in our lab. The second hour of lab, grad lab, is just for Dr. Park and the graduate students. In this meeting, we discuss and brainstorm about nascent research ideas, current difficulties or issues in our work, or ongoing manuscripts. In addition to these meetings, we frequently have ad hoc meetings during the week, conference calls, and nearly constant email communications.

Many of the graduate students develop their own mini-teams from the larger lab and meet with their own smaller groups of students dedicated to their specific project.

Thanks to Crystal’s efforts, most graduate students receive partial if not full funding through external research grants. Recent funding sources include grants from the Templeton Foundation, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), Livestrong Foundation, National Cancer Institute (NCI), and faculty research grants from the University of Connecticut’s Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention. Graduate students also receive teaching fellowships as teaching assistants or instructors of record.

The lab currently has eight major ongoing projects. Two studies focus on Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): one longitudinal study examining the pathways through which religiousness/spirituality is related to better subsequent physical and mental health, and one pilot study of a mail-based psychosociospiritual intervention. Two other studies focus on measure development: one for quality of life for young cancer survivors, and another of the essential properties of yoga that will allow researchers to provide detailed information on the levels of various components of specific yoga interventions. A fifth project is a randomized clinical trial called “Targeting the Teachable Moment Intervention for Breast Cancer Survivors,” testing the effectiveness of using a strengths-focused mail-based intervention focused on changing health behaviors. Another major project investigates resilience in an OEF/OIF veterans. We are also completing a pilot randomized controlled trial of yoga and stress management in the transition to the first year of college, and a final project is looking at relations between religious beliefs about suffering and well-being in community samples.

We publish our work frequently and in a variety of journals, including, recently, Psychological Assessment, International Journal of the Psychology of Religion, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Psycho-Oncology, Journal of Positive Psychology, and Psychology & Health. In addition, we get our work out at conferences: each graduate student presents posters and presentations at several national conferences each year. We typically present at the Division 36 Midyear Conference, the American Psychological Association Annual Convention, the Association for Psychological Science, the Society of Behavioral Medicine and the Symposium on Yoga Research. Dr. Park accepts one graduate student to join the lab as part of the UConn Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program; if you have questions for her regarding this work or the lab, contact her via email.