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Psychopathology Research Group

The Psychopathology Research Group (PRG) was formed in 2012 and is based in the School of Arts and Humanities. Membership of the group includes 16 postgraduate and undergraduate students and six academics of the Psychology Department at ECU, two professors from the University of Western Australia and one professor from Swinburne University (Melbourne). The broad aims of the PRG are to understand the cognitive, psychophysiological and emotional processes that characterise psychopathology as well as generate knowledge that will have practical applications in the improvement of psychological interventions. Research undertaken by the group involves laboratory experiments, online surveys, and studies in applied settings such as clinics and hospitals.

The Psychopathology Research Group (PRG) was formed in 2012 to service both the need of our clinical psychology students and the need to further research the area of psychopathology. Additionally, its creation enhances the research culture of the School of Arts and Humanities at ECU. The establishment of the PRG represents the first research group at ECU dedicated to this area. The focus is on translating research into clinical practice. Psychopathology, in its broadest sense, is concerned with people experiencing difficulties coming from, or impacting on, their psychological and practical functioning. Many terms are associated with this construct; e.g., mental disorder, mental distress, mental disease, abnormal behaviours, maladaptive behaviours, and so on. There are controversies attached to some of these meanings, but the overarching sense is that the human psyche can experience difficulties that impede normal functioning for the individual. The study of psychopathology is vast and today researchers tend to specialise in subareas in this domain. We have started our research on Bipolar Disorders but have expanded to several other conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder), as we have taken on more students and collaborations.

One focus that is common to several current projects is the role of emotion regulation in the gestation and/or maintenance of psychopathology. We take emotions (e.g., sadness) to be different to moods (e.g., depression) and we wonder if the way people regulate their emotions has a role in the course of their psychopathology. A long-term project we have already started is the role of emotion dysregulation in group therapy for various psychiatric diagnoses. We have submitted a couple of manuscripts already reporting findings on investigations that looked at the role of emotion dysregulation in Bipolar disorder as compared to anxiety and depression. Another area of interest is the cognitive functioning in psychopathology. We were very pleased when ECU awarded us the Early Career Research Grant (2011), to fund a project titled ‘Do neuropsychological variables predict recovery from Bipolar Disorder episodes? This project provided the basis for the establishment of the PRG. Neuropsychological functioning in psychopathology remains somewhat unexamined and we are curious about the role certain cognitive abilities (e.g., memory, speed of information processing, intelligence and executive functioning) play in the overall psychopathology. We are also very interested in the role Mindfulness plays in both emotion regulation and cognitive skills and have submitted a recent paper on the role of mindfulness in improving attentional skills. We believe that Mindfulness could have a part in the recovery from mental difficulties, but the exact potential contribution needs to be studied empirically. Other projects currently pursued include areas such as empathy, theory of mind, psychophysiological reactions in depression and bipolar disorders, theory of mind and psychophysiological reactivity, and others. The PRG makes an excellent fit with, and use of, the new Psychophysiology Laboratory offered by the School of Arts and Humanities. The addition of objective psychophysiological measurements provides important information to enhance current research investigations, and to improve the competitiveness of the research group for external funding applications.

The PRG, which now has 9 members from four different universities (Edith Cowan University, The University of Western Australia, Notre Dame University, and Swinburne University of Technology), is currently supervising 16 research projects. We also have working links with WA Hospitals/Mental Health Clinics (Fremantle Hospital, Rockingham Kwinana Mental Health Services, Joondalup Mental Health Services, June O’Connor Centres). These links facilitate access to clinical populations making the research clinically relevant and making the ECU Psychology Department more competitive in the recruitment of new postgraduates.

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