Holistic Health and Wellbeing Research Cluster

This research cluster brings together researchers in several key areas, including a group of researchers who conduct research on compassion, contemplation and emotion regulation, led by Professor Frances Maratos, Dr William Van Gordon and Dr Caroline Harvey. The cluster also supports the work of researchers on nature connectedness, in liaison with the Zero Carbon research theme, especially research on nature connections that has implications for mental health.

Our aims

The aim of this cluster is to apply a very holistic approach to health and wellbeing, and to conduct research that provides a deeper understanding of psychological influences on health and ways that our environments, especially our social and natural environments, can affect our health and wellbeing. The cluster includes expertise in psychology, meditation, and the development and evaluation of interventions to improve health and wellbeing. 

“Compassion gives us the courage and wisdom to descend into our suffering” - Professor Paul Gilbert, OBE

In compassion, our work is focused on developing and promoting Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) and Compassionate Mind Therapy (CMT) interventions that help stimulate specific psychophysiological systems that support prosocial behaviour, emotion regulation and wellbeing across a variety of clinical and non-clinical populations. Our applied research on Compassion in Education is progressing internationally and our CFT clinical interventions are recognised and practiced in over 25 countries. We are at the forefront of developing self-report scales, exploring key processes of compassion and self-criticism and their impacts on physiological systems such as heart rate variability and salivary Alpha Amylase. Most recently, and concerned with emotion regulation more generally, our international collaborations are at the forefront of understanding neural processes of self-criticism, self-reassurance and suicide ideation and behaviour in youth.  
Our contemplative psychology research focuses on improving understanding of how processes and principles such as meditation, mindfulness, emptiness, non-self, and undermining ego-centeredness can improve physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing in clinical, educational, occupational and general life settings. We play a lead role as a science communicator for Contemplative Psychology, to explain the relevance of our discipline to societal challenges.
We collaborate with public and private sector organisations regionally, nationally and internationally, as part of an inclusive approach to ensuring the evidence-based benefits of compassion and contemplation are reflected in policy and practice. In our compassion and emotion regulation work, we currently have ongoing collaborations with Coimbra University, Portugal; Brown University, USA; and the University of Queensland, Australia, to name but a few. We also are working with local county councils and previously have worked with private sector organisations such as Slimming World. A key collaboration is with the Compassionate Mind Foundation, which is an international network of practitioners and researchers dedicated to the promotion of CFT and CMT.

“We live in societies that are increasingly competitive and where individual success is a metric promoted and championed. Neither of the former are conducive to good physiological or mental health, or to well-functioning societies. In compassion, our research and interventions are not only centred on recognising and noticing stress, distress and suffering in the self and others - but also - the skills needed to address such. Across child, adult and clinical populations our research demonstrates that such interventions not only improve physiological and psychological wellbeing but also promote prosocial behaviours and feelings of inclusivity ...for the good of everyone.” Professor Frances Maratos


“Related to this, modern life is becoming increasingly fast-paced, but our research has demonstrated that techniques employing ancient contemplation principles can not only help people improve mental health and centre themselves, but also increase their capacity and resolve to work toward reducing suffering, which is essential for the future survival of humankind” Dr William Van Gordon

Research Cluster Teams

Our research

Compassion-based research

An important focus of research in the cluster is the application of compassion and practices derived from contemplative science to address the causes of suffering and improve prosocial behaviour, emotion-regulation, openness and wellbeing across a variety of sectors. Our researchers are world leaders in advancing the use of CFT and CMT to address physical and mental health issues. We are also world leaders in advancing the Contemplative Psychology research. The impact of our research was evidenced by highly rated impact case studies in REF2014 and REF2021.

Find out more about our compassion-based research

One important area of research is the application of compassion-based approaches to education. The main focus of this initiative is on providing in-house services for school staff and educators, school pupils, and students within Higher education. We will soon be offering single one-off sessions with staff, in which introductory materials and simple practices that can aid wellbeing are overviewed in a single continuing professional development (CPD) session.

Find out more about compassion in education

We have also been developing second generation mindfulness interventions for improving wellbeing and human functioning in a range of applied settings, including health/clinical, education and work. 

Nature connectedness

Our work on nature connectedness is shared with the Zero Carbon academic theme. The nature connectedness research within this research cluster focuses on the mental health and wellbeing benefits of improving people’s connections to nature. As part of this, the University offers a free online course on nature connectedness that is endorsed by Natural England. The course shows how we can build a new relationship with nature for the wellbeing of both people and the rest of the natural world.

Find out more about the nature connectedness short course

Join us

If you are interested in our research and would like to find out more, would like to join our research cluster or are applying for a PhD in this research area, please get in touch with us.

For information about research on compassion, contemplation and emotion regulation, contact:

For information about researchers on the mental health and wellbeing benefits of nature connections, contact:


Our researchers publish very widely in association with their collaborators, with tens of papers per academic year given our numerous collaborations. Below are some key publications, for more information visit the researcher's Google Scholar profiles.

  • Ashra, H., Barnes, C., Stupple, E., & Maratos, F. A. (2021). A systematic review of self-report measures of negative self-referential emotions developed for non-clinical child and adolescent samples. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 24, 224-243. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-020-00339-9  
  • Barrows, P., Shonin, E., Sapthiang, S., Griffiths, M. D., Ducasse, D., & Van Gordon, W. (2022). The development and validation of the ontological addiction scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, Advance Online Publication, DOI: 10.1007/s11469-022-00840-y  
  • Maratos, F.A., & Sheffield, D. (2020) Brief Compassion-Focused Imagery Dampens Physiological Pain Responses. Mindfulness 11, 2730–2740. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01485-5   
  • Maratos, F.A., Montague, J., Ashra, H. et al. Evaluation of a Compassionate Mind Training Intervention with School Teachers and Support Staff. Mindfulness 10, 2245–2258 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01185-9   
  • Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Dunn, T., Garcia-Campayo, J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2017). Meditation Awareness Training for the treatment of fibromyalgia: A randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Health Psychology, 22, 186-206. 
  • Van Gordon, W., Sapthiang, S., & Shonin, E. (2022). Contemplative psychology: History, key assumptions and future directions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 17, 99-107. 
  • Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Dunn, T., Sheffield, D., Garcia-Campayo, J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2018). Meditation-induced near-death experiences: A three-year prospective study. Mindfulness, 9, 1794–1806. 
  • Keenan, R., Lumber, R., Richardson, M., & Sheffield, D. (2021). Three good things in nature: a nature-based positive psychological intervention to improve mood and well-being for depression and anxiety. Journal of Public Mental Health, 20(4), 243-250. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JPMH-02-2021-0029/full/html  
  • Muneghina, O., Van Gordon, W., Barrows, P., & Richardson, M. (2021). A Novel Mindful Nature Connectedness Intervention Improves Paranoia but Not Anxiety in a Nonclinical Population. Ecopsychology, 13(4), 248-256. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/eco.2020.0068  
  • Pritchard, A., & Richardson, M. (2022). The Relationship Between Nature Connectedness and Human and Planetary Wellbeing: Implications for Promoting Wellbeing, Tackling Anthropogenic Climate Change and Overcoming Biodiversity Loss. In Broadening the Scope of Wellbeing Science: Multidisciplinary and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Flourishing and Wellbeing (pp. 71-84). Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-031-18329-4_6 
  • Richardson, M., McEwan, K., Sheffield, D., Ferguson, F., & Brindley, P. (2022). Data from a smartphone app for improving mental health through urban nature 2016-2019. https://t2-4.by-covid.bsc.es/jspui/handle/123456789/59874