Life’s paths are full of obstacles. At college, students are constantly plagued by bumps in the road such as missing a full night of sleep, failing a test or facing a serious break-up. However, when life gets difficult, how do students react?
This is a question current NW psychology student Corey Kundert wanted to explore in depth. In Life Paths, a study in psychological flexibility, Kundert does not only design a study to gather evidence, but also aims to provide concrete ways of dealing with these pressures.
As an aspiring clinical psychologist with a history of serving students as a Resident Director at NW, Kundert was interested in pursuing a study which directly benefits the students on campus.
“This study addresses how we can live full and meaningful lives in spite of the suffering that comes with it,” Kundert said.
Life Paths has an intention of providing a service for the people participating in the study.
“It provides tools for NW students to relate differently to difficult private experiences like thoughts, feelings, emotions and memories,” Kundert said. “The research informs application. It isn’t a project where we gain information just for the sake of knowledge. Projects like this give us information while also providing students with tools to navigate their difficult experiences and clarify how they want to live in a complex world.”
In Life Paths, students study a more tangible and innovative psychological phenomenon that can lead participants into looking at their everyday lives a little differently.
“The idea itself is called psychological flexibility,” Kundert said. “This offers a new way of thinking about, and interacting with, psychological suffering.”
Kundert’s study on this innovative psychological idea counteracts the traditional view of human suffering, one that is rooted in the philosophy that humanity is naturally happy and psychological suffering is a signal of abnormality.
“The traditional or widely-accepted view is that suffering comes from abnormal or maladaptive emotional or cognitive processing,” Kundert said. “Psychological flexibility starts in a different spot. It believes that the human mind is prone to create suffering for us all. The concept emphasizes that life is hard and suffering is bound to happen. Rather than viewing this process as abnormal, psychological flexibility tries to help people understand the context and function of these experiences and promote living a meaningful life in the midst of them.”
Kundert knew this would be a great study to do with NW students based on his past interactions with the students on campus.
“I saw that a lot in my work as an RD,” Kundert said. “I saw people trying to avoid or control their experiences, and it turned into a crazy cycle. Life became a limited version of living where their fears and anxieties changed how they viewed themselves and influenced their behavior.”
Kundert saw psychological flexibility as a way to fill a need for NW students to face the challenges of everyday life by teaching them to reframe the way they view how people deal with suffering.
“Interacting with this concept has shaped how I view human suffering and how we define health and happiness in our culture, psychological science and health care systems,” Kundert said. “The main goal is to give students skills that will loosen the grip of unhelpful thoughts and experiences on their behavior. Hopefully, they won’t get caught up in the same destructive patterns and learn to have a little more compassion for themselves and others.”
The study, in its second semester of execution, allows a different perspective on viewing what can and cannot be controlled. In Life Paths, NW students are able to benefit from more than a few extra credit points in general psychology class, by learning more about themselves and the way they approach life’s impending obstacles.