This network was launched by the Division Psychopathology and Clinical Intervention, Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich, and the Institute of Psychology and Education at the University of Neuchâtel. Our main research areas are cultural clinical psychology, with a focus on stress-related disorders, and research among immigrant and refugee populations.
Metaphors of Trauma in Older Swiss Travelers
To better understand trauma in a culturally sensitive way, metaphors of trauma in two indigenous communities (Pitaguary from Brazil and Adivasis from India) and two rural communities (mountain villagers of Gondo in Switzerland and the Lemko, an ethnic minority of Poland) were examined. Next, it is planned to examine metaphors of trauma in older adults, who in this project are regarded as acultural group that experiences, understands, and communicates suffering distinctly from other cultural groups. Different groups of older adults, who have experienced extremely aversive events in the past, will be explored using qualitative
research methods. The first group of older adults that will be explored are Swiss Travelers. In 1926, the Swiss foundation “Pro Juventute” launched the project “Kinder der Landstrasse” (children of the road) on behalf of the Swiss government, whereby children of Swiss Travelers were removed from their families in order to reintegrate them into society by placing them in orphanages or foster homes. Swiss Travelers suffered from extreme social exclusion and discrimination until the 1970ies. Individual interviews and focus group will be conducted and the data analyzed using the techniques of systematic metaphor analysis and content analysis to identify culturally shared metaphors and themes found in this specific group of older adults.
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Maercker
Differential Aging Trajectories In High-Risk Individuals With Past Experiences of Early Adversity
The project “Differential Aging Trajectories In High-Risk Individuals With Past Experiences of Early Adversity” is a longitudinal, multi-method project comprised of three interconnected studies, running from 2018 to 2022. This project is being conducted within the scope of the National Research Program 76 (NRP 76): “Welfare and Coercion – Past, Present and Future”, under the direction of Principal Investigators PD Dr. Myriam V. Thoma and Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Maercker, and Study Lead Dr. Shauna Rohner (formerly Mc Gee).
The overarching aim of the project is the identification of determinants and underlying mechanisms associated with past experiences of early-life adversity within the welfare context, which differentiate detrimental outcomes and trajectories from adaptive or beneficial health and ageing outcomes and trajectories.
The first study in this project is a mixed-methods study in Ireland, using a survey and semi-structured interviews to examine psychosocial factors associated with health outcomes in older adults with varying experiences of childhood adversity (including institutional and familial abuse). The second study is a longitudinal study in Switzerland, using psychological, behavioural, and clinical assessments to examine health and well-being in older adults affected by compulsory social measures and placements (CSMP), including Swiss former Verdingkinder (child labourers); as well as age-matched controls. The third study is a qualitative study in Switzerland, using semi-structured interviews with individuals involved in the care of persons affected by CSMP; to explore their experiences providing a care-giving environment and techniques they used to promote the development of individuals in their care.
The study in Ireland has completed the data collection stage, with the two Swiss studies currently ongoing. A number of articles from this project have already been published (references below).
Eising, C., Voelkle, M., Rohner, S. L. M., Maercker, A., & Thoma, M. V. (in press). Lifetime Post-
traumatic stress disorder in older individuals with a history of institutional upbringing: The role of social acknowledgement and stressful life events. European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
Thoma, M. V., Höltge, J., Eising, C. M., Pfluger, V., & Rohner, S. L. (2020). Resilience and stress
in later life: A network analysis approach depicting complex interactions of resilience resources and stress-related risk factors in older adults. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 14:580969. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2020.580969
Thoma, M. V., Bernays, F., Eising, C. M., Pfluger, V., & Rohner, S. L. (2020). Health, stress, and
well-being in Swiss adult survivors of child welfare practices and child labor: Investigating the mediating role of socio-economic factors. Child Abuse & Neglect, 111, 104769. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104769
Thoma, M. V., Bernays, F., Eising, C. M., Maercker, A., & Rohner, S. L. (2021). Child
maltreatment, lifetime trauma, and mental health in Swiss older survivors of enforced child welfare practices: Investigating the mediating role of self-esteem and self-compassion. Child Abuse & Neglect, 113, 104925. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104925
Mc Gee, S. L., Maercker, A., Carr, A., & Thoma, M. V. (2020). “Some call it resilience”: A profile of
dynamic resilience-related factors in older adult survivors of childhood institutional adversity and maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 107, 104565. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104565
Contact: Shauna Rohner, PhD,
The voice of Care-Givers: A qualitative study with former care-givers of individuals affected by compulsory social measures and placements
This study is being conducted within the scope of the National Research Program 76 (NRP 76): “Welfare and Coercion – Past, Present and Future”, as part of the project “Differential Aging Trajectories In High-Risk Individuals With Past Experiences of Early Adversity”. The study is being co-ordinated by Elena Mayorova, M.Sc., under the direction of Study Lead Dr. Shauna L. Rohner (formerly Mc Gee), and Principal Investigators PD Dr. Myriam V. Thoma and Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Maercker.
In Switzerland up until 1981, children and adolescents were affected by compulsory social measures and placements (CSMP), including Verdingung, foster care, farm work, and care institutions. In understanding the impact of such welfare placements, it is essential to include the care-givers (e.g., foster families, institution staff) who were actively involved in these welfare practices, an aspect that has previously been neglected in this research area. These care-givers played a major role in shaping the caregiving environment of the individuals in their care, and thus can be considered an external influence on their development. Care-givers can play an important role in welfare settings by fostering a positive and
resilience-building environment. In addition, care-givers can identify risk and protective factors and provide unique insights into the resilience aspects of welfare practices, which may not be apparent to the persons affected by CSMP. The care-giver perspective is also necessary in order to increase understanding of how positive outcomes can be fostered in future welfare settings. The “Voice of Carers” study therefore aims to give a voice to the individuals involved in the care of persons affected by CSMP; and to explore their experiences providing a care-giving environment, and techniques they used to promote the development of individuals in their care. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with older adults who were former care-givers of individuals affected by CSMP in Switzerland up until 1981. This study can provide new insights into the experience of CSMP during childhood and/or adolescence and its consequences in later in life, including the potential for positive outcomes. It may help to identify risk and protective factors important for consideration in future care-giving environments.
Meet the Team!
Elena Mayorova, M.Sc., Doktorandin, Studienkoordinatorin
In my research and clinical work, I place special emphasis on the uniqueness of a person's destiny. The unique trajectories of personal development fascinate me and provide the field of research in various aspects. The study "Voice of the Caregivers" will make an essential contribution to the problem of raising children in a historical context and will document the most distinctive stories.
Jana Maira Studer, B.Sc,.
Besides doing my masters in psychology at the University of Zurich, I'm working since almost 2 years in a psychosomatic clinic, where I can use my knowledge practically and expand it. I love spending my free time with my dog in nature, with my friends, or riding my motorcycle.
Lisa Schiesser, B.Sc,.
I am currently doing my master's degree of psychology at the University of Zürich. I write my Master's thesis as part of the study "The voice of caregivers" under the supervision of M.Sc. Elene Mayorova. Besides studying. I am active in various associations, make music, and work out.
Contact: Elena Mayorova, MSc,
Cognitive Biases in Individuals with a Subclinical, Stress-Related Disorder
This experimental study investigated cognitive changes after distressing life events. More specifically, shifts in attention and implicit evaluations were studied, using reaction time tests. Many interesting results were found, revealing a complex interplay between intrusive symptoms and avoidance behavior.
The results of this study will be published soon.
Project lead: David Eberle, MSc,
Involved students: Michelle Mouttet Lea Daneffel, Annika Jung;
The effectiveness of internet-based mental health interventions for older adults
Internet-based interventions for the treatment of mental disorders and psychological problems have been shown to be highly effective. Research on internet-based treatment approaches has mainly focused on younger and middle-aged adults. However, online-based treatment approaches might also be suitable for older adults. This systematic review and meta-analysis aims to examine the effectiveness of such interventions in older adults.
Project lead: Christine Dworschak, MSc,
Effects of a short relaxation exercise on stress and well-being
This study is being conducted under the direction of Study Leads Dr. Shauna L. Rohner and David Eberle, M.Sc. It aims to investigate whether short online relaxation tasks can influence the perception of stress and well-being. Two relaxation tasks are examined: Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) and Mindful Breathing. Both relaxations tasks are completed online, using guided audio instructions. While research has explored the use of such relaxation tasks for health and well-being, studies tend to focus on in-person, prolonged implementation of the tasks. There is a lack of research on the potential of ultra-brief, guided, online relaxation exercises for stress and well-being outcomes. In 2020, an initial trial study was conducted with a (university) student sample, with promising results for various health, stress, and well-being indicators. In 2021, a second study was commenced, examining both relaxation tasks on a larger scale, incorporating adults of all ages and educational backgrounds. This second study is nearing the completion of its data collection stage, with analyses planned for the coming months!.
Shauna Rohner, PhD,
David Eberle, MSc,
Stress-Related Symptoms and Disorders Following Aversive Life Events
* This project is in preparation
This questionnaire-based study investigates the psychological consequences of aversive life events.
Many individuals experience intrusive and distressing thoughts following a stressful life event, however it is still unclear how these symptoms can be categorized and whether such distressing thoughts co-occur with specific types of mental disorders.
This study is in the preparation phase and will commence in July. Any individuals who have experienced an aversive life event in the past 5 years will be eligible to participate. The link to the study will be available here soon.
Project lead: David Eberle, MSc,
Involved students: Rhea Gesù, Miriam Wallimann, Annika Jung;
Development of an internet-based intervention for alleviating loneliness in older adults
* This project is in preparation
The aim of this project is to develop an internet-based psychological self-help program for alleviating loneliness in older adults. A particular focus is on adapting the intervention to the needs and resources of older adults. In a second step, the effectiveness of the intervention is evaluated. The project involves a qualitative study as well as a randomized controlled trial.
Project lead: Christine Dworschak, MSc,