Quinnipiac University College of Arts and Sciences

Buddhism and Psychology

In Faculty, Research on October 24, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Professor Studies Concentration and Attentional Control

For twenty-five year Tom Pruzinsky’s research has focused on the psychological aspects of reconstructive plastic surgery and the suffering associated with body image adjustment to congenital and acquired disfigurement.   For many years he worked in the burn center at the University of Virginia Medical Center and witnessed the profound suffering of patients and families, as well as the staff, in that very challenging environment. He was primarily interested in how to address the suffering experienced when one’s body is damaged and will never be the same no matter how skillful the surgical intervention. Over time, his interests have turned to exploring the very deep and profound approach to psychology presented in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The Buddhist approach to the relief of suffering is over 2,500 years old. This is in contrast to the 150 year history of western psychological science.  Additionally, Tibetan culture has devoted the vast majority of its resources to cultivating positive mental states, particularly wisdom and compassion.  In contrast, the cultivation of positive mental states has not been the forte of western psychology. Therefore, Pruzinsky and many others are exploring how Buddhist psychology may help us to cultivate positive mental states with the explicit goal of relieving the suffering we all experience–including that associated with aging, sickness, and death.

Pruzinsky presented a poster recently at the Second World Congress on Positive Psychology in July of 2011.  It provides an overview of the technique of loving kindness meditation. This technique is commonly used for cultivating the mental state of universal love that has been practiced in the Buddhist tradition. He has been particularly interested in how this form of mediation can also be used to cultivate deep forms of concentration and voluntary control over one’s ability to focus one’s attention.   A key to high functioning in any human endeavor (e.g., relationships, sports, business, and academics) is the ability to maintain and deepen the focus of one’s attention.

Currently, in collaboration with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Pruzinsky is developing grant proposals which will allow his group to evaluate the efficacy of different forms of meditation, particularly those designed to cultivate self-compassion and love, in the treatment of burn survivors who are permanently disfigured.   He is working with colleagues at the world’s largest organization of burn survivors–the Phoenix Society.  With this work he has been able to apply his developing understanding of the powerful psychological technologies of Buddhism to the suffering of those with significant forms of disfigurement, bridging two apparently disparate areas interest.

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