New JMU class merges stress relief, science of psychology

jmuCollege students face more than their fair share of stresses, like getting to know new people, living away from home for the first time, contributing to group projects and studying for the next big test.

JMU Psychology Professor Jaime Kurtz, who researches strategies for happiness, is trying to help students handle some of their stress while teaching them psychology at the same time.

This semester, Kurtz has 30 students enrolled in PSYC 200, a special topics course she calls, “The Psychology of Well-being.”

An expert in positive psychology, Kurtz created the elective course that is open to all students and taught it for the first time in fall 2019.

“When I asked the students this semester what they want to get out of the class, the vast majority mentioned strategies for managing stress and anxiety,” Kurtz said. “A few mentioned wanting to better their relationships and build more happiness, but the bulk was about stress and anxiety. I also got a lot of, ‘I’m so excited for this class,’ and one person said, ‘this is my most anticipated class at JMU!'”

While there is a therapeutic element to the class, Kurtz wants students to learn something about the science of psychology.

“I didn’t want it to just be a forum for sharing experiences. I want them to get some really good research-grounded ideas, even if we don’t get into the specifics of how to do the research at this level,” Kurtz said.

Class sessions involve a mixture of lecture and discussion and there is some homework too. In one assignment, students must write about their best possible self in the future. They are asked to imagine everything going as well as it can: What would that be like? What are some ways to make that happen?

Another exercise requires students to do a social media diet, where they are asked to cut back on their social media usage and think about their social media habits and whether they are helpful.

“A lot of what I teach is based on research in the field of positive psychology,” Kurtz said. “We look at conditions that make for a happy life, a meaningful life, good relationships and more. There is a lot of great research that we’re drawing from.”

About the JMU Department of Psychology

The JMU Department of Psychology is a dynamic contributor to the general education program and the university community through the delivery of high-quality courses and other educational experiences emphasizing psychological science. The faculty strive to create and implement creative and effective pedagogy, embracing the dual role of teacher/scholar. The department fosters a collegial and collaborative environment within which divergent opinions as well as cultural diversity are respected, valued and promoted.


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