Featured Members, Positive Living Newsletter

Featured Member: Karen Holtmaat

My name is Karen and I currently work as an assistant professor of psychosocial oncology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I am a member of the research group ‘living together with cancer’ in which we focus on quality of life and psychological well-being of cancer patients. We develop interventions aimed at improving self-management, quality of life or a sense of meaning and investigate the efficacy of these interventions.

My interest in the concept of meaning in life began much earlier though. As a child I wanted to travel and get to know the people beyond the horizon. Looking back, I may have been in a personal search for meaning. This fascination for cultures made me choose religious studies, specializing in psychology of religion and Western Buddhism. Two years later, I also decided to study clinical psychology. During these studies, I came across the phenomenon of posttraumatic growth and the field of experimental existential psychology, both of which really grasped me.

After graduating cum laude from both masters, I had the opportunity to join my current research group and contribute to a study on the efficacy of meaning-centered group psychotherapy for cancer survivors. This intervention is based on the work of Viktor Frankl. In 2020, I successfully defended my dissertation on this meaning-focused intervention. In this dissertation I have addressed several questions, such as to what extent does posttraumatic growth occur in cancer patients with distress? And does an enhanced sense of meaning as a result of psychotherapy play a mediating role in reducing depressive symptoms?

For several years now, I have been teaching the course medical psychology in the master clinical psychology. In my spare time I am a member of the editorial board of the journal of the Dutch Society of Psychosocial Oncology. I greatly enjoy the interviews with fellow researchers and psychologists about their research interests and ambitions. Outside of academia, I spend time with my family, I’m an avid runner and do what I can to counter climate change. In these activities I experience how a sense of purpose and connections with others become intertwined, leading to a growing personal sense of meaning.

After studying the work of Paul Wong and many others for many years, I’m very excited to join the INPM community and to contribute my part.