James Madison University

Catherine Franssen, Ph.D. Will Show Students How Not to Stress

By Deirdre E. Myers

PHOTO: Catherine FranssenDr. Catherine Franssen will be joining the JMU Department of Psychology for the Fall 2013 semester. She is currently lecturing at Longwood University, but says that she is excited to come to James Madison. “Everyone I met at JMU, from the professors, to administration, to students, was fantastic,” she shared. Upon visiting the university and seeing the spirit that students, faculty, and staff share, Dr. Franssen saw a community that she wanted to be a part of.

One of Dr. Franssen’s current favorite courses is the Biology of Stress. In this class she helps students better understand what happens to their bodies and minds when they feel overwhelmed. She is hoping to bring the course to JMU, where, she will help students understand how psychological stress causes physiological changes. In her course she describes how experiences impact our physiology and how best to cope with stress. “One of the things I’d like to bring to JMU is the unification of the mind and the body and how each impacts the other,” she notes. “Things that you think are just in your mind are actually all over your body too.”

Dr. Franssen also conducts research on stress.  For example, she has studied how different types of stress, such as physical (climbing a rock wall) or mental (taking a test) have different effects on the body. She has studied various stress relief solutions, such as incorporating nature into our environment. Humans experience stress relief when exposed to nature, and Dr. Franssen wants to better understand these processes.  From having a plant in the office building where you work or going for a hike every weekend, she wants to measure the effectiveness of various forms of stress relief.

Dr. Franssen feels that courses with immediate real-world applications are sure to be popular with JMU students. In addition to stress research, Dr. Franssen will be bringing other behavioral neuroendocrinology projects to JMU. In general, she is interested in the interplay between behavior, neuroscience and endocrinology.  Scientists in this area study how our experience and behavior changes our brains and hormonal systems.  She is particularly interested in the changes that occur in parental brains, and how reproductive hormones make parental brains different once they have a child. For the past fifteen years, she has been involved in research to see how pregnancy and parenthood makes a female brain smarter.   Recently she has begun similar research in male parents, and looks forward to continuing that work when she comes to JMU.

Dr. Franssen is excited to work with students in her classroom and in her research.  She hopes to mentor students completing independent research and honors projects related to stress research, neurobiology, and endocrinology. She notes that it isn’t hard to relate any topic to her field of study, as it would be interesting to look at the interactions of the mind and body in any situation, and anticipates students with exciting research goals.

During her interview, Dr. Franssen was excited to discover that her goals and research fit in well with the needs of JMU’s Psychology Department.  She’s looking forward to working with the many capable and wonderful professors in the department. Her hope is that she can help JMU students get a well rounded view of the field of Psychology. With her well-established research goals and excitement for future projects, it seems that she will do just that, and more.