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Section "Systemic Health Research"

Head of Section

Prof. Dr. phil. Stefan Schmidt, Dipl. Psych.
Endowed Chair for Systemic Family Therapy
E-mail: stefan.schmidt@uniklinik-freiburg.de
Telephone: +49 761 270-69280

Homepage of Stefan Schmidt: prof-stefan-schmidt.info

Hannah Rapp: + 49761 270-68805

The chair for Systemic Family Therapy is an endowed professorship of the Luisenklinik Bad Dürrheim.

Universitätsklinikum Freiburg
Sektion Systemische Gesundheitsforschung
Klinik für Psychosomatische Medizin und Psychotherapie
Hauptstr. 8
79104 Freiburg

Visiting address
Burgunderstr. 5a, 2nd floor
79104 Freiburg


The Section for Systemic Health Research conducts research on three focal areas: Systemic therapy and counseling, mindfulness and meditation, as well as sense-making and healing. The thread connecting these fields is the relationship between health on the one hand and attitude, mindset, worldview and culture on the other. Our research is based on a non-reductionist epistemological approach that understands the three systems of body, psyche and social as mutally interacting on equal levels..

We are primarily guided by a constructivist and systemic approach that does not reduce mental processes to individual (neuro-)biological mechanisms, but rather includes and examines their embedding in the bodily and social context. In this view, the experienced and lived world does not result from the passive processing of external circumstances, but is actively and creatively produced in the bodily interaction with the environment (metaphorically speaking, "laying down a path in walking"). This approach is increasingly taking a central position in current cognitive research under the keywords "neurophenomenology", "embodiment" and "enaction". This also suggests a systematic integration of the phenomenology of subjective experience into the research process.

The methodological spectrum of the section is broad and includes clinical studies, neuro- and psychophysiological approaches, but also qualitative (phenomenological) methods. The Section has an EEG laboratory and a video-based movement laboratory


Systemic therapy

The focus on systemic therapy deals with the question of the effectiveness and mode of action of systemic oriented (psycho)therapy approaches. These approaches include different settings such as family therapy, couple therapy, systemic therapy with single clients, as well as systemic work with children and adolescents. Two different approaches are chosen here. On the one hand, the classic prevailing understanding of clinical research and the respective inventory of methods is applied to investigate the effectiveness of systemic approaches, as reflected in quantitative clinical studies, for example. On the other hand, an attempt is made to develop and implement alternative research methods and procedures within the epistemological assumptions of the systemic approach.


Mindfulness and meditation

Our research group has a long tradition in researching mindfulness-based practices and experimental meditation research. In 1999, the first German study on mindfulness-based stress management was conducted at our section (link). In 2000, the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI) was developed and one of the first meta-analyses on MBSR (Course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) was published (link). This was followed by several clinical studies on migraine, chronic back pain and fibromyalgia. Further intervention studies investigated the impact of mindfulness practice in schools and in hospitals, where we have conducted studies with nurses, ward teams and residents (link).

The Section has its own EEG laboratory in which neurophysiological studies are conducted in connection with meditation. Among other things, work on action initiation (Libet experiment) and neurophenomenological studies are also carried out here.


Sense-making and self-healing

This third area deals with the question of the extent to which the creation of meaning and the construction of meaning are related to physical health. This relationship is exemplified in the placebo effect, in which distinct physiological effects are evoked merely by information and contextualisation of an inert drug administration. Research in this area includes placebo studies and experiments, but also qualitative approaches to narratives of illness and recovery.

An important focus in this area is the dual description of illness and healing as biochemical events on the one hand and as narration on the other. We assume that these two approaches are closely intertwined and mutually dependent. Thus, many causally conceived medical treatments can also be seen on a second level as meaningful narratives that unfold their effect more through ritual aspects than through biochemical factors. This approach is presented in detail in Prof. Stefan Schmidt's inaugural lecture (link).



Ongoing projects

Completed projects


Interaction lab

EEG laboratory

Press and media

Videos and audio