Psychology
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Psychology

Hana Villar

Department of Psychology

Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit

E: hana.villar.1@city.ac.uk

Thesis title: The Neuroscience of Mindfulness therapies: The effects of Mindfulness training on body awareness, perception and psychological wellbeing.

Supervisors: Professor Bettina Foster and Dr Paul Flaxman

Overview

People who struggle with psychological distress tend to filter out relevant sensory and body-focussed information in favour of a ‘biased’ awareness of negative thoughts and discomfort. This is a theoretical basis for explaining the mental processes underlying common mental health issues. Mindfulness meditation has been shown re-train our ability to control our attention, thus disengaging the mind from bias to negative experiences and enabling a more open, curious stance toward internal and external sensory information. Mindfulness training is often taught in a group setting over 8 weeks and is becoming a widely used treatment for a variety of mental and physical health conditions. It is a practice of focussing our minds on our breathing and our internal bodily sensations, including thoughts and feelings. In Mindfulness we learn to notice when our mind starts wandering or becomes distracted and to bring our attention back to the present moment again and again, without judging ourselves and without reacting.

Hana, along with Professor Forster and Dr. Flaxman, have embarked on cutting-edge research in the emerging field of clinical neuroscience.  She seeks to develop more accurate measurement tools to measure changes in brain functioning via Mindfulness training in mental health populations. In particular, one aim is to substantiate the theory that Mindfulness meditation reduces mental health symptoms, in the first instance by changing the way our brains process bodily information. Her research involves taking self-report measures (standardised questionnaires) as well as response speed and accuracy changes in brain activity (via electroencephalography) in bodily self-awareness and attention tasks. The outcome of this research will be an original contribution to neurophysiological research into Mindfulness, enabling the team to understand and measure mindfulness changes induced on a brain and experiential level. Hana ultimately hopes to inform Mindfulness practise and thus contribute to its refinement in clinical practice.

Hana is currently the Clinical Director of City and Hackney Mind, the 3rd largest Mind branch in England and Wales.  She specialises in complex trauma and severe mental health disorders, using Mindfulness interventions and other evidence-based psychological therapies.  Hana has an MSc in Psychology and Research Methods (with Distinction) from City University and was a Chancellor’s Scholar in her undergraduate studies at University of California, Berkeley.

Research interests

  • The neural basis of Mindfulness meditation
  • Body self-awareness and attentional control
  • Default mode network
  • Embodiment
  • Somatosensory cortex
  • Neurophysiological measures (EEG).

Posters/conferences

  • Forster, B., Villar, H. (June 2015). Mindfulness and Attentional Control. Launch of Centre for Psychological Wellbeing and Neuroscience, City University London, UK
  • Villar, H., Forster, B. (June 2015). The Mindful Brain. Launch of Centre for Psychological Wellbeing and Neuroscience, City University London, UK

Teaching

  • City, University of London: Research Design and Analysis (Methods)
  • City, University of London: Professional and Academic Development for Psychologists.

Awards

  • City University. PhD Scholarship (2014-2017)
  • University of California, Berkeley.  Chancellor’s Scholarship (1994-99).

Other information

Hana is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Primrose Hill.