Johannes Vlaeyen

“Psychology of Pain and Disability Research Program”

Johannes Vlaeyen was born in Belgium in 1957. He obtained a master in Clinical Psychology in 1980 at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, completed his clinical internship at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA,  and obtained his PhD in 1991 at the University of Maastricht, The Netherlands.

Johannes Vlaeyen is a clinical pain researcher and has focussed on fear-avoidance phenomena associated with pain. His fear-avoidance model of pain and disability has widely influenced both research and clinical practice in this area.

The granted project of Johannes Vlaeyen is entitled “Psychology of Pain and Disability Research Program”. In the absence of immediate and definitive solutions, and due to its associated suffering and disability, chronic pain poses an intricate challenge for modern healthcare. A major breakthrough was the introduction of the Fear Avoidance model of chronic pain in 2000, presenting a pathway by which people be caught in a downward spiral of increasing avoidance, disability and pain. Numerous studies have found converging evidence demonstrating that pain-related fears are more diabling than pain severity. Nevertheless, there are unresolved issues that merit further scientific attention. The novel aim of this proposal is to study the intriguing possibility that the influence of fear and avoidance processes on pain and disability might vary as a function of the external and internal context within which the fear response occurs. The proposal consists of three complementary research themes, conducted in parallel, and extending the Fear Avoidance model with a further differentiation between cued pain-related fear and more generalized pain anxiety; the role of the social context in terms of empathy, competition, and social exclusion, and the contagious nature of pain-related fear; and the role of achievement goals and goal conflicts that might be responsible for oscillating behaviour patterns typical for chronic pain patients. Translational studies are likely to produce novel treatment approaches that aimed at customizing the cognitive-behavorial management of chronic pain disability.

Johannes Vlaeyen has been nominated by the University of Leuven as a candidate for the Odysseus Group I programme. The jury appreciated very much the translational and interdisciplinary character of the research of Johannes Vlaeyen. The project is very strong and promising. Johannes Vlaeyen will continue his research at the Health Psychology Research Center. This well-known institute is embedded in the University of Leuven and provides a perfect environment to execute the proposed research.