Dr. Maria Benzo, Master’s in Positive Psychology (Graduated in Fall 2022); Advisors: Dr. Richard E. Shook, Assistant Professor, Psychology, CGUS and Dr. Peggy Samples, Assistant Professor of Psychology, COE

“Training the Trainer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Coaching”


Dr. Maria Benzo’s research project involves creating an online training program for health coaches to help their Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients cope with their disease, using positive psychology techniques. Benzo’s area of expertise is COPD, and she is a medical doctor at the Mayo Clinic as a Research Associate in the Pulmonary Research Department. Benzo does health coaching for COPD and has a background in mindfulness and motivational approaches to therapy. As a trainer of health coaches, her goal is to create content for health coaches to help their clients manage their responses to the effects of COPD.

“Everything we do from the lab is to empower patients, motivate patients and facilitate self- management,” Benzo said. “I personally fell in love with positive psychology, so that is why I am bringing the science of positive psychology to what we do in the lab.”

Benzo’s first step in this research project was to find as much published information as possible regarding this topic. From that research, Benzo wrote the Capstone using the appropriate information to apply it in health care coaching for patients who suffer from COPD, which causes breathlessness. Patients who are breathless seek independence and struggle to cope with their chronic condition.

After finding and selecting the right content to use in her online training, the next step was to find a free online platform. Benzo then created a series of videos for health coaches. She then asked health coaches to sign up for her online program and watch her educational videos and take the quizzes she created that went along with the videos, allowing them to thoroughly review her content.

From this, Benzo received great feedback through two focus groups she hosted live online. Health coaches helped her improve her videos with such suggestions as creating stronger web design and putting herself on screen for longer periods to allow the health coaches to connect with her and what Benzo was sharing. The health coaches wanted to feel as though they had someone who was going through the program with them. Another key response Benzo received was that her PowerPoint slides needed consistency with the same theme throughout, allowing the learner to ease their way through the program.

From this research, Benzo will “create this online training and have it available to all Life University students interested in applied positive psychology to access and go through the training.” Her research hypothesis is the following: Are health coaches able to gain the knowledge and confidence through this training to apply positive psychology in their health coaching sessions with COPD patients? Secondly, do patients with COPD benefit from applied psychology health coaching?

Dr. Benzo completed her research and graduated in December 2022.


This article was originally published in Your Extraordinary Life (YEL), Life University‘s Alumni and Friends Magazine, 2022- Volume 15. YEL started in 2009 as a twice-per-year publication before moving to three issues per year from 2010-2017. In 2018, University leadership made the decision to publish a larger, more elegant version of the magazine just once per year that our alumni and friends could be proud of. YEL features an in-depth look at all things Life University, from alumni and student human interest stories to recaps and previews of the University’s biggest events. If you are a proud Life University alumni, friend or supporter, this publication is one you can’t miss!

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