Featured in the April 2012 Issue of ENews
Associate Professor of Anesthesiology
Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative, and Pain Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Staff Psychologist, Pain Management Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital
What is your area of specialty?
I am a licensed clinical psychologist in the Pain Management Center at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where my research focuses on biobehavioral aspects of acute and chronic pain. In particular, I study individual differences in pain responses and the neurobiological mechanisms by which psychosocial processes shape those individual differences. Some of my current NIH-funded work focuses on the impact of pain-related catastrophizing on neuroendocrine and inflammatory responses to pain, as well as individual differences in central nervous system pain processing and their implications for long-term pain-related outcomes. I am also involved in several studies that use functional neuroimaging techniques to assess the neurobiology of pain-related thoughts and emotions.
What initially sparked your interest in working in your field? Briefly describe your career path.
I studied psychology as an undergraduate at Hamilton College and wrote my thesis in the area of sensory psychophysics. I became interested in sensation and perception, and subsequently attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham, completing a PhD in medical psychology and a master's in public health. During my first year as a graduate student, I joined Roger Fillingim's laboratory and found myself captivated by his infectious enthusiasm for studying individual differences in the experience of pain. I had the pleasure of working with Roger (who is extremely generous with his time and data) on studies of gender, ethnic, and age-related differences in pain perception and pain modulation during my graduate student years. After an internship at Rush University, I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pain psychology at Johns Hopkins under the direction of Jennifer Haythornthwaite, who was equally generous with her time and expertise and who has inspired many of us in the pain community to investigate the contribution of psychosocial processes to pain-related outcomes. To date, I've had the good fortune to be mentored by two of APS's leading pain psychologists, both of whom have been (and continue to be) fantastic mentors and colleagues. Collectively, my research interests have been largely shaped by these influences of Roger and Jennifer; hence, I recommend that any criticism of my work be routed directly to them.
Is there a particular challenge that you've either overcome or hope to address soon?
An important part of APS's mission is to reduce pain-related suffering; it is my hope that our current lines of research can contribute to that goal by identifying individuals at the greatest risk for persistent pain-related suffering and by helping to refine multidisciplinary interventions to reduce that suffering. Decades of data in a variety of settings suggest that multimodal treatments, potentially delivered by teams of individuals with diverse backgrounds, are likely to be the most effective treatments for persistent pain and pain-related sequelae such as suffering. The complete eradication of chronic pain is probably an unreasonable goal, but a significant reduction in pain-related suffering and disability is a challenge that I hope we can address.
How has membership in APS been of value to you and your professional development?
In my opinion, the society does an excellent job of facilitating the careers of young researchers, and I believe that APS membership has been tremendously valuable to my own professional development. In addition to providing exposure to the latest findings in pain research, APS meetings offer the invaluable opportunity to meet some of the leading researchers in the field. For pain psychologists like myself, the opportunity, as a graduate student or postdoctoral, to meet formally and informally with such successful figures as Frank Keefe, Dennis Turk, Judy Turner, and many others was extremely helpful in illuminating potential career paths. In addition, I was the recipient of an APS Future Leaders in Pain Research small grant, which was immensely helpful in providing pilot data that was eventually used to obtain NIH funding for some of our current work.