I work generally as a transdisciplinary scientist and experimental psychopathologist in the area of clinical health psychology. My research interests broadly are related to the subjective experience of pain and emotion in medical and dental settings, and the application of psychological science and practice to understanding and working with these phenomena. Three specific areas of scientific inquiry characterize my multilevel program of research.
First, a primary focus is the psychological processes and mechanisms involved in pain/symptom perception, treatment-seeking behavior, health behavior, and health outcomes, with particular attention paid to fear and anxiety. For instance, the complex interaction of anxiety and the pain experience is a central component of my work. Much of the research I have completed has addressed this issue in the dental clinic, a “natural laboratory” of sorts for the study of both pain and anxiety. I am interested in the etiology of healthcare-related fear and anxiety, understanding the mechanisms responsible for the development and maintenance of clinically-relevant fears of medical and dental procedures and/or healthcare providers. To elucidate such mechanisms, and working under a biopsychosocial framework, I have incorporated behavioral learning theory, behavioral genetics, relevant biomarkers, and population-level statistical analyses into my research.
A second focus is the translation of the findings of my experimental psychopathology work to clinical settings, with the aim of improving clinical encounters across a diverse range of patient populations. That is, I am interested in applying what we know about how people become fearful or apprehensive of medical or dental procedures to the treatment of this fear and anxiety. Theory-driven, evidence-based interventions that target healthcare-related fear and anxiety have the potential to increase healthcare utilization by reducing a common barrier to treatment, which is of great public health relevance. To that end, my research involves developing and assessing the efficacy of novel behavioral interventions for dental care-related fear and anxiety and associated avoidance of treatment.
A third focus is the dissemination of (a) knowledge about the psychological processes that impact how medical and dental patients perceive their pain/symptoms and utilize care, and (b) evidence-based strategies that can be used to reduce psychosocial barriers to treatment utilization and to make the patient experience more comfortable and effective. Equipping medical and dental professionals and students with this information is one important way to ensure that research in this area is utilized with patients who can benefit from it most. Clinical psychologists are in a unique position to impact medical and dental practice by “giving away” what they know to those who can apply it daily in settings in which it will reach the greatest number of people. With increased emphasis placed on preventive care in the United States and abroad, this strategy is timely and necessary. As such, some of my work is devoted to topics such as health communication and Motivational Interviewing, the effective promotion of health behavior change, and the provider-patient relationship. I am interested in models of training utilized in medical, dental, and clinical psychology graduate programs.
Among other sources, my research has been enriched and supported by the West Virginia University Foundation Distinguished Doctoral Scholarship, the Research Training Program in the Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences (NIH T32) at West Virginia University, and by a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for Individual Predoctoral Fellows (NIH F31). In pursuing my research goals, I have been fortunate to work with collaborators at the Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia, the University of Pittsburgh, and the West Virginia University School of Dentistry. My work has been recognized by the Association for Psychological Science, the Hinman Student Research Symposium, the International Association for Dental Research, and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Visit the Publications and Presentations section of the website to see representative work, or download my CV for a chronology of my research.