Three Teams from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science Participate in Women in Medicine Research Day

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Stony Brook Univeristy was well represented at the 5th Annual Women in Medicine Research Day. Three teams of researchers from the department presented posters at the event on April 27, 2011, which was sponsored by the Medical Center’s Women in Medicine Program.

Doerte Junghaenel, PhD, Laura L. Wolff, BA, Gim Y. Toh, BA, and Joan Broderick, PhD presented their study of whether patients with chronic pain and their partners differ in perceptions of patient pain and catastrophizing and whether these differences are associated with solicitous and negative partner responses toward the patient. (The term ‘catastrophizing’, while common in the scientific literature, may need an explanation. It is a maladaptive cognitive strategy that some patients use in response to pain—overestimating the negative effects of pain on their lives, worrying excessively about it, magnifying their pain sensations and feeling that they lack control of their pain.)

The team found that 27% of partners overestimated pain, 19% underestimated pain, 56% overestimated catastrophizing, and 14% underestimated catastrophizing, when compared with the reports of the person in pain. Partners who overestimated patient pain reported more solicitous, i.e., helpful, responses and fewer negative responses toward the patient. Partners who underestimated patient catastrophizing reported fewer negative responses while partners who overestimated patient catastrophizing reported fewer solicitous responses.

A second team, consisting of Doerte Junghaenel, PhD, Amy Stein, MBA, Stefan Schneider, PhD, and Joan Broderick, PhD presented a study of factors associated with the willingness of patients to participate in a cognitive-behavioral treatment approach to reducing pain and disability.

They surveyed 125 people referred to their randomized controlled clinical trial of coping skills training for osteoarthritis pain, asking questions about treatment expectations, demographics, mental and physical health.

When they compared the responses of 104 patients who chose to enroll in the trial with those of 21 patients who declined, they discovered that the decision not to enroll could not be explained by differences in mental or physical health, fatigue, pain, self-efficacy, depression, or coping skills. The only significant differences between the two groups were age and treatment expectations. Patients who declined to participate were on average six years older and had lower expectations about how helpful and logical the treatment seemed. The team concluded that improving expectations about the treatment approach and better accommodating older patients may increase the rate of participation in non-pharmacological treatment programs.

Irina Livitz, BS an undergraduate psychology major, and her mentor Leighann Litcher-Kelly, PhD presented their findings of the relationship between depressive symptoms and gastrointestinal symptoms after exposing participants with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) to a laboratory stressor.

They enrolled thirteen participants and assessed their gastrointestinal symptoms and depression symptoms during the previous 2 weeks. After exposing the participants to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which involves a mental arithmetic task and a mock public speaking event, they reassessed their gastrointestinal symptoms 24 and 48 hours later. Surprisingly they observed that higher levels of baseline depressive symptoms were associated with lower gastrointestinal symptoms both at baseline and follow-up. Their within-subject analysis led them to speculate that the participants’ use of antidepressant medications may have affected the relationship between the two variables.  Future studies will need to be conducted to research this further.

Ms. Livitz won the award for outstanding poster submitted by an undergraduate student for her presentation.