Current and past research projects by our research team are listed below. Although most studies are not available to the general public, you can contact us at 313-577-2304, or email us at for more information.


PLANNED STUDIES (In Development Stage)

Emotional Awareness and Expression Training vs. Mindful Meditation Training for Anxious, Physically Symptomatic College Students

This clinical trial is planned for 2019 – 2020, and will be conducted in the lab on Wayne State University students. We will recruit students with elevated anxiety and co-morbid somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches, bowel issues, chronic pain), and randomize them to receive 3 sessions of EAET, mindful meditation training, or waitlist control. Assessment of psychiatric and somatic health will be conducted at baseline, post-treatment, and 2-month follow-up to determine how these two interventions perform. This will be the doctoral dissertation of Heather Doherty and will be conducted with the collaboration of other students in the lab.


ONGOING STUDIES (Currently enrolling participants)



RECENTLY CONDUCTED STUDIES (No longer enrolling; Data analysis ongoing)


Pain Psychology and Neuroscience Self-evaluation Intervention: A Randomized Clinical Trial


In this trial, we developed a brief on-line intervention consisting of a set of exercises that patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain complete to help them understand the role of psychological factors and their brain in causing or contributing to their chronic pain. We recruited 104 adult patients who were recruited from the University of Michigan Medical Center’s patient registry, and randomized them to the new Pain Psychology and Neuroscience intervention or to a control exercise that was comparable in format, but focused on health behaviors.  Patients were evaluated for attitudes, readiness for pain management, and pain-related outcomes at baseline, post-intervention, and 1-month follow-up. This study is a collaboration with David Kohns, D.O.  and Michael Geisser, Ph.D. of the University of Michigan and Howard Schubiner, MD of Providence Hospital. Graduate student Christopher Urbanik oversaw data collection and is conducting his master’s thesis from this study.


Arab American Women’s Health: Correlational and Experimental Examination of a Sexual Health Interview


The goal of this study is to obtain information about Arab American women’s sexual health and the relationship of sexual health to psychological and physical health more generally. Further, the effects of the interview on health outcomes, including psychological and physical health symptoms, sexual well-being, healthcare utilization, and emotion-related variables, will be tested experimentally. A sample of young adult Arab American women will be assessed at baseline via questionnaires for various constructs (sexual attitudes, cultural and religious identity, and physical and mental health), and then randomized to either an immediate or delayed health interview. The health interview will obtain additional information about health, particularly relatively private sexual health-related attitudes and experiences. All participants will have a subsequent (5-week delay) re-assessment of the same constructs as assessed at baseline, and the delayed interview participants will then have the interview. This study is the doctoral dissertation of Hannah Holmes, and is being conducted with the help of fellow graduate students Heather Doherty, Jolin Yamin, and Shoshana Krohner. 


Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) Program Evaluation

The Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) course is a self-defense course for women, offered by the Wayne State Police Department.  The course aims to teach women how to defend themselves against aggressors and promote women’s confidence in their ability to protect themselves, particularly through the use of a live simulation with an aggressor on the last day of class. The goal of the study is to see how mental and physical health change in response to participating in the class, and secondarily to see which background factors of the participants predict responses to the class.  This study is projected to begin in the spring of 2016, and will be led by Hannah Holmes and Kelsey Sala-Hamrick, another clinical psychology doctoral student at Wayne State. 



PAST STUDIES (Results Published)

Family Consultation for High-Risk Inpatients with End Stage Renal Disease: A Randomized Trial

End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) is a life-threatening medical condition that is especially prevalent in low-income populations and has received little attention from health researchers compared to other medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Patients with ESRD have a reputation for being noncompliant and are often labeled as “frequent fliers” in hospitals due to their frequent hospital stays. In this study, we are attempting to improve social support after discharge by conducting a brief consultation with their family members to educate them about cognitive side effects of the illness and barriers to treatment adherence. If our intervention is able to reduce the rate of hospital readmissions, this would represent an exciting opportunity to improve patient care for an illness population that is notorious for it’s complexity. A secondary goal of this study is to identity psychosocial predictors of early hospital readmissions. This project is supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan. It has been running since September 2015, and is the doctoral dissertation of Matthew Jasinski. Co-investigators include Mark Ketterer, Ph.D., Sandeep Soman, M.D., and Jerry Yee, M.D. of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. 


Stress and Health Interview for Primary Care Patients with Medically Unexplained Symptoms: A Randomized Trial

In this study, we are testing a novel experiential stress and health interview for primary care patients with medically unexplained symptoms. In this study, which is being conducted in the Family Medicine Clinic at Crittenton Hospital, 75 patients with various "functional" or "medically unexplained symptoms" (e.g., fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigues, chronic headaches, and a host of other symptom pictures) are being referred by clinic physicians or identified through screening with the PHQ-15. Participating patients complete a battery of measures on-line (physical and emotional symptoms, physical functioning, attributions for symptoms, attitudes toward mind-body connections, openness to psychological interventions), and then are randomized to either the Interview condition or to a Wait-list Control condition (delayed interview).  Interviews are conducted with patients during a single 90-minute consultation at the clinic. The interview focuses on a connecting the patient's physical symptoms over the life course with stressful events and conflicts they have experienced.  The role of emotional suppression and avoidance is explored by having patients experience and express (voice) their feelings about people or relationships that have bothered or hurt them.  Changes in patient's anxiety, physical symptoms, and blood pressure during these exercises are discussed, and with the goal of helping patients see any links between emotional processes and their symptoms. Feedback from the interviewer is given at the end. All patients are re-assessed 6 weeks later using the same battery as at baseline, and control patients are then offered the interview.  This study ran from September 2014 to Sept 2015, and was the doctoral dissertation of Maisa Ziadni. It was conducted with the help of fellow graduate student, Heather Doherty along with Dr. John Porcerelli, the Director of Behavioral Medicine and Research at the clinic.


Stress and Health Interview for Women with Urogenital Pain: A Randomized Trial

This study was developed in parallel with the above study, and both studies have the same design, and most of the same measures. This study, however, was conducted at the Women's Urology Center of Beaumont Hospital, and focused on women who have urogenital pain. As with the above study, interviews were audiorecorded for supervision and later content analyses. This study ran from September 2014 to November 2015 and was the doctoral dissertation of Jen Carty. It was conducted with the help of fellow graduate student, Hannah Holmes, along with Dr. Janice Tomakowsky, staff psychologist, and Dr. Ken Peters, Medical Director of the Center.


Stress Management for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, debilitating, and costly disorder that has limited treatment options. In this study, we are evaluating two different stress management approaches for people with IBS—relaxation training and emotional awareness and expression training—and how both of these interventions compare to a wait-list control condition.

Relaxation training (RT), involves teaching participants relaxation skills to calm their body and mind, and manage their symptoms of IBS. This approach has been shown to be a useful intervention for people with IBS, and is a commonly used treatment.

Emotional Awareness and Expression training (EAET), involves teaching participants how to identify, experience, and express emotions related to stress.  Research suggests that identifying and processing emotions connected to stressful situations can improve pain and other symptoms. This novel treatment holds promise for patients with IBS, but has not previously been tested.

This study of adults with IBS requires them to complete some online questionnaires several times over three months. Participants randomly assigned to either of the treatment conditions will meet privately for 50 minute sessions with a therapist, once per week over a 3-week period. Participants randomized to the wait-list control condition can have either of the treatments after completing the questionnaires over 3 months. Participants are paid for the questionnaire assessments, and the treatment sessions are provided for free.

In addition to identifying which of these treatments better improves IBS, we will determine which types of people respond best to each treatment. Factors such personality characteristics, emotion regulation abilities, and stress history will be considered.

This project is supported by a grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan. This is Elyse R. Thakur’s dissertation, and Jennifer Carty,  Maisa Ziadni, Nancy Lockhart, Heather Doherty, and Hannah Holmes are helping with data collection.


Pain and Stress Management for Fibromyalgia 

This five-year study will test three competing psychological/behavioral interventions for fibromyalgia: patient education, standard cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and emotional exposure therapy (EET).

The patient education condition tests the idea that knowledge is a powerful tool to better health, and that cutting-edge information about FM will help people, particularly because this condition has been confusing to professionals, patients, and their loved ones. This condition will help patients learn the latest information about FM, including its causes, physiology, reasons for key symptoms, overlap with other conditions, medicine treatments, complementary treatments, research, and other topics.

The CBT approach focuses on teaching patients skills to manage their pain and decrease their disability. Techniques include relaxation, distraction, problem solving, activity-rest cycling, and cognitive restructuring. Although CBT is the best supported psychological intervention for FM, research suggests that it helps only about a third of FM patients, and is not as effective for patients who have unresolved stress or emotional issues.

The EET approach focuses on reducing stress by helping patients access and experience emotions that they usually avoid. This is done through exercises such as expressive writing, increasing mindful awareness of feelings, assertiveness training, and engaging in healthier responses to interpersonal conflicts.

The study involves attending 8 small-group sessions in which approximately 6 participants meet with a therapist and learn information and skills. Sessions last for about 90 minutes and are held once per week. We will measure participants’ perception of pain, functioning, and mood as well as objective variables such as tenderness, behavioral activity, and heart rate variability at baseline and two post-treatment evaluations over a 9-month follow-up period.

The study will also examine which types of patients respond best to which intervention by taking into account factors such as trauma history, emotion regulation abilities, history of depression and interpersonal difficulties, and degree of tenderness as predictors of which treatment option will have the most successful outcome for which participants. The hope for this study is that we may better understand variation among patients, so that more treatment options are available and higher success rates are achieved by those who suffer with fibromyalgia.

This project is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study’s co-investigators are David A. Williams, Ph.D. and Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, and Howard Schubiner, M.D., of St. John Health / Providence Hospital in Southfield.


The Effects of Anger Suppression and Expression on Chronic Low Back Pain

This experimental laboratory study evaluates how stress and emotion regulation influence chronic low back pain. Patients with low back pain engage in a computer-based stress task followed by various coping exercises, and pain responses—both self-reported and behavior—are assessed. We are also recording physiological reactions (blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension), and individual differences in how people deal with emotions. This study is funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and is being conducted both at Wayne State University in Detroit as well as at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where Dr. John Burns is the grant PI.


Narrative Exposure Therapy to Treat Traumatic Stress in Arab Refugees: A Clinical Trial

This project is evaluating whether a brief psychological intervention can help traumatized Middle Eastern Refugees in the Detroit metro area reduce their physical and emotional symptoms. The intervention consists of three session of a treatment called Narrative Exposure Therapy. The treatment involves two components: constructing a narrative of the person’s overall life, which provides context for the traumatic event, as well as an exposure element which involves helping the person process and work through painful details, emotions, memories, and perceptions of the traumatic event. We will be looking at whether people in the group that receives the treatment improve their mood, trauma symptoms, sleep, physical health, and overall well being compared to a control group. This project is Alaa Hijazi’s dissertation project.


Study of Headaches and Relaxation and Emotional Skills

In this project, we are evaluating two different treatments for individuals with chronic headaches. Both treatments are done through three group sessions. One focuses on teaching relaxation skills and the other focuses on teaching participants how to identify and express their emotions. Relaxation skills are a commonly used treatment for chronic pain; for this study, we have developed a novel treatment based in emotional awareness and assertiveness skills. We hope to investigate the effects of this treatment as compared to the standard relaxation treatment, as well as a no-treatment control. We will determine which of these treatments might be better at decreasing the frequency and severity of chronic headaches, and which of these treatments might work better for individuals with certain personality characteristics or traits. Olga Slavin-Spenny and Elyse Sklar are directing this study, and Dana Nevedal is helping with data collection.


Substance Abuse and Pain

This project is examining predictors of prescription and substance misuse among patients attending a chronic pain clinic, and simultaneously test methods of data collection for obtaining disclosures of substance abuse and trauma history. All participants are being recruited from a local chronic pain clinic for a single session in which they are either interviewed or asked to complete paperwork regarding their emotional styles, their personality, history of trauma, and substance misuse.The theoretical question is whether emotion regulation factors predict substance misuse beyond the effect of more straightforward or routinely obtained variables. We have developed an innovative, interpersonal method to try and improve disclosure. This method was developed based on the facilitation model from the Methods of Disclosure study (described in the “Recent Research” section below). This is Lindsay Oberleitner’s dissertation, and Kathryn Zumberg, Amy Loree, Deb Valentino and Nancy Lockhart are helping with data collection.


Evaluating a Novel Chronic Pain Treatment Program

 In this project, we are evaluating a novel, emotion and insight-oriented treatment program for patients with chronic pain. We are collaborating with Howard Schubiner, M.D., an Internal Medicine physician at Providence Hospital (Southfield, MI) who has developed and conducts a group-based intervention for patients with pain problems that are influenced by stress and emotions (e.g., low back pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, etc.). Dr. Schubiner evaluates referred patients and enrolls them into his program, and we are conducting independent patient evaluations before and after the program, and at 3-and 6-month follow-ups. We will determine the overall effects of the program, who benefits, and which components of the program are most important. We also are experimentally testing the effects of an innovative therapeutic assessment procedure—an interpersonal, emotional communication exercise—on patients at pre-treatment. This study is Amanda Burger’s dissertation, and Maren Hyde, Alaa Hijazi, Elyse Sklar, Jen Carty and Deb Valentino are collaborating on the study as well.


Internet Writing for Stress Management

Our prior studies have found that written emotional disclosure has benefits, but they are rather weak. Therefore, we are testing ways to strengthen the effect, particularly by engaging a therapist in the process. In this study, we are recruiting college students who have had unresolved stressful experiences, and comparing four approaches to writing on a secure web-based platform. Participants write for 3 days in the laboratory about time management or about stressful experiences, which can be done without writing feedback, with therapist-provided feedback, or in an instant messaging format with a therapist. Assessments are conducted at baseline and 6 weeks after writing. This is Jon Beyer’s dissertation, Alison Radcliffe helped design the software and is collaborating on the study, and Lindsay Oberleitner is collaborating as well.


Pain and Stress Management for Rheumatoid Arthritis

This 5 year randomized clinical trial (through 2010) which is funded to Wayne State University by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, is a large venture being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Frank Keefe at Duke University Medical Center. In this randomized trial, we are testing whether writing about stress or health behaviors and receiving training in coping skills or arthritis education affects the health of people with rheumatoid arthritis. By combining each technique, we hope to find greater results with which the health and the quality of life is improved and the stress is reduced. In addition, we are testing individual difference variables as moderators of the effects of these interventions. 


Migraine Headache Web-based Writing Study

In this project, undergraduates with migraine headaches write for four sessions on a secure website about stress or time management. Some of the stress writers are given feedback about their writing in order to help them write more effectively. Participants are followed-up over several months to see the changes of headache activity. Rebecca Stout and Amanda Burger are directing this study.


Methods of Disclosure Study

 This study examines various ways to help people share private stressful experiences. We are testing traditional expressive writing, private talking, talking to a guide and guide –facilitated disclosure. Disclosure takes place during one session, and the immediate and 1-month effects are being tracked. Lindsay Oberleitner and Olga Slavin are directing this study.


Stress Management for International Students

This study is a randomized test of the effects of written emotional disclosure for 3 days, a 2-session assertiveness training course, their combination, and a wait-list control. This study is for international students here at Wayne State because the stress of adjusting not only to a new university but also new culture and separation from home can be very challenging. Shedeh Tavakoli-Moayed and Alaa Hijazi are directing this study and Olga Slavin is contributing as well.



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