Maria Pacella-LaBarbara, PhD

  • Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

Dr. Maria Pacella-LaBarbara is a Health Psychologist with extensive experience working with acutely injured patients and investigating secondary interventions post-injury to improve both mental and physical health outcomes. Her work involves high-risk injured populations, varied study designs (e.g., randomized controlled trials, prospective cohorts, meta-analytic techniques) and innovative methods (e.g., mobile health interventions; experience sampling methodology). This work is geared towards developing a program of research that advances acute integrated healthcare to improve recovery after injury.  

She is also a core faculty member in the CHAllenges in Managing and Preventing Pain (CHAMPP) Clinical Research Center: https://www.champp.pitt.edu/ 

Dr. Pacella-LaBarbara's publications can be found at My Bibliography - NCBI (nih.gov) and on the CHAMPP publications page 

For Directed Research Opportunities through the Department of Psychology, see:  

http://psychology.pitt.edu/directed-research-opportunities-psy-1903

https://psychology.pitt.edu/tracking-acute-post-injury-pain-tapp-study

Education & Training

  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, HIV Prevention, Medical College of Wisconsin, 2015
  • PhD, Experimental Health Psychology, Kent State University, 2013
  • MA, Experimental Health Psychology, Kent State University, 2010
  • BA, Psychology, Saint Vincent College, 2006

Representative Publications

  1. Hruska, B., Pacella-LaBarbara, M.L., Castro, I.E., George, R.L., & Delahanty, D.L. (2022). Incorporating community-level risk factors into traumatic stress research: Adopting a public health lens. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 86, 102529. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2022.102529 

  • Click here for a detailed summary: https://surface.syr.edu/lerner/177/; This brief examines several aspects of neighborhood context and their relationship to PTSD symptom severity following an injury. Results show that survivors living in neighborhoods with higher racial segregation and lower socioeconomic status report higher PTSD symptom severity. 

  1. Pacella-LaBarbara, M.L., Suffoletto, B.P., Kuhn, E., Germain, A., Jaramillo, S., Repine, M., & Callaway, C.W. (2020). A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of the PTSD Coach App Following Motor Vehicle Crash-Related Injury. Academic Emergency Medicine,27(11), 1126-1139. DOI: 10.1111/acem.14000 

  • We sought to understand whether an evidence-based mobile phone application with self-help tools (PTSD Coach) could be useful to improve recovery after acute trauma among injured emergency department (ED) patients. No differences emerged between groups in PTSD outcomes, but exploratory analyses among Black subjects indicated that those in the PTSD Coach condition (vs. treatment as usual) reported marginally lower PTSD symptoms and higher PTSD coping self-efficacy at 3 months. 

 

  1. Wong AH, Pacella-LaBarbara ML, Ray JM, Ranney ML, Chang BP (2020). Healing the Healer: Protecting Emergency Healthcare Workers’ Mental Health During COVID-19. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 76(4), 379-384. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annemergmed.2020.04.041 

  • Emergency medicine is society’s safety net, serving patients irrespective of socioeconomic background, medical complexity, or disease severity. This manuscript touches on the potential behavioral and mental health impact of COVID-19 on emergency care workers and discusses strategies to improve health.   

 

  1. Jaramillo, S., Suffoletto, B., Callaway, C.W., & Pacella-LaBarbara, M.L. (2019). Early screening for PTSD and depression among injured emergency department patients: A feasibility study. Academic Emergency Medicine, 26(11), 1232-1244. doi: 10.1111/acem.13816 

  • Despite the risk of developing PTSD and associated comorbidities after physical injury, few EDs in the United States screen for the presence of psychological symptoms and conditions. This study used the Posttraumatic Adjustment Scale in the ED and demonstrated that it is feasible to identify patients at risk for postinjury sequelae within 24 hours post-injury; screening for mental health risk may identify patients in need of early intervention and further monitoring. 

 

  1. Pacella, M.L., Girard, J., Wright, A., Suffoletto, B., & Callaway, C.W. (2018). The Association between Daily Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms and Pain over the First 14-days after Injury: An Experience Sampling Study. Academic Emergency Medicine, 25(8), 844-855. 

  • This study applied experience sampling methods (ESM) via daily text messaging to monitor and detect relationships among psychosocial factors and postinjury pain across the first 14 days after ED discharge. We recruited 75 adults who experienced a potentially traumatic in the past 24 hours; Results revealed that daily hyperarousal symptoms predict same-day pain severity over the acute postinjury recovery period. We also demonstrated feasibility to screen and identify patients at risk for pain chronicity in the acute aftermath of injury.  

 

  1. Pacella, M.L., Hruska, B., & Delahanty, D.L. (2013). The physical health consequences of PTSD and PTSD symptoms: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 27(1), 33-46. 

  • 62 studies included in meta-analysis; Results revealed significantly greater general health symptoms, general medical conditions, and poorer health-related quality of life for those with PTSD and high PTSD symptoms. PTSD and PTSD symptoms were also associated with greater frequency and severity of pain, cardiovascular and GI complaints. Results highlight the need for prospective longitudinal examination of physical health shortly following trauma and suggest variables to consider in the design of such studies. 

Research Interests

  • Trauma psychology 

  • Post-injury pain 

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder 

  • Mobile health 

  • Identifying targets for psychological intervention to prevent the transition from acute to chronic pain 

  • The impact of stress and trauma on psychological and physical health  

 

Recently completed and ongoing projects include:  

  • Longitudinal cohort study to determine temporal associations between maladaptive psychological processes and the development of chronic pain among motor vehicle accident victims with traumatic musculoskeletal injury (TAPP Study) 

  • In-depth interviews with recently injured patients to determine how to modify the PTSD Coach app to address pain after injury 

  • Randomized controlled trial of the PTSD Coach app to prevent PTSD symptoms after motor vehicle crash 

  • Longitudinal cohort study to determine the feasibility of using text messaging text messages after injury to monitor daily symptoms of PTSD and pain 

  • Cross-sectional survey of emergency healthcare workers to determine the psychological and behavioral impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their health and well-being   

Research Grants

Tracking Acute Post-Injury Pain (TAPP) Study 

PI: Maria Pacella-LaBarbara  
 
Co-Is: Clifton Callaway, MD PhD; Brian Suffoletto, MD, MS (Stanford University); Anne Germain, PhD; Robert Krafty, PhD 

Consultant: Samuel McLean, MD, MPH (University of North Carolina) 

 
Grantor:National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Diseases https://grantome.com/grant/NIH/K01-AR073300-01A1 

 
Project Summary: A prospective cohort study in 200 motor vehicle crash (MVC) patients injured patients to intensively monitor acute psychological factors (via surveys, ecological momentary assessment and Fitbit devices) associated with the development of injury-related chronic pain. MVC patients are recruited from the Emergency Department within 24 hours post-injury and followed intensively for the next 3-months. These findings will serve to identify those at highest risk of chronic pain after injury and inform the content and timing of non-pharmacological interventions to prevent chronic pain.