Natoshia R. Cunningham, PhD, is a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and is a licensed clinical psychologist. Her HELP Lab focuses on the psychological assessment and treatment of youth with chronic health conditions that involve pain.
One line of Dr. Cunningham’s research focuses on youth with functional abdominal pain disorders (FAPD). She uses neuroimaging techniques to better understand pediatric pain. Her current NIH/NCCIH K23 award studies the neural mechanisms of response to a cognitive behavioral treatment (Aim to Decrease Anxiety and Pain Treatment (ADAPT)) to manage pain and anxiety in youth with FAPD, which she developed as part of her prior NIH/NICHD F32 award. Dr. Cunningham has found ADAPT to be effective in improving pain-related outcomes in a randomized clinical trial as compared to usual care, which was published in Journal of Pediatrics. ADAPT has been translated to Swedish and colleagues from the Gothenburg region are integrating this approach into pediatric primary care settings.
Dr. Cunningham’s research also focuses on improving psychological care for children with painful rheumatologic conditions. She recently completed a multi-site study funded by the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance-Arthritis Foundation (CARRA-AF) to test a telehealth application of a tailored cognitive behavioral intervention (Treatment and Education Approach for Childhood-onset Lupus (TEACH)) she developed for adolescents and young adults diagnosed with childhood-onset lupus to manage fatigue, mood, and pain symptoms. She was recently awarded a large grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) to test the implementation of TEACH into rheumatology clinics across the US and Canada. Dr. Cunningham currently serves as the co-chair of the Mental Health Workgroup of the CARRA organization. In this role, she actively supports multiple projects geared towards improving psychological care for pediatric rheumatology patients. Collaborative projects include the development of mental health screening and management guidelines for pediatric rheumatology settings, studying the impact of adverse childhood events on health-related outcomes in juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and the development of a family education program to promote pediatric mental health in pediatric rheumatology settings.
She is also passionate about implementation science. She was recently selected as an inaugural fellow of the 2023-2023 Community Engaged Research Fellows Program at Michigan State University. Further, Dr. Cunningham is currently funded to implement a training program for Michigan school providers (school nurses and mental health workers) to use pain-focused CBT strategies to address pediatric pain.
Dr. Cunningham received her BA in psychology from Boston University in 2005, graduating summa cum laude with distinction. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, she conducted research at the Macquarie University Anxiety Research Unit (Sydney, Australia) and at the Columbia University Center for Advance of Children’s Mental Health. She earned her PhD in child clinical psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2011, specializing in the assessment and treatment of childhood anxiety disorders. As part of her graduate training, she completed her clinical internship in pediatric behavioral medicine at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center from 2010-2011. She came to MSU from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric pain from 2011 to 2014 and served as a research faculty member from 2014 to 2019.