Fran Stott, PhD

Headshot of Fran Stott, PhD

What led you to become a psychologist?
My first career was as a high school English teacher. I loved the work, and I especially liked teaching high school-aged students. My undergraduate degree was In Literature, and even then I was always drawn to the psychological aspects of the novel and the writers who focused on this theme (Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Edith Wharton, to name a few.).

In my second year of teaching, I volunteered for a training program sponsored by the Psychology Department at Michigan State University: The Listening Ear Crisis Intervention Center. That was it for me! The training program was 5 or 6 weeks long, and I loved every aspect of it. I became a volunteer at “The Listening Ear,” and found the work (and the opportunity for personal growth) exciting. In addition, most of the volunteers were enrolled in one of the graduate psychology programs at MSU, so I had a good taste of what that graduate work would involve. So, with an undergraduate degree in Literature, and a Master’s degree in The Teaching of English, I went off to become a psychologist. No regrets!

What is your training/educational background?

My Ph.D. is from Michigan State University (Clinical/Counseling Program) and my internship was done at the University of Texas-Austin, in the Counseling Center.

What got you interested in pain psychology and what was your experience with health and pain psychology?

In the late ’70s and early ’80s (yikes!), a new field of Health Psychology was emerging, and I attended sessions on the topic at APA. I was at the Counseling Center at the U of Iowa at the time, and Bill Dougherty, PhD had just written a book on the role of the psychologist in Family Medicine. I met with him, became very interested in this new application of professional psychology, and shortly thereafter took a job as the Behavioral Science Coordinator of the Family Practice Residency Program at Community Hospitals in Indianapolis. It was a steep learning curve, but a very rewarding one.

After seven years in that position, I fulfilled my long-term dream of moving to California.  The position I accepted was with Kaiser, in the ADAP (drug and alcohol recovery) Program.  Again, it was a sharp learning curve, but tremendously satisfying.

Those two experiences (Family Medicine and Alcohol/Drug Recovery) were a great background for becoming the Program Director of a Chronic Pain Management Program at Kaiser-San Francisco. I was fortunate to receive this position, as I had no formal training in pain management per se. My training had been through conferences, workshops, readings, and consultations with physicians. Fortunately, by then (the early ‘90s) there was a substantive body of literature developing, as well as excellent workshops and seminars available. Along the way, I also received training in Ericksonian Hypnosis as well as Transcendental Meditation, all of which proved very useful. It was, again, a steep learning curve.

What were your most significant positions in pain psychology?

My only full-time position in Pain Psychology was as Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Chronic Pain Management Program at Kaiser-San Francisco (1995-2006). From 2007-2017, I also had a solo private practice where I worked with clients with chronic pain conditions.

What has been your most rewarding experience working in pain psychology?

My most rewarding experience in the field of pain psychology has simply been the multitude of patients who have said, time after time, “Thank you for helping me get my life back.” That is the common theme expressed by patients who have learned to effectively manage their chronic pain conditions. Beyond that, working with and learning from a lot of great colleagues has been at the top of my reward list.

What are your biggest contributions to the field of pain psychology thus far?

I have two contributions I think of in retrospect as having had a very positive impact on the field. The first is that at Kaiser-San Francisco, where we were able to do some program outcome research (unfortunately never published) showing clearly that patients who completed our multidisciplinary program had fewer doctor office visits for two years following graduation from the program. We were minimizing excessive “doctor shopping in search of a cure,” and we were minimizing the number of unnecessary and sometimes dangerous procedures that patients had previously demanded. This was not only beneficial for the patients but also secured our role in the medical center as a needed service, which in turn secured funding for the program, which allowed us to continue serving the patients (and the physicians of those patients) who needed us.

The second contribution was the development of a postdoctoral pain psychology training program, which meant that there were eventually many more well-trained psychologists throughout the Bay Area and beyond, available to serve the needs of patients with chronic pain conditions.

What advice would you give to people interested in, or just starting out, in pain psychology?
The field of pain psychology has grown exponentially since the days when I was learning on the job. Anyone interested or just starting out would benefit greatly by taking advantage of the formal training experiences now available. In addition, I think it is essential for psychologists to work with and learn from the other disciplines that can play a role in a patient’s pain management: physical therapists, movement therapists, acupuncturists, biofeedback practitioners, nutritionists, physiatrists, and anesthesiologists. Each field has important contributions to make, and it’s very beneficial to the patient when the psychologist (often in the coaching role) has a good sense of what other modalities could be beneficial.

The American Association of Pain Psychology (AAPP) is a national, multidisciplinary community of pain providers serving youth and adults living with chronic pain. AAPP was established in 2010 to provide a place for pain providers to educate, network, advocate, and share information regarding the practice and study of pain management. AAPP creates community, promotes and elevates pain education, and advocates for a biopsychosocial approach to pain medicine through advanced-level continuing education seminars, free online courses for AAPP Members, community gatherings, resource-sharing, and a public directory of multidisciplinary pain providers. AAPP is a dynamic organization that is constantly evolving to meet our members’ needs.

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