Laboratory of James Gerhart, PhD

Cancer, chronic pain and other conditions are significant sources of stress and frustration for patients and the individuals who care for them. Social and communal models of coping support the notion that stress and pain occur within the individual and interact with their social environment. Patients face challenges as they try to understand complex illnesses and treatment options while also managing symptoms on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, the family and professional caregivers who empathize with and care for these patients often share in the stress and frustration. Thus, vulnerability to depression and traumatic stress among patients is often mirrored by vulnerability to burnout and compassion fatigue among medical providers. This pattern can lead to a downward spiral for some patients.

Our work

Our lab works to stop the downward spiral of stress and improve outcomes for patients by intervening with both patients and their providers to enhance communication and care. Recently, the major thrust of our group has been to foster resilience among palliative care professionals by providing instruction in mindfulness, cognitive behavioral stress management strategies and communication. We are also collaborating with other Chicago institutions to develop processes for identifying patients with cancer who would benefit from psychosocial services. Moving forward, our aim is to integrate these lines of research to support better informed communication among patients and their providers.


Given the many demands faced by patients with cancer and their caregivers, we gather a considerable amount of information through Internet-mediated surveys and electronic daily diaries. These methodologies provide ease of access to our subjects, and can provide more accurate information on day-to-day changes in stress, pain and other symptoms. Recently, we have begun using location-scale models to explore sources of pain and emotional lability among patients.


We are funded by the Coleman Supportive Oncology Initiative, The Prince Charitable Trusts and the Rush Division of Behavioral Sciences.

Our team

James Gerhart, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Division of Behavioral Sciences. He has a special interest in understanding how anger and traumatic stress is understood, expressed and managed between patients and their providers.

Sean O’Mahony, MB, BCH, BAO, is an associate professor and director of the Section of Palliative and Supportive Medicine at Rush University Medical Center. His clinical interests include end-of-life care, chronic pain management and the palliation of the sequelae of chronic illnesses.

Teresa Lillis, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Division of Behavioral Sciences. She has a special interest in health psychology and has assisted with the implementation of psychosocial distress screening and survivorship care plans in the Rush Cancer Center.

In addition to partnering with our colleagues in the Division of Behavioral Sciences, we also have strong collaborations at Brown University, Northwestern University, The University of Rochester and Tulane University.

Contact us