Dr. Laura Payne

Laura Payne, PhD

McLean Hospital Title
Harvard Medical School Title
  • Assistant Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry


Laura Payne, PhD, is the director of the Clinical and Translational Pain Research Laboratory at McLean Hospital. Her research focuses on identifying neurobiological, behavioral, and psychological biomarkers related to pain, particularly menstrual pain in adolescents. Specifically, she is interested in identifying factors that are associated with the transition from recurrent to chronic pain in girls and young women. Her work also extends to developing and evaluating novel treatments for menstrual pain, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and nutraceutical supplements.

Dr. Payne has been awarded numerous NIH grants, including a career development grant to examine central pain mechanisms in adolescents and young adults with menstrual pain, and most recently a large-scale study identifying behavioral and neural phenotypes of menstrual pain in adolescent girls. She is actively involved in professional organizations and serves on several editorial boards, including Pain Medicine.

Research Focus:

Throughout her career, Dr. Payne’s work has focused on understanding pain responses in younger populations. Her various research efforts have explored areas of menstrual and pelvic pain, the assessment of pain, and non-drug clinical trials. She has published many papers in scientific journals on topics such as menstrual pain, biopsychosocial factors related to chronic and acute laboratory pain, salivary hormones related to pain, and transdiagnostic and cognitive behavioral treatment approaches.

During her graduate training in clinical psychology at Boston University, Dr. Payne was the original co-developer and co-author of the Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders. The Unified Protocol is an emotion regulation-focused, cognitive-behavioral intervention that can be applied to any disorder with an emotional component. Her early research focused on the evaluation and testing of this treatment, and she served as primary project leader for many related studies. In addition, she both conceptualized and co-authored papers describing the theoretical backgrounds and rationale for this transdiagnostic approach.

For her dissertation, Dr. Payne focused on using two specific skills in the Unified Protocol and applying them to individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder. The first edition of the Unified Protocol was published as a treatment manual in 2011.

During her post-doctoral fellowship at UCLA, she extended these concepts to pain and modified the Unified Protocol to address both pain and emotions (anxiety/depression) in a sample of adolescents with chronic pain. This novel application of the Unified Protocol was the first of its kind for this population. The primary findings from these studies suggest that transdiagnostic approaches are effective for treating anxiety, depression, as well as pain and, potentially, other emotional disorders. Also, the findings highlight the importance of looking at underlying factors—such as how the brain processes information—that are common to both pain and emotional concerns.

The Unified Protocol has been translated into six languages. The work has been extensively cited across the behavioral medicine and psychology literature and has been applied to both psychiatric (e.g., bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder) and non-psychiatric (e.g., insomnia, chronic pain) conditions.

As a post-doctoral scholar, Dr. Payne also studied relationships of emotion regulation and pain responses in healthy children, children with chronic pain, and their parents. This work gave her a foundation in laboratory pain assessment and an understanding of how the central nervous system plays a role in chronic pain. The work also spurred her interest in women’s health and pain and led to her research into how and why pain develops in young girls.

In recent years, Dr. Payne has explored the area of factors related to pain in adolescent girls and young adult women with primary dysmenorrhea (PD)—a cramping pain associated with menstruation. She received a career development award from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to further explore these mechanisms across the menstrual cycle in girls with and without PD. In 2016, she received a UCLA Children’s Discovery and Innovation Institute Seed Grant to explore the feasibility and acceptability of a behavioral intervention for reducing pain in young women with PD.

In addition, she has worked as a co-investigator on a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant project, developing and testing a cognitive behavior therapy intervention delivered via a mobile application for children with cancer. In 2018, she received an R01 grant from the NICHD to investigate behavioral and neural phenotypes of PD in adolescents. This longitudinal study includes detailed assessments of laboratory pain responses, brain structure and function, and menstrual symptoms and history to identify biomarkers associated with the transition from recurrent pain to chronic pain during this critical period of development.

  • Laura Seidman, Research Project Manager
Selected Publications:

Payne LA, Rapkin AJ, Seidman LC, Zeltzer LK, Tsao JCI. Experimental and procedural pain responses in primary dysmenorrhea: a systematic review. Journal of Pain Research 2017;10, 2233-2246.

Payne LA, Seidman LC, Sim M-S, Rapkin AJ, Naliboff BD, Zeltzer LK. Experimental evaluation of central pain processes in young women with primary dysmenorrhea. Pain 2019;160, 1421-1430.

Payne LA, Seidman LC, Romero T, Sim MS. An open trial of a mind-body intervention for young women with moderate to severe primary dysmenorrhea. Pain Medicine 2020;21(7):1385-1392.

PubMed search for Dr. Payne

Education & Training

  • 2000 BA in Psychology, University of California Los Angeles
  • 2000 BA in Sociology, University of California Los Angeles
  • 2002 MA in Clinical Psychology, Boston University
  • 2007 PhD in Clinical Psychology, Boston University
  • 2006-2007 Pre-Doctoral Internship, West Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration
  • 2007-2013 Post-Doctoral Fellowship, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Board Certifications:
  • 2009 Psychologist, California Board of Psychology
  • 2017 Member, National Register of Health Service Psychologists
  • 2017 Licensed Psychologist, Board of Registration of Psychologists, Commonwealth of Massachusetts


Phone: 617.855.3478
Office Address: Belmont campus – Recreation Building, Room 220