Translational Research Helps Understand and Treat Mental Health Disorders

The team of researchers at the Institute for Mental Health Research are working to create innovative and effective treatments for those with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and autism.

Almost one in two people in the United States will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. Despite this fact, there are relatively few effective behavioral treatments that provide long-lasting relief from problems like depression and anxiety. Dr. Christopher Beevers, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin and director of the Institute for Mental Health Research, is trying to change this. The institute's mission is, "to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illness through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure."

By focusing on interdisciplinary research, the Institute for Mental Health Research is able to use basic research with clinical and non-clinical populations to develop innovative and effective treatments for mental health disorders. Not only is their research critical for the understanding and development of mental health treatments but the Institute also holds outreach events that help educate the public about the nature of mental health disorders. Therefore, the team aspect inherent in the organization of the Institute for Mental Health Research, and their work within their community, allows them to tackle a wide range of projects. Clearly, with mental health issues affecting a large portion of society, and only about half of patients receiving treatment, and even less receiving effective treatment, development of innovative and effective treatments could have a large impact on society.

Some of the many projects at the Institute for Mental Health Research include:

  • Internet Based Treatment for Depression: Their goal is to understand who will benefit most from Internet based treatment, which are becoming increasingly popular forms of treatment. Specifically, researchers are hoping to understand whether genetic variation predicts who will improve with such treatments. Genome wide assessments and advanced statistical approaches can help researchers to discover strong genetic contributions to treatment response. This project is part of a newly developing field referred to as "Therapygenetics."

  • Enhancing Learning During Behavioral Interventions: The goal of this work is to discover how medications can facilitate learning that takes place during behavioral interventions, such as exposure therapy for social anxiety. These medications are specifically selected to help enhance extinction of fear during therapy and thus lead to faster and longer-lasting reductions in anxiety than is achieved with behavioral therapy alone.

  • Parent Training for Autism: As services for young children with autism may be difficult to access and/or prohibitively expensive, we are increasingly turning to parent training intervention models for families with young children on the autism spectrum. These parent training interventions teach parents how to use various play and behavioral techniques to promote the development of communication, social interaction, and self help skills. The research also examines the role that parent well-being has in the success of parent training intervention for autism.

Bio

Christopher Beevers received his doctorate in adult clinical psychology from the University of Miami. His clinical internship and postdoctoral fellowship were completed in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University. Dr. Beevers' primary research interest focuses on the cognitive etiology and treatment of major unipolar depression. He believes that understanding normal cognitive processes provides an important foundation for identifying how these processes go awry in clinical depression. Finally, he is interested in whether treatments modify putative risk factors for depression and if not, how these treatments can be improved.

Dr. Beevers is the founding director of the the Institute for Mental Health Research (IMHR) at The University of Texas at Austin. The IMHR is an organized research unit within the College of Liberal Arts. The IMHR includes approximately 8,000 square feet of dedicated office and research space that contain research labs tailored to the needs of IMHR investigators, a participant waiting room, a conference room, a computer lab for data processing and analysis, a biospecimen collection and storage room, office space for faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students, and a break room. As new faculty join the IMHR, there will be room for additional research laboratories designed for the specific needs of each investigator.

For more information, see: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/insts/imhr/

Awards

Wayne H. Holtzman Regents Chair in Psychology

NARSAD Independent Investigator, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

2013-2015

Scientific Advisory Council, Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)

2013

President's New Researcher Award, Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

2006