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June 2010 Issue

Stephen Strakowski, MD, says that the psychiatry field has moved from a psychoanalytic model to one that focuses on the brain.
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Psychiatry Changes Name to Reflect Comprehensive Focus

Published June 2010

Public perceptions change slowly, particularly when it comes to psychiatry.

Despite rapid advances in the field over the past 20 years, many people continue to think of psychiatrists as bearded, pipe-smoking psychoanalysts with the stereotypical therapist’s couch.

To better reflect reality, UC’s psychiatry department has changed its name to the department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience.

The change was approved by the UC Board of Trustees at its meeting March 16, 2010, at the recommendation of David Stern, MD, dean of the College of Medicine and vice president for health affairs at UC.

The recommendation followed a unanimous vote by the department’s faculty and approval by the College of Medicine Council.

"For more than a decade, our department has had a strong research component that focuses specifically on the neuroscience of behavior and mental illness,” says Stephen Strakowski, MD, chair of the department.

"Additionally, the field of psychiatry has moved in the United States from a classic psychodynamic or psychoanalytic model to a brain-based model.

"Those are two aspects of psychiatry that we think people don’t always understand, so we wanted to emphasize that in our name.”

Additionally, Strakowski says, a large portion of the basic neuroscience research groups at UC are now based in the department, as is the neuroscience training grant.

The department has a robust research program, with particular strength in the areas of bipolar disorder and substance use disorders.

Psychiatry faculty conduct obesity research at the UC Metabolic Diseases Institute on the UC Reading campus.

The Tri-State Tobacco and Alcohol and Alcohol Research Center, under the direction of Robert Anthenelli, MD, professor of psychiatry, is also located on the Reading campus.

In addition to his duties as department chair, Strakowski is director of the UC Center for Imaging Research, located on the E-Level of the Medical Sciences Building.

The center has a comprehensive research program that studies the structure, function and chemistry of the body (particularly the brain) in normal subjects and in disease states.

Its centerpiece is a 4.0 Tesla Varian Unity INOVA Whole Body MRI/MRS system, which has been optimized for functional neuroimaging and spectroscopy.

"Psychoanalysis still has a role in mental health care, but it’s not the primary role anymore,” Strakowski says, "and certainly in an academic department it’s typically not a focus. So we have analysts in our department, but the academic focus is on neuroscience. Our continued trajectory is to become a brain-based department that thinks about the brain abnormalities and problems that cause mental illness.”

Strakowski sees the field of psychiatry moving increasingly toward diagnoses and treatments that are based in imaging and genetics rather than symptoms.

"Ideally, there will be an integration of imaging and genetics techniques so we can look at the genetic origins of the changes we see in the brains of people with mental illness,” he says.

"This will change the way we think about disorders and ultimately allow treatments to become much more focused and effective.”

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