Department of Psychiatry Research and Innovation

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At Boston Children's Hospital, we know that emotional well-being is critical to the overall health of children and adolescents.  Some children face mental health challenges, including ones that are triggered by physical illness.  We apply a broad knowledge base to identify causes and formulate interventions that address the interaction of emotional, mental, and physical health needs of these children

Boston Children’s is known for pioneering some of the most effective techniques in mental health diagnosis and treatment for children, and a significant part of our success comes from our commitment to research.  All our efforts focus on identifying and understanding critical problems, working to uncover answers that offer long-term solutions, and translating those answers into evidence-based clinical practice.  Our goal is to reduce the burden of emotional and physical illnesses on children and their families.  

One of our key areas of research is in the responses of children and their families to the psychological stresses associated with chronic illness, including cardiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.  Researchers at Children’s have developed and implemented innovative individual, family-based, and community programs for these and other conditions.  

We have also created national models of treatment designed to prevent childhood depression, based on over 30 years of research.  Significant risk factors for depression in children have been identified and highly effective prevention and treatment programs for children and families have been designed.  Children’s researchers now train other providers on these methods, which have been adapted to different cultural settings around the world.

Our research involves the broadest possible collaborations.  Just as mental health care is integrated into programs throughout Children’s to help treat the whole child, our research also involves a collaborative, multifaceted approach.  We partner with clinical and research groups within the Children’s community and with other local, national, and international institutions and communities to capitalize on expertise where it exists and maximize the dissemination of our findings.

Our research

Members of Children’s Hospital Boston Department of Psychiatry team are always working to improve therapies, either by improving current treatment options or by creating entirely new approaches. Some of the changes come from basic science discoveries, while others come from clinical research. We also look externally, advocating for our patients and their rights, so that they are able to live the highest quality life.

By making changes on all fronts, we are able to advance today’s treatments for tomorrow’s children.

Here are some examples of why our program is special and how we’ve initiated essential change over the years:

  • We operate a thriving research program with projects that focus on:
    • behavioral techniques to assist with chronic pain management
    • children’s emotional and biological development
    • the impact of parenting techniques on children’s psychological treatment
    • interventions for children with family histories of depression
    • psychiatric symptoms in children with epilepsy
    • psychopharmacological treatments for children with bipolar disorder

Boston Children's uses battling spaceships to help kids overcome anger

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Advances in neurobiology and computer science have made it possible for our clinicians to design special interventions that strengthen children's ability to control emotions. Children’s Psychopharmacology Clinic physician Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, working with social worker Peter Ducharme, LICSW, and postdoctoral fellow Jason Kahn, PhD, has developed a computer game called “RAGE-Control (Regulate And Gain Emotional Control).”

Using the popular arcade staple “Space Invaders” as a model, RAGE-Control teaches children to simultaneously focus, react, inhibit impulses and keep their heart rate down in the context of the traditional space battle game. RAGE-Control is part of a clinical trial on Children's Psychiatry Inpatient Service,and Gonzalez-Heydrich and his colleagues hope to develop a multi-user module that allows parents and siblings to participate in the game and adapt healthy emotional strategies, too.

Read more about the RAGE-Control game.

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The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO
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