Empirical Report

Academic Psychiatry

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 145-150

First online:

Beyond the DSM: Development of a Transdiagnostic Psychiatric Neuroscience Course

  • Amit EtkinAffiliated withStanford University School of Medicine Email author 
  • , Bruce CuthbertAffiliated withNational Institute of Mental Health

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Clinical and neurobiological data suggest that psychiatric disorders, as traditionally defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), are (1) more comorbid than expected by chance, (2) often share neurobiological signatures, and (3) reflect alterations across multiple brain systems that mediate particular mental processes. As such, emerging conceptualizations such at the National Institute of Mental Health’s Research Domain Criteria Project (RDoC) have suggested that a different way to understand psychopathology may be with respect to the degree of dysfunction in each of these brain systems, seen dimensionally, which both cross traditional diagnostic boundaries and extend to a healthy range of functioning. At present, however, this scientific perspective has not been incorporated into neuroscience education in psychiatry, nor has its relationship to clinical care been made clear.


We describe the rationale and implementation of a reformulated neuroscience course given to psychiatric residents at Stanford University centered on the conceptual framework of RDoC. Data are presented on resident feedback before and after revision of the course.


A clear motivation and rationale exists for teaching neuroscience in a transdiagnostic framework. This course was taken up well by the residents, with overall feedback significantly more positive than that prior to the course revision.


This “proof of concept” neuroscience course illustrates a potential route for bridging between rapid advances in psychiatric neuroscience and the clinical education for trainees not otherwise versed in neuroscience but who are needed for scientific advances to translate to the clinic. The promise of this approach may be in part related to the similarity between this framework and problem-based approaches common in routine clinical care. In such approaches, clinicians focus on the expressed complaints of their individual patient and identify specific symptoms as the target of treatment—symptoms which are presumably the expression of dysfunction in specific brain systems.


Research domain criteria project (RDoC) Neuroscience course Psychiatry residents