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Neuroscience and Humanistic Psychiatry: a Residency Curriculum

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Psychiatry residencies with a commitment to humanism commonly prioritize training in psychotherapy, cultural psychiatry, mental health policy, promotion of human rights, and similar areas reliant upon dialogue and collaborative therapeutic relationships. The advent of neuroscience as a defining paradigm for psychiatry has challenged residencies with a humanistic focus due to common perceptions that it would entail constriction of psychiatric practice to diagnostic and psychopharmacology roles. The author describes a neuroscience curriculum that has taught psychopharmacology effectively, while also advancing effectiveness of language-based and relationship-based therapeutics.


In 2000, the George Washington University psychiatry residency initiated a neuroscience curriculum consisting of (1) a foundational postgraduate year 2 seminar teaching cognitive and social neuroscience and its integration into clinical psychopharmacology, (2) advanced seminars that utilized a neuroscience perspective in teaching specific psychotherapeutic skill sets, and (3) case-based teaching in outpatient clinical supervisions that incorporated a neuroscience perspective into traditional psychotherapy supervisions. Curricular assessment was conducted by (1) RRC reaccreditation site visit feedback, (2) examining career trajectories of residency graduates, (3) comparing PRITE exam Somatic Treatments subscale scores for 2010–2012 residents with pre-implementation residents, and (4) postresidency survey assessment by 2010–2012 graduates.


The 2011 RRC site visit report recommended a “notable practice” citation for “innovative neurosciences curriculum.” Three of twenty 2010–2012 graduates entered neuroscience research fellowships, as compared to none before the new curriculum. PRITE Somatic Treatments subscale scores improved from the 23rd percentile to the 62nd percentile in pre- to post-implementation of curriculum (p < .001). Recent graduates rated effectiveness of clinical psychopharmacology training as 8.6 on ten-point Likert scale.


From multiple vantage points of assessment, these outcome results support effectiveness of this neuroscience curriculum for a residency committed to humanistic psychiatry as its primary mission. As a naturalistic study, further examination of its methods in pretest and posttest assessments and a multisite comparison is warranted.

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Correspondence to James L. Griffith.

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Griffith, J.L. Neuroscience and Humanistic Psychiatry: a Residency Curriculum. Acad Psychiatry 38, 177–184 (2014).

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