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Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences ~ Research

The Tulane University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences is a leader in clinical research that covers the developmental lifespan with investigators from multiple disciplines and a history of groundbreaking clinical research. We offer a wide range of sites, mentors, and unique training opportunities for young researchers. Training and support are provided at all levels of training including students, residents, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty. We are committed to research that understands the underpinnings of complex mental issues and develops new treatments.

Michael ScheeringaMichael Scheeringa, MD
Vice Chair of Research



Research News

Developmental Modifications Needed for PTSD Criteria for 7-12 Year-Old Children
(October 11, 2017) Amy Mikolajewski, PhD investigated how changes in the DSM-5 impact diagnosis rates in 7-18 year-olds. The DSM-5 criteria appeared to be more developmentally sensitive than DSM-IV criteria, and may lead to higher prevalence rates of PTSD for 7-12 year-old children, but not for adolescents.  In addition, using the very young children criteria for 7-12 year-old children further increases prevalence, and may capture children with less severe psychopathology (Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology 27(4), 374-382. doi: 10.1089/cap.2016.0134).

Groundbreaking Study on Cardiac Activity, CBT, PTSD, and Youths
(August 25, 2017) The newest study from Dr. Michael Scheeringa’s lab was just published online: "Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Children: Preliminary Treatment and Gender Effects" in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Rebecca Lipschutz, MS (pictured), who is now at the University of Houston, was first author.  You can view the full text free online for a limited time at

Autism Clinic Scores Again! PCORI Tier II Awarded

(August 16, 2017) Lisa Settles, PhD was awarded a prestigious Pipeline to Proposal Tier II award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). This award will extend the work of the Autism FORCE project that was launched with a Tier I award last year.  The work is part of the Tulane Center for Autism and Related Disorders (TCARD), about which you can learn more here

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Moneyballed Psychiatry

(June 14, 2017) If you saw the movie Moneyball, you saw how the Oakland A's baseball team used new types of data to pick players for their team. Michael Scheeringa, MD is piloting something similar at the Tulane University Behavioral Health Clinic – Metairie.  Their Enhanced Diagnostics testing uses new types of information to predict treatment responders, opening up all kinds of interesting possibilities and hypothesis-generating ideas for research.  Check out their blog at

Merrill headshotOxytocin receptor, cortisol, telomere length, and violence exposure

Olivia Merrill (pictured), working in the labs of Dr. Stacy Drury and Dr. Kat Theall, first-authored a paper in International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience which examined the relations between exposure to violence, externalizing behavior, cortisol, telomere length, and oxytocin genotype in 5-15 year-old youths. Oxytocin genotype moderated the association between violence and both cortisol and telomere length, suggesting that pathways linked to oxytocin may contribute to individual differences in the physiologic and molecular relations with violence exposure. Sex differences were also detected.

Khunkhun 2016 12What do patients think of their interactions with mental health clinicians?

Vinnie Khunkhun, MD, Assistant Professor in the department, launched a new pilot study at Tulane's outpatient psychiatry clinic in Metairie.  The purpose of the study is to understand the good and bad experiences that patients have had with their mental health doctors and therapists, and also to learn about preferences for how individuals like to make decisions about their psychiatric care.  The knowledge gained from this study will be used to design new interventions to improve their retention and satisfaction with treatment.

Humphreys 2017 3v2Institutional rearing and foster care in the Bucharest Early Intervention Project

The Lancet, considered the world’s leading independent medical journal, published a study by first author and part-time faculty member Kathryn Humphreys, PhD, along with four other faculty from Tulane (Drs. Gleason, Drury, Miron-Murphy, and Zeanah) on Romanian children from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project.  The authors showed that when children were followed-up at 12 years of age, children who were removed from orphanages and placed in foster care showed fewer externalizing problems compared to children who had received care as usual (Lancet, July 2015).

Michael ScheeringaD-Cycloserine Augmentation of Cognitive Behavior Therapy: A Meta-Analysis

In a meta-analysis that was published in JAMA Psychiatry (online first January 25, 2017), Michael Scheeringa, M.D. joined the investigators of 20 other randomized controlled trials of D-cycloserine augmentation of CBT for anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, and posttraumatic stress disorders. Participants receiving DCS showed greater improvement from pre-to-post-treatment.  Antidepressants did not moderate the effects of DCS.  Acceleration of treatment effects that had been observed in some individual trials could not be confirmed.  The small effect found at post-treatment tended to be lost at longer-term follow-up.

sarah grayModerating Effect of Sex on Autonomic Reactivity

The sexes are different, and in a collaboration of Tulane researchers across psychology, public health, and psychiatry departments, a new study that uniquely combined neurobiology and stress in children has added insights into how they exhibit problem behaviors.  Sarah Gray, Ph.D. (pictured), from the Department of Psychology, Stacy Drury, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues showed that for girls, different levels of cardiac parasympathetic tone were associated with internalizing problems contingent on whether they suffered high versus low levels of traumatic events. These relationships were not found in boys. Published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment.

Christopher JonesPlacental Telomere Length and Race

Christopher Jones (pictured), a Tulane neuroscience student working in the lab of Stacy Drury, MD, PhD, was the first author on a new publication in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2016.11.1027).  Jones and colleagues examined telomere length in tissue samples from placenta samples collected immediately after births.  They found telomere length measured in placenta samples from Black mothers were significantly shorter than those from White mothers, providing the first known evidence of racial differences in placental telomere length, which may have implications for future health disparities.

Lisa SettlesAutism Clinic Launches PCORI Award: The Autism FORCE Project

Lisa Settles, PhD, founder of the Tulane Center for Autism and Related Disorders (TCARD) was awarded a prestigious Tier I Pipeline to Proposal Award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).  Her project titled "Autism FORCE (Families, Organizations, Resources Completely Engaged) for Achieving Positive Patient Outcomes" will proactively work with families and stakeholders of children with autism spectrum disorder to improve identification of children and engagement with providers.  A list of all PCORI-funded projects can be found here.

Julia Cretu, Fred Sautter, Drs. Sautter and Cretu awarded Best Paper at the APA Annual Convention.  

Frederic Sautter, Ph. D. and colleagues, including  Julia Becker-Cretu, Psy. D. from Tulane (left) and Shirley Glynn, Ph.D. from UCLA (right), received the Best Paper Award in Division 18 (Psychologists in Public Service) at the American Psychological Association annual convention in September 2016. The paper, "Efficacy of Structured Approach Therapy in Reducing PTSD in Returning Veterans: A Randomized Clinical Trial", was published in the division's highly regarded Journal, Psychological Services. The award was based on rigorous criteria, including  makes a major contribution to public service psychology,  addresses an important research question with potential for high impact on the field , and has practical, applicable impact for clinicians.

Ashley WeissAshley Weiss, MD Awarded Faculty Grant for EPIC-NOLA Project

Ashley Weiss, MD, was recently award a Carol Lavin Bernick Faculty Grant to support her travel to the biannual conference of the International Early Psychosis Association.  The conference will be October 20-22, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  She will present a poster on her groundbreaking clinical work titled "Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic, New Orleans (EPIC-NOLA): Paying For Care in an Underserved Area."  Dr. Weiss is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Medical Student Education for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.  You can also support her fundraising effort to create a website for better awareness and early detection of early psychosis at this link 

Elena McSwainVA Psychology Intern Elena McSwain Wins First Place for Research With Faculty Julia Becker-Cretu, PsyD and Fred Sautter, PhD

Elena McSwain won First Place out of all the graduate student research posters presented at the Louisiana Psychological Association Annual Conference on May 23, 2016.  Elena (middle in the photo) is a psychology intern at the VA working with faculty Julia Becker-Cretu, PsyD (left) and Fred Sautter, PhD (right).  Her poster was titled "An Initial Examination of the Role of Partner Depression and Relationship Satisfaction in Returning Veterans' Couple-Based PTSD Treatment Outcomes" (McSwain EA, Becker Cretu J, Yufik T, Amin D, Glynn SM, & Sautter FJ).  

Teddy JonesMedical Student Teddy Jones Wins Award Based on Work With Faculty Stacy Drury, MD, PhD 

Edward "Teddy" Jones was awarded the Dean of the School of Medicine Award for Excellence in Research and Presentation at the Tulane Health Sciences Research Days, April 2016, for his poster titled "Fractured Telomeres: The Cellular Impact of Family Violence and Disruption in Children." The work was conducted while he was a medical student in the lab of his advisor, Stacy Drury, MD, PhD.

Pat O'NeillA Framework for Telepsychiatric Training and e-Health: Competency-Based Education, Evaluation and Implications

The first-ever proposed competencies for telepsychiatry were published to help guide training programs as telepsychiatry moves more into the mainstream of health care.  Patrick O'Neill, M.D., Director of the Telepsychiatry Division for the Tulane Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, was a co-author with an international group of experts on telepsychiatry (Hilty et al., 2015. International Review of Psychiatry, volume 27, issue 6, 569-592).  While telepsychiatry has met resistance around the country as a new technology, Tulane has been a leader both in training residents and in using telepsychiatry to provide care to the many underserved, rural areas of Louisiana.

Amy MikolajewskiInaugural Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Amy Mikołajewski, PhD joined the department recently as the first fellow in the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Lifespan Stress and Mental Health.  Dr. Mikołajewski spent her early lifespan years in Michigan, received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University and her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from Florida State University.  Her graduate work has primarily focused on the development of externalizing behaviors.  She aims to expand her research in areas of neurobiology and interventions in clinical applications.

Dr. Mike Scheeringa's newest publication appears in a special issue of Child & Youth Care Forum dedicated to the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  In the largest sample ever collected of trauma-exposed 3-6 year-old children, it was shown that 95% of children who developed new non-PTSD disorders following traumas also had substantial PTSD symptoms, indicating that individual clinic work and large-scale post-disaster programs ought to focus on PTSD, as opposed to co-occurring syndromes.  Cumulative number of trauma events was the only significant predictor of PTSD symptoms, while type of trauma and total occurrences of traumas did not predict outcomes.  The homogeneity of outcomes across types of traumas provides little empirical support for speculations that repeated and prolonged traumas produce greater symptom complexity.

Fred Sautter Julie CretuA study by Dr. Fred Sautter and colleagues finds that Structured Approach Therapy (SAT), a couples-based treatment that he developed for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is superior to PTSD Family Education (PFE) for reductions in PTSD symptoms and related constructs.

Efficacy of Structured Approach Therapy in Reducing PTSD in Returning Veterans: A Randomized Clinical Trial.
Sautter FJ, Glynn SM, Becker-Cretu J, Senturk D, & Vaught AS. Psychological Services 12 (3), 199-212, 2015.

Data were collected from 57 returning veterans meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fourth edition, text revision; DSM–IV–TR) criteria for PTSD and their cohabiting partners.  Veterans were randomly allocated to either SAT or PFE for 12 sessions of treatment. Findings from an intent-to-treat analysis revealed that veterans receiving SAT showed significantly greater reductions in self-rated (PTSD Checklist; p < .0006) and Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS)-rated PTSD (p < .0001) through the 3-month follow-up compared with veterans receiving PFE; 15 of 29 (52%) veterans receiving SAT and 2 of 28 (7%) receiving PFE no longer met DSM–IV–TR criteria for PTSD. Furthermore, SAT was associated with significant improvements in veteran relationship adjustment, attachment avoidance, and state anxiety. Partners showed significant reductions in attachment anxiety. This couples-based treatment for combat-related PTSD appears to have a strong therapeutic effect on combat-related PTSD in recently returned veterans.

Dr. Sautter is employed by the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, New Orleans.  Both Drs. Sautter and Becker-Cretu hold appointments in the Tulane Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.