On October 16, 2019, the Child Mind Institute held its 9th annual On the Shoulders of Giants scientific symposium celebrating the trailblazing work of Harvard professor and psychotherapy researcher John Weisz, PhD. Dr. Weisz presented on his recent work developing and testing a system to deliver personalized, modular treatments for anxiety, depression, trauma and conduct disorders. Dr. Weisz is the winner of the Child Mind Institute’s 2019 Sarah Gund Prize for Research and Mentorship in Child Mental Health, which recognizes outstanding contributions to child and adolescent psychiatry, psychology or developmental neuroscience.

Dr. Weisz’s presentation outlined the promises and pitfalls of evidence-based treatments in child and adolescent mental health. Though the evidence base is strong for many treatments, the benefit of these manualized approaches fades in real world application. Furthermore, many therapists prefer to use their usual treatments. Dr. Weisz’s approach has been to take the best pieces of many therapies and fuse them into adaptable modules that are easily deployed and tailored. His focus is on honing the simplest approach that provides the most benefit.

Presenters at the 2019 On the Shoulders of Giants symposium.

That focus has been passed down to the investigators who stand on Dr. Weisz’s shoulders. Joining him to present were two young researchers who have benefitted from the research base he has established. Jessica Schleider, PhD, gave a fascinating talk on the development of web based, single session interventions that may reduce and potentially even prevent mental health symptoms. Dr. Schleider’s lab is working with the Child Mind Institute’s Healthy Brain Network study to further evaluate these interventions. Dr. Schleider’s student Mallory Dobias reported on using data to predict access to care.

The symposium closed with a genial panel discussion featuring questions from the audience and the guidance of Paul Mitrani, MD, PHD, clinical director of the Child Mind Institute, and Adriana Di Martino, MD, founding research director of the Autism Center at the Child Mind Institute.

During the event, attendees studied posters of the research work undertaken by the winners of this year’s Rising Scientist college scholarships, co-presented by the Child Mind Institute and Hunter College. The Rising Scientist Awards are given annually to outstanding high school students in the New York Tri-State Area who show exceptional promise in research in the fields of mental health, neuroscience or biomedical engineering. The day ended with an awards ceremony. This year’s winners are:

Jacqueline Chan, Livingston High School
David Frank, Bellmore John F Kennedy High School
Gillian Gold, Ardsley High School
Abhinav Kumar, Rye Country Day School
Elizabeth Yaboni, Smithtown High School West

After remarks from Hunter College president Jennifer J. Raab and Child Mind Institute president Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, Dr. Weisz took the lectern to offer encouragement and admiration to the young researchers. He spoke of the “cascade of mentorship” that makes scientific progress possible, and then beautifully summed up the quality of the relationship between mentor and protégé with words from Plutarch: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”