2019 Sarah Gund Prize
John R. Weisz, PhD
Each year the Child Mind Institute’s Scientific Research Council selects an exceptional researcher for the Sarah Gund Prize, in recognition of an outstanding contribution to child and adolescent psychiatry, psychology or developmental neuroscience. The award honors contributions either to clinical science or basic science. The award carries a prize of $25,000 and is presented at the Child Mind Institute’s Annual Child Advocacy Award Dinner. The award recipient, along with several other scientists selected because they have been influenced by recipient’s work, are featured presenters at our next On the Shoulders of Giants scientific symposium.
John Weisz was born and reared in Mississippi and received a BA from Mississippi College, in his home town of Clinton. He later served with his wife Jenny in the U.S. Peace Corps, in Kenya, where both worked as teachers. Then Weisz studied at Yale, where he received a Ph.D. in clinical and developmental psychology. He held subsequent faculty positions at Cornell, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and then UCLA, where he built numerous partnerships with southern California community mental health clinics, focused on studying youth mental health care in the real-world contexts where that care is most often provided. Those partnerships produced 14 years of research on psychotherapy process and outcome in everyday clinical practice, and multiple randomized trials of cognitive behavioral therapy for youth depression and anxiety. Efforts to build research partnerships broadened with a move to Massachusetts in 2004, where Weisz served for eight years as President and CEO of the Judge Baker Children’s Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. The research begun in Los Angeles expanded, encompassing a network of community mental health clinics and schools in the greater Boston area, and then other parts of New England. Weisz’s position at Judge Baker was blended with academic appointments, and he now works full-time as a Professor in the Harvard Psychology Department, where he directs the Harvard Lab for Youth Mental Health, expanding his body of research on strategies for improving youth mental health care
John Weisz’s research involves development and testing of interventions, as well as meta-analyses and systematic reviews characterizing and critiquing the science of youth mental health care. Following his Deployment-Focused Model of intervention development and testing, Weisz pushes for interventions that will succeed in the community clinic and school settings where young people most often receive mental health care. His most recent work involves development and testing of transdiagnostic approaches to youth psychotherapy, including treatment that uses modular design and treatment guided by a small number of broad principles of psychological change. He is especially interested in integrating evidence-based practices with strategies for personalizing treatment to fit individual youth and family characteristics.
He has received multiple scientific awards, including the James McKeen Cattell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Psychological Science—APS’s highest honor—for work that blends “relevance and rigor,” and “has had a profound impact on the field of psychological science over the past quarter century.” The themes and approaches emphasized in Weisz’s work are elaborated and extended through the research of 32 Weisz mentees who are now faculty members in their own right, in research universities in the United States and other parts of the world.