Erikson Institute

Research at Riggs

The Austen Riggs Center intensive clinical program for patients with treatment resistance also provides a unique opportunity to do clinical research to learn from our work. The Erikson Institute at Riggs provides intellectual and practical support for clinical staff interested in doing such research.

Past significant Riggs research studies include the 1980’s MacArthur Foundation-funded study by Richard Ford and Sidney Blatt that quantified the benefits of long-term, intensive, psychoanalytically informed treatment through psychological testing measures. This led to the publication Therapeutic Change: An Object Relations Perspective. In the 1990’s and into the 2000’s Riggs ran the Follow Along Study (FAS) which tracked a group of 226 Riggs patients between 1993 and 2001, both while in treatment at Riggs and beyond. This created a rich and extensive archive of data for asking a range of research questions.

A number of projects are currently ongoing or are in planning at Riggs, including the following:

Staff Psychiatrist Elizabeth Weinberg, MD: Studying a subset of FAS patients who were diagnosed as being treatment resistant, to assess their mood fluctuations over the years after they left Riggs. This study aims tell us something about the real-life long-term impact of the Riggs therapeutic approach on those patients deemed treatment resistant. 

Staff Psychologist Marilyn Charles, PhD, Fellow in Psychology Jeremy Ridenour, PsyD, and Adelphi University collaborator Michael O’Loughlin, PhD: Studying a subset of the FAS group to study changes in reflective function – the ability to imagine mental states in self and others – over time of treatment as indicators of improvement. Another of Dr. Charles’ studies is an analysis of creativity capabilities and their relationship to emotional health. This utilizes the Rorschach test, which is part of the standard psychological testing for all Riggs patients.  

Evelyn Stefansson Nef Director of the Erikson Institute for Education and Research Jane G. Tillman, PhD, Director of Training Jennifer Stevens, PhD, and former Riggs staff member Jill Clemence, PhD: Working with patients who have survived a suicide attempt, to understand state of mind immediately prior to the attempt. This complex study involves analyzing information drawn from in-depth interviews with the patients to identify markers which could represent predictors of suicide risk.

Social Workers Thomas Lusignan, LICSW, Beth Turner, LICSW, David Rosenthal, LICSW and Director of Social Work Cathleen Morey, LICSW: Developing a tool for measuring family dynamics over time - essentially a ‘grid’ onto which behaviors can be ‘mapped’. The group hopes that this tool may be used in the future to provide a measure for changes in family dynamics over a patient’s time in treatment. 

Fellow in Psychiatry Mark Elliot, MD: Study of ‘social dreaming’ which will analyze the patterns of patients dreams with their experiences in the broader therapeutic community

Fellow in Psychology Kate Gallagher, PhD: Developing a taxonomy, or scheme of classification, for treatment resistance. Currently this term is used in different ways in the psychiatric and psychological literature. Dr. Gallagher hopes a taxonomy would help better define treatment resistance for the benefit of the broader medical community.

To provide support for busy clinicians to conduct research, the Erikson Institute Research Department encourages research project discussions through a series of ‘lab meetings’ where research ideas can be discussed and results presented; has an Institutional Review Board chaired by Elizabeth Weinberg, MD, to ensure protection of human subjects; and helps investigators to develop their research proposals and seek research funding.

Riggs also has a roster of expert outside research consultants as listed below and is engaged in an ongoing process of consultations with members of this group to develop and refine both established and emerging research projects.

Research Consultants

David Reiss, MD, former Erikson Scholar and currently on the staff of the Yale Child Study Center provides ongoing consultation to the research program. Recent consultants to research projects include:

Jill Clemence, PhD, Albany Medical College
Jennifer Durham-Fowler, PhD, Albany Medical College
Christopher Fowler, PhD, The Menninger Foundation
Andrew Gerber, MD, PhD, Columbia University
Carol Gilligan, PhD, New York University
Horst Kaechele, MD, International Psychoanalytic University, Berlin
Linda Mayes, MD, Yale Child Study Center
Craig Piers, PhD, Williams College

For information about research programs at the Austen Riggs Center, contact Manager of Institutional Research Kim Hunter-Schaedle, PhDkim.hunter-schaedle@austenriggs.net or call [413] 931.5820.

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