"This is a wonderful, wonderful opportunity," says Kazdin.
As director of the center, Kazdin will have many opportunities to ply his "real love"--using science to help troubled children. One of his first goals is to map out the center's agenda for the next decade. "We have an enormously brilliant faculty. My job is to mobilize them to develop the mission and then to make sure we're moving toward it in palpable ways," says Kazdin.
He brings years of experience to his new position. He joined Yale's department of psychology with a joint appointment as a professor in the Child Study Center in 1989. From 1997 to 2000, he chaired the psychology department. Before coming to Yale, Kazdin spent 10 years as professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"His academic credentials and clinical experience speak volumes about his ability and dedication to take on the important work that lies ahead," says David Kessler, MD, dean of the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., which oversees the multidisciplinary Child Study Center.
But not everyone is supportive of Kazdin's appointment. While praising his work, some academic psychiatrists worry that having a psychologist in charge of the child psychiatry center will lessen its prestige. The May 17 issue of Psychiatric News reported that American Psychiatric Association President Richard Harding, MD, wrote Yale President Richard Levin, PhD, a letter protesting Kazdin's appointment and asking Levin to renew the "search for a director with unimpeachable psychiatric credentials."
"Some people see my appointment as a problem of disciplines, and that is understandable," says Kazdin, who succeeds psychiatrist Donald Cohen, who died last October. "But the problems of children know no disciplinary boundaries."
Kazdin earned his master's and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from Northwestern University. It was there that his "dynamic" graduate professors--including Lee Sechrest, Richard Bootzin and the late Donald Campbell--instilled in him "the importance of [using] science and research methods in solving concrete human problems," he says.
His career was also shaped by a job working at a residential facility with emotionally disturbed children. Kazdin, a graduate student at the time, was given six months to develop research-based treatments to help patients return to their communities. He used "applied behavior analysis" to develop therapy plans for patients, and had his first success treating a teen-ager with uncontrollable rages.
"We all thought, 'This young woman has some serious problems. She'll never last in the community,'" he recalls. But she did, and Kazdin replicated the program at other institutions.
He also applies the lessons from this early experience to his current work. "I learned that using psychology research as a basis for intervention can be very effective," says Kazdin, who has published more than 500 articles and written or edited 35 books, including the eight-volume Encyclopedia of Psychology. It's also "important to evaluate research to see that it is really achieving the goals you think it is."