From lab to clinic to community

Faculty of Arts and Science professor Christopher Bowie is the first Queen’s University researcher to receive the Dr. Samarthji Lal Award, an annual award of $25,000 that is given to a researcher who is making an outstanding contribution in the field of mental health.

Through his innovative Action-Based Cognitive Remediation program, Dr. Bowie is working to achieve long-standing improvements in functioning for those with schizophrenia and mood disorders.

“I’m excited that this award recognizes work with an underserved population, the people living with the most severe cases of mental illness,” says Dr. Bowie. “My main focus is restoring function, not just treating symptoms, by developing new treatments. We have been able to move these treatments from the lab to the clinic to the broader community.”

Since early in his graduate school training, Dr. Bowie has studied how cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving skills are related to disability and functional recovery for those with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and mood disorders.

“When I went to graduate school to study clinical psychology, I wanted to find an area to work in that would bring me the biggest challenges,” he says. “At that time, very few clinical psychology programs had the opportunity to study and provide psychological care for schizophrenia. Many would have said then that schizophrenia is a ‘psychiatric illness’, one that has the highest priority for medication early and continuously, and you just hope that the medications suppress symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. I saw the opportunity to better understand cognitive challenges and the chance to treat those patients as one of the biggest challenges in mental health.”

Dr. Bowie looks back with pride on the past 20 years of his career and is excited for the future and the hope he can provide patients with severe mental illnesses.

“After almost 20 years of going back to the drawing board and trying to make our cognitive remediation treatments more and more effective, we finally got to the point that they are not only published, but truly disseminated to large communities, such as the Early Psychosis in Ontario Network, and taken up by colleagues around the world,” he says. “Seeing our work taken up in clinics and adapted to fit their unique needs is something that makes me very proud of our team.”

The award was established by the Graham Boeckh Foundation in 2010 in honour of the late Dr. Lal, a distinguished psychiatrist and researcher.