UNC Receives $2.5-Million Grant to Explore New Therapy for Anhedonia

As part of NIMH’s Experimental Therapeutics Initiative and led by Gabriel Dichter, PhD, researchers will use neuroimaging to evaluate a new treatment for decreased motivation and pleasure, symptoms that are common to many psychiatric disorders.

UNC Receives $2.5-Million Grant to Explore New Therapy for Anhedonia click to enlarge Gabriel Dichter, PhD

Gabriel Dichter, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, is the principal investigator of a 5-year $2.5-million award as part of the Experimental Therapeutics Initiative of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This new grant will use ultra-high field 7-tesla functional neuroimaging to develop and evaluate a new form of psychotherapy to treat anhedonia – a condition marked by a decreased capacity to experience motivation and pleasure. It is a core feature of a number of psychiatric disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, substance-use disorders, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Dr. Dichter’s new study, to be conducted with collaborator Moria Smoski, PhD, in the Department of Psychiatry at Duke University, will investigate the viability and efficacy of a new “transdiagnostic” psychotherapy for anhedonia called Behavioral Activation Therapy for Anhedonia. This intervention is designed to restore reward motivation and reward responsiveness in individuals with clinically impairing anhedonia. The 15-week course of individual psychotherapy includes patient education about anticipatory versus consummatory anhedonia, positive versus negative reinforcement, and how anhedonia can foster avoidance. The treatment focuses on increasing the frequency of the initiation of new pleasurable behaviors, exercises to increase present-moment savoring, and the reduction of avoidance behaviors.

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Co-investigators for this study include BRIC Director Weili Lin, PhD; Stacy Daughters, PhD, Associate Professor in UNC’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience; Susan Gaylord, PhD, Associate Professor in UNC’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Director of the Department’s Program on Integrative Medicine; biostatistician John Sideris, PhD, an advanced research scientist at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute; and Erin Walsh, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Program on Integrative Medicine in UNC’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.