University of Pittsburgh
In the last three decades, Ellen Frank’s pioneering and visionary scientific work has fundamentally changed how both psychology andpsychiatry view the treatment of mood disorders in general and of bipolar disorder in particular. In 1988, Frank and her colleagues articulated the social zeitgeber hypothesis of mood disorders. The theory holds that life events have the capacity to provoke new mood episodes not only through their psychological meaning, but also by disrupting an individual’s normal routines, including social and sleep-wake routines, which can lead to a disruption in circadian rhythms. The explosion in our understanding of circadian genetics has confirmed many aspects of this theory.
Having demonstrated that life events characterized by social-rhythm disruption were associated with the onset of depressive and, particularly, manic episodes, Frank and her colleagues developed and rigorously tested interpersonal and social-rhythm therapy (IPSRT), which blends a behavioral intervention aimed at increasing the stability of social routines with the interpersonal interventions of psychotherapy. The development of IPSRT was a major milestone in the treatment of bipolar disorder, and, consistent with her early theorizing, Frank’s studies have revealed that among patients receiving IPSRT, the length of time without a new episode was related to the extent to which they were able to increase their social-rhythm regularity.
Frank is a scientist of the highest caliber and a role model in our field. Her work has had a lasting positive impact on many people who suffer from mood disorders.
See Frank’s award address presented at the 2015 APS Annual Convention in New York City.