James L. Griffith, MD, Receives Oskar Pfister Award from American Psychiatric Association

November 8, 2017

James L. Griffith, MD, chair for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Leon M. Yochelson Professor of Psychiatry at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, received the Oskar Pfister Award from the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Named for Oskar Pfister, a Lutheran minister who studied and used psychoanalytic principles in his work, the award has been presented annually since 1983 to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the understanding of the interplay between religion and psychiatry. The award was presented at the APA’s Institute on Psychiatric Services: The Mental Health Services Conference held Oct. 19–22 in New Orleans.

Over the course of his career, Griffith has focused on helping clinicians learn how to draw from patients’ spiritual resources when helping them to cope and sustain resilience in the face of disease, disability, and suffering. He has become a global mental health leader, providing psychiatric treatment for immigrants, refugees, and survivors of political torture.

“Despair from demoralization is a constant threat to patients with chronic mental illnesses, refugees fleeing persecution, elderly who are socially isolated, the medically disabled, and other marginalized or displaced people,” he said. “For people with so many daily life disruptions, a clinician needs to know how to use a single five to 10 minute conversation to discern a person’s best strength for sustaining hope and help the person to use that hope-building skill more effectively.”

At the meeting, Griffith also delivered the Oskar Pfister Award Lecture, “Hope Modules: Brief Psychotherapeutic Interventions to Counter Despair from Chronic Adversities.” Griffith described his work developing brief interventions to help patients sustain hope despite demoralizing life circumstances and methods for teaching trainees and other clinicians.