Substance Abuse Expert Receives National Distinguished Contribution to Family Psychology Award

Howard A. Liddle, Ed.D., professor of public health sciences who developed the leading treatment for adolescent substance abuse, is the 2013 recipient of the Distinguished Contribution to Family Psychology Award, bestowed by the American Psychological Association’s Society of Family Psychology.

“To be honored with an award that recognizes a career’s worth of work by the Society of Family Psychology and the American Psychological Association, well, it leaves me thankful and humbled,” Liddle said.

Presented August 1 by Marianne Celano, Ph.D., Past President of the society, the award recognizes Liddle for his many research and educational contributions to the field, including the development of Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT). An evidence-based treatment for adolescent substance abuse, MDFT is used by mental health, child welfare and juvenile justice agencies across the U.S. and the health bureaus of five European countries.

“Dr. Liddle is a giant in the field of research on family therapy with drug-using adolescents,” said José Szapocznik, Ph.D., professor and Chair of Public Health Sciences. “This award brings great distinction not only to our department but also to the University and its four-prong mission of research, patient care, education and community service, which are all served by Dr. Liddle’s work.”

Joining the Miller School in 1998, Liddle brought with him the P-50 center grant – the first such NIH grant – that enabled him to develop a treatment center based on his research. With research collaborators Gayle Dakof, Ph.D., and Cindy Rowe, Ph.D., among others, he established the Miller School’s Center for Treatment Research on Adolescent Drug Abuse, where he still serves as director. The center was the first clinical research center focusing on adolescent drug abuse treatment to be funded by the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Liddle says coming to the Miller School accelerated and deepened his interest in treatment research of youth substance abuse – a bench-to-community awakening that fueled the School’s public health mission and Szapocznik’s appreciation for the work that Liddle and his team continue to do to advance public health services.

“The mission of our School and department is to improve the quality of services that troubled teens and their families receive,” said Szapocznik. “This transfer of findings from the University to the community occurs because of the training programs Drs. Liddle, Dakof and Rowe have developed.”

Liddle received the award at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he also was invited to present two lectures. Titled “Evidence Based Practices for Treating Substance Abuse in Youth,” and “Psychotherapy Revealed: A Glimpse of Eminent Psychotherapists at Work,” the lectures, which included video of his clinical work with a family, illustrated the MDFT approach and chronicled his translational research findings and the process of melding decades of experience and knowledge to adapt traditional individual and family therapies and methods to an evolving field.

As he accepted the award, Liddle reflected on the robust team of collaborators that contributed to his life’s work.

“This award recognizes the conception and completion of a body of work that is successful because of numerous collaborators, but in particular, the core team of Miller School colleagues Gayle and Cindy, and Craig Henderson, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Sam Houston State University, which was instrumental in the successful implementation of MDFT,” Liddle said.

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