Ep. 18: Dr. Jay Fournier – Looking at the Brain to Better Understand Depression

It’s a near certainty that in your lifetime, you or someone you love will experience major depressive disorder. This common condition is on the rise in recent years, and while awareness and the availability of treatment are greater than ever, countless individuals struggle to find relief.

My guest this week is Dr. Jay Fournier, a clinical psychologist working at the frontier of depression research. Jay’s work is focused on understanding the many varieties of depression, with the aim to maximize treatment outcomes. His work has revealed, for example, that depressed individuals with certain personality types do better on medication than with psychotherapy.

Jay’s recent work is using the latest technological advances to examine patterns of brain activity that are involved in depression and related variables. We discussed some of the important questions from Jay’s field, including:

  • Why do people with depression do better in some treatments than others?
  • Can we develop new treatments, or match individuals to treatments, based on a better understanding of an individual’s depression?
  • Does exposure to a certain kind of treatment change the effectiveness of that treatment for future episodes of depression?
  • Why do personality disorders make a difference in depression treatment?
  • How can brain imaging further our understanding of depression, and of differences among depressed people?
  • How does functional MRI show what’s happening in the brain?
  • Why there are such inconsistent findings in brain imaging studies of depression?
  • How is it possible that the most recent meta-analysis found no consistent differences in brain activity in depressed people versus those without depression?
  • Can brain scans be used to figure out if an individual has a specific psychiatric  condition?
  • How can brain imagining help to explain the considerable overlap in symptoms across some psychiatric conditions—like the difficulty concentrating with both anxiety and depression?

I’ve known Jay since graduate school where we met, and have enjoyed watching the development of his career. He’s already made a notable contribution to his field, and his research has been featured multiple times in the popular press like the New York Times, such as this article: “Popular Drugs May Help Only Severe Depression.” Jay obviously has a bright research career ahead of him, and I felt fortunate to have him on the podcast. I’ll be interested to hear your feedback about our discussion.

Jay C. Fournier, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pittsburgh. He completed his doctorate in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and his postdoctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine.

Jay is the first author on a landmark study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and his research has been featured in other prestigious journals like the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and the British Journal of Psychiatry.

You can find Jay online at his faculty webpage and discover more of his research through his Google Scholar profile.

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