UT Tyler Assistant Professor Conducts Research to Study Schizophrenia

Dr. Dennis Combs, assistant professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Tyler, is conducting research to develop a new intervention in the treatment of schizophrenia, Dr. Arlene Horne, associate vice president for research and federal relations, announced.

The National Institute of Mental Health awarded two grants totaling nearly $500,000. UT Tyler graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Psychology and Counseling are serving as Combs' research assistants.

With a $425,000 grant, under sub-contract from the University of North Carolina, Combs will conduct randomized controlled trials of social cognition and interaction training aimed to improve social cognition in people with schizophrenia. The three-year study, which began last year, is a collaboration with UNC.

"This is a group therapy intervention conducted over 20 weeks that targets problems in emotion perception, theory of mind and attributional style," said Combs, who also is a licensed clinical psychologist in Texas and Oklahoma. "This project is the first controlled study of the intervention. Participants complete a comprehensive psychological and neuropsychological evaluation as part of this study."

This treatment has already received national and international attention and Combs has provided training a number of medical centers who plan to implement this treatment program.

Combs, a UT Tyler alumnus, also received a $67,000 NIMH grant to conduct a two-year study to improve deficits in emotion perception in persons with schizophrenia using a computerized program. The study will conclude this December.

"This research will examine three interventions in a randomized controlled trial," he said. "It centers on the use of a computerized attention shaping program that draws attention to the face in order to improve emotion perception. It is hoped that by improving emotion perception, improvements will also be found in social and community functioning."

According to Combs, if this program is successful, it can be integrated into other interventions or serve as an individual rehabilitation training program for persons with schizophrenia.

Combs holds a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University and a master of science degree in clinical psychology from UT Tyler.