$2 Million Gift Fuels Trauma Research & Center for Women’s Mental Health

November 12, 2014

McLean Hospital recently received a $2 million gift from an anonymous family that will have far-reaching impact on the field of trauma disorders and, in particular, a special influence on women’s mental health.

$1.5 million of the gift has created an endowment to support an annual Trauma Studies Scholar whose work is informing our knowledge of trauma-based disorders, while $500,000 will support the Division of Women’s Mental Health, augmenting the donors’ earlier gift to fuel its launch.

Drs. Milissa Kaufman and Sherry Winternitz

Left to right, Sherry Winternitz, MD, and Milissa Kaufman, MD, PhD

The family was inspired to make this significant gift because of Sherry Winternitz, MD, clinical director of the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Program, who has a long history of clinical leadership at McLean and who is widely regarded for her compassionate work with women. The donors wished to recognize Winternitz, in particular, and her many caring colleagues who give their best everyday to women who have experienced trauma.

Milissa Kaufman, MD, PhD, is one such colleague, and she considers herself fortunate. As medical director of the Hill Center, which treats women with histories of trauma, mood and anxiety disorders, as well as borderline personality disorder, she credits Winternitz as one of the main reasons she came to work at McLean.

“By reputation, I knew she was an unusually gifted clinician,” said Kaufman. “I hoped to learn from her how to make a positive, enduring impact on patients who survived difficult early-life circumstances, and she has been the ideal role-model. Through the years, she has taught me—selflessly, and by example—so much about how to work with patients in a way that is both compassionate and effective. It truly is an honor to work on Winternitz’s clinical team.”

An outstanding mentor, Winternitz has consistently nurtured Kaufman’s goal to bring state-of-the-art research methods to the study of childhood adversity. Kaufman is part of a growing community of researchers who are examining the effects of severe childhood abuse on women.

It is fitting, therefore, that Kaufman has been appointed the first Trauma Studies Scholar for her innovative research on changes in the brains of adult women who suffered childhood abuse. She and her collaborators are starting a three-year study using behavioral, neuroimaging and genetic analyses to study brain differences in women with trauma-based disorders.

“I’m honored, humbled and very grateful to receive this award,” said Kaufman. “I became a doctor in order to help people who suffered childhood abuse and neglect. However, I’m also a researcher and it is often hard to do both. This wonderful gift will allow me to dedicate a portion of my time each week to research for the first time since graduate school.”

In addition to honoring Winternitz and her dedicated clinician colleagues, the family hopes their gift also will help men suffering trauma-related disorders. In fact, there is much to learn in this field that will benefit both genders, and it is good fortune that McLean recently recruited one of the nation’s leading translational researchers in fear-based and trauma disorders.

The $500,000 portion of the gift earmarked for the Division of Women’s Mental Health continues the family’s earlier, generous support and will fund junior faculty with clinical and research interests in women’s mental health; spawn training opportunities for clinical fellows; attract visiting scholars; convene lectures on topics in women’s mental health; and support clinical collaborations geared toward implementing and disseminating evidence-based treatments designed to provide women with the best care possible.

“Both through our clinical programs focused on women and our research, I’d like to help destigmatize these disorders in women, just as post-traumatic stress disorder has finally been destigmatized for soldiers coming back from war,” said Kaufman. “I am grateful for this opportunity to shed new light on these issues and bring hope to more women and girls.”

For more information on philanthropy at McLean Hospital, visit the Give page.

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