Brandon Unruh, MD, Receives the 2024 Jonathon O. Cole Award

May 3, 2024

Brandon Unruh, MD, medical director of the Gunderson Residence at McLean Hospital, recently received the prestigious 2024 Jonathan O. Cole Award.

The annual award—established in 2006 thanks to a gift from the Fleetwing Charitable Foundation—honors Cole, a former McLean psychiatrist. He was widely recognized as a visionary in the mental health field, especially for his pioneering research on the use of medications to treat psychiatric illnesses.

The Fleetwing Foundation’s founders established the Cole Award to recognize individuals who share some of Cole’s professional and personal characteristics—including dedication to excellence, humility, compassion, innovation, perseverance, creativity, and a willingness to be unconventional.

“Brandon’s work at the Gunderson Residence, as well as his unique journey to becoming a psychiatrist, exemplify many of the characteristics and approaches to care so highly valued by Dr. Cole,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief of McLean, who along with other key leaders from across the hospital selected Unruh for this year’s honor.

“I am extremely pleased that Brandon has received this year’s Cole Award recognition.”

Making a Career at McLean

Unruh came to a career in psychiatry and psychotherapy through interests in literature and philosophy, after two college professors mentoring him in these subjects—who both happened to be psychiatrists—steered him toward seeking work at McLean.

At their suggestion, Unruh applied for a job at the hospital as a mental health specialist. In this frontline clinical role, he helped individuals cope with their mental health conditions and improve their well-being. Unruh then earned his medical degree from UCLA and eventually returned to McLean to complete his psychiatry training in the place where his passion for this work began.

Brandon Unruh, MD

Unruh was mentored during his residency at McLean, by the late John G. Gunderson, MD, a pioneer in the diagnosis, treatment, and research of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Unruh developed a love for engaging intensively with individuals with BPD and has worked continuously at the Gunderson Residence ever since.

He also founded McLean’s Mentalization-Based Treatment (MBT) Clinic, in the Adult Outpatient Services, in 2012, an innovative outpatient program aimed at:

  • Expanding access to specialized yet fully insurance-based treatment for BPD
  • Training clinicians of all academic levels and disciplines in MBT

In both of these programs, Unruh and his colleagues have advised many psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, community residence counselors, and others at McLean in ways to serve those with BPD well.

Giving Back

The Cole Award confers a discretionary monetary grant to support a McLean Hospital clinical, research, or educational program of the award recipient’s choosing.

Unruh has chosen to direct his award to support the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean, and specifically to the chaplaincy and clinical pastoral education (CPE) training program led by Angelika A. Zollfrank, MDiv, BCC, ACPE.

The multifaceted Spiritual and Mental Health Program works to meet the spiritual needs of McLean patients by providing spiritually integrated care within multiple clinical programs throughout the hospital. In addition, the program provides chaplaincy services, develops new methods to incorporate faith into clinical treatment, conducts research on the relevance of spirituality to mental health conditions, and more.

The CPE initiative at McLean, launched in 2021, enables the hospital to train and bring on board CPE students who represent a variety of diverse religious, spiritual, and racial backgrounds to serve McLean’s patients, families, and staff. This mental health CPE program also serves as a model for other psychiatric hospitals.

“I’m deeply honored to receive the Cole Award, and to have it benefit McLean’s Spirituality and Mental Health Program. I think it’s the kind of endeavor Dr. Cole would have found extremely interesting and worthwhile,” Unruh said.

“Personally, I have an abiding interest in examining how spiritual and philosophical issues interact with psychiatric and psychological perspectives in the experiences of both patients and clinicians confronting mental illness together. I am haunted and fascinated by the searching spiritual questions and philosophical issues I find inescapably embedded within daily clinical work. This grappling with deeper meaning through the prism of mental illness is a universal equalizer, humbling to us all. But it can also be a great source of resilience.”

Unruh continued, “While all of us at McLean do this at some level, Angelika Zollfrank and her chaplains-in-training explicitly support both patients and staff at this ultimate level of meaning-making and well-being. Supporting their work combining spirituality, mental health, and well-being through the Cole Award grant seems like a natural fit.”

Prior recipients of the Cole Award include:

Media Requests

Journalist or member of the media? We are available 24/7 for media requests.