PHHP Names New Department Chair William W. Latimer, Ph.D., M.P.H.

William Latimer, Ph.D., M.P.H.Leading drug dependence and infectious disease epidemiologist William W. Latimer, Ph.D., M.P.H., has been named chair of the department of clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions. Latimer comes to UF from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he served as director of the Drug Dependence Epidemiology Training Program, which is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the U.S. State Department Humphrey Fellowship Program.

“Dr. Latimer is in a position to expand core strengths of the department of clinical and health psychology in its subspecialties of neuropsychology, health psychology and pediatric psychology while also developing new and innovative connections between the disciplines of psychology and public health,” said Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions.

Latimer studies neuropsychological factors that may put people at risk for drug dependence and infectious disease transmission and has received more than $25 million in federal funding to support his research. He developed Integrated Family and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, which has been used as a drug use prevention program for middle school students and a drug treatment for adolescents and adults. The therapy will be evaluated as an HIV prevention tool in a new study in South Africa.

“With his background in psychology and epidemiology, Dr. Latimer is an ideal person to lead the UF department of clinical and health psychology. In his work he has combined individual patient care with a broader population perspective, an approach that is inherent to the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ unique mission,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System.

The UF department of clinical and health psychology is home to several research centers, including the Center for Pain Research and Behavioral Health, the Center for Pediatric Psychology and Family Studies, the NIH-funded Center for the Study of Attention and Emotion, and the National Rural Behavioral Health Center. The department offers two educational programs: a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology and a pre-doctoral internship, and is the primary psychology service provider for UF&Shands, the UF Academic Health Center.

“The clinical and health psychology department already has a strong research program, a nationally ranked educational program and a well-functioning psychology clinic,” Latimer said. “That speaks for itself, yet at the same time I see enormous opportunities for growth and linkage within the department, and also between the department and other institutes, departments and centers throughout the university with still additional opportunities for community outreach and collaboration throughout Florida, nationwide and internationally.”

In his research Latimer has focused on how the brain’s executive functions influence a range of outcomes among vulnerable populations in the presence of risk. Executive functions are responsible for organizing and implementing higher-order behavioral sequences like thinking conceptually, solving complex problems, learning from mistakes, controlling impulses, and shifting back and forth between different types of information processing. Accurately recognizing and labeling problems, seeking needed treatment, and recovering from drug dependence, for example, are more difficult for people who have executive function deficits, Latimer said.

“My studies have shown that if you have conceptual deficits, or executive dysfunctions, you are much less likely to have the ability to recognize that you have a drug problem. You’re also much less likely to seek treatment and if you do seek treatment you’re much less likely to complete it,” he said.

The 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 23.5 million Americans aged 12 or older needed treatment for a substance abuse problem, but only 2.6 million people received treatment at a specialty facility.

Latimer developed Integrated Family and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to work across systems, like families and social networks, coordinated with intervention strategies to help develop domain specific executive function type skills, such as skills needed to successfully negotiate condom use, develop a strategy for earning a living and avoid or better manage risk situations associated with infectious disease transmission.

“I’m not suggesting that we can change anatomy or physiology, but rather that we can help people develop skills in specific domains that will help to mitigate the negative influences of social-environmental risk factors and thereby give people a better chance to manage these risks and, when needed, to also recognize problems, engage in treatment, remain in treatment and make better decisions across domains having the greatest salience,” he said.

Latimer received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Rhode Island, a master’s degree in public health epidemiology from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. Latimer’s interest in drug dependence research and family therapy was influenced by the mentorship of Ken Winters, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, and Mike Nichols, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary, who was mentored by Salvador Minuchin, M.D., the founder of structural family therapy.  (Published July 14th, 2011).