Cognitive Neuropsychiatry

People who have psychosis are likely to experience a range of cognitive (thinking) difficulties. These affect language, memory and high level functions.

The aim of the Cognitive Neuropsychiatry group’s research is to characterize the cognitive deficits (problems with brain function) that are linked to particular symptoms of psychiatric disorders, such as unusual beliefs or delusions, hearing voices or hallucinations, and impaired thinking or thought disorder. In some cases these cognitive deficits have been linked to specific brain abnormalities. Our hope is that a better understanding of cognition will contribute to the development of new, effective medications or psychological treatments.

You can watch an overview of the cognitive neuropsychology team's work here.

The Voices Clinic

The Voices Clinic is a specialist treatment clinic for auditory hallucinations. This service, which is unique in Australia, receives referrals from clinical services throughout Victoria. The clinic is run by Dr Neil Thomas, an expert in the psychological treatment of schizophrenia. 

There is a clear need for this type of service, given the limited availability of psychological treatments for patients with severe mental illness. The Voices Clinic is a tertiary service which provides evidence-based psychological treatment to patients, in addition to their regular treatment from public mental health services or private psychiatrists.

Treatment at the clinic involves regular one-to-one therapy sessions for up to six months. These sessions aim to reduce the person’s levels of distress and disability associated with the auditory hallucinations.  As well as providing treatment directly to patients, the Voices Clinic also provides training for mental health practitioners throughout Victoria, in the form of workshops and supervision, to improve access to this important treatment.  The Voices Clinic has formed partnerships with a number of public mental health services, to whom it provides regular specialist supervision in the psychological treatment of psychotic symptoms. 

Cognitive Neuropsychiatry team

Team Leader
Prof Susan Rossell

The Voices Clinic
Dr Neil Thomas 

Postdoctoral Researcher & Team Coordinator
Dr Wei Lin Toh

Collaborators
Prof David Castle, St Vincent’s Mental Health
Prof Josephine Beatson, St Vincent's Mental Health
Dr Evrim March, St Vincent's Mental Health
Prof Jennie Ponsford, Monash University
Dr Greg Yelland, Monash University
Dr Ben Buchanan, Monash University
Dr Yitz Hollander, Alfred Hospital
Dr Kiymet Bozaoglu, Baker IDI
Prof Henry Jackson, University of Melbourne
A/Prof Larry Abel, University of Melbourne
A/Prof Ben Harrison, University of Melbourne
A/Prof Jerome Sarris, University of Melbourne
Prof David Thompson, Australian Catholic University
A/Prof Chantelle Ski, Australian Catholic University
Dr Izelle Labuschagne, Australian Catholic University
Prof Paul Francis, Deakin University
Prof Michael Berk, Deakin University
Dr Olivia Dean, Deakin University
Dr John Farhall, La Trobe University
Prof Andrew Francis, RMIT
Prof Richard Newton, Austin Health
A/Prof Mal Hopwood, Austin Health
Prof Santha Rao, Eastern Health
Prof Flavie Waters, University of Western Australia
Prof Johanna Badcock, University of Western Australia
Prof Pat Michie, University of Newcastle
A/Prof Anthony Harris, University of Sydney
A/Prof Dan Siskand, University of Queensland
Prof Cherrie Galletly, University of Adelaide
Dr Clara Strauss, Sussex University, UK
Dr Mark Hayward, Sussex University, UK
Dr Rachel Mitchell, University of Durham, UK
A/Prof Celia Morgan, University of Exeter, UK
A/Prof Simon McCarthy-Jones, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
Prof Iris Sommer, Utrecht University, Netherlands

Current members of research group:
Dr Will Woods BSc (Hons), PhD - NIF Facility Fellow, Swinburne University
Dr Jordy Kauffman BSc (Hons), PhD - Senior Research Fellow, Swinburne University
Dr Neil Thomas BSc (Hons), DClinPsych - Senior Research Fellow, Swinburne University/MAPrc
Dr Darren Hocking BSc (Hons), PhD - DECRA starting 2016
Dr Caroline Gurvich BSc (Hons), DClinNeuroPsych - NHMRC ECF, MAPrc
Dr Matthew Hughes BSc (Hons), PhD - NIF Facility Fellow, Swinburne University
Dr Charlotte Keating BSc (Hons), PhD - Research Fellow, Swinburne University
Dr Rachel Batty BA (Hons), PhD - Research Fellow/MEG Technician, Swinburne University
Dr Stuart Lee BSc (Hons), DClinNeuroPsych - Research Fellow, MAPrc
Dr Erica Neill BBehavSc (Hons), MBsc, PhD - Research Fellow, St Vincent’s Mental Health
Dr Tamsyn Van Rheenen BSc (Hons), PhD - NHMRC ECF, University of Melbourne
Dr Wei Lin Toh BA (Hons), MPsych/PhD - Postdoctoral Researcher/Team Coordinator, MAPrc
Dr Andrea Phillipou BSc (Hons), PhD - Research Fellow, St Vincent’s Mental Health
Dr Eric Tan BSc (Hons), PhD - Research Fellow, St Vincent's Hospital/Swinburne University
Dr Chris Groot, BA (Hons), PhD – Lecturer, University of Melbourne
Johanna Stephens BSc (Hons) - MEG Technician, Swinburne University
Mahla Cameron-Bradley BSc (Hons) - MEG Technician, Swinburne University
Richard Nibbs - Radiographer, Swinburne University
Catherine Mandel – Radiologist, Swinburne University
Shayden Bryce BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Monash University
Natalia Contreas BSc, MSc - Doctoral student, Monash University
Elizabeth Thomas BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Monash University
Imogen Bell BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Sarah Brennen BA (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Sean Carruthers BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Sally Grace BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Sarah Lancaster BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Stephanie Louise BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Zalie Merrett BA (Hons), MSc - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Selma Music BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Maree Reser BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Monique Scott BA (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Reneta Slikboer BA (BSc Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University
Phillip Sumner BSc (Hons) - Doctoral student, Swinburne University

Cognitive Neuropsychiatry: current projects

1. Genes, symptoms and cognition

Aim
Psychotic disorders (bipolar, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder) include a broad range of symptoms and multiple genes have been found to relate to the presence of these disorders.  This large scale study is attempting to identify genes that underlie specific symptoms of these disorders.  These include auditory hallucinations and thought disorder.

Participants
(1) Individuals with a diagnosis of bipolar, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder

(2) Their first degree relatives (siblings or parents)

(3) Healthy unaffected individuals with no family history of psychotic illness

Methods
Cognitive testing, blood taking for genetic testing and non-invasive brain scanning (MRI)

Project status
Ongoing

Researchers
Susan Rossell
Caroline Gurvich
Wei Lin Toh
Erica Neill
Eric Tan
Tamsyn Van Rheenen
Kiymet Bozaoglu
Philip Sumner
Sean Carruthers
Elizabeth Thomas
 

2. Too stressed to think clearly?

Aim
The purpose of this project is to learn more about biological and psychological contributors to stress and difficulties thinking clearly. Click here for more information.

Participants
Healthy participants between the ages of 18-45

Methods
Cognitive testing, blood taking and saliva collection.

Project status
Currently recruiting

Researchers
Dr Caroline Gurvich
Elizabeth Thomas
Dane Easden
Ratu Lucky

 

3. Semantic memory (SM) in psychosis

Aim
Semantic memory is a type of memory that stores factual information about the world (for example, it allows you to recognise that a furry, four legged barking animal is a dog).  Previous work by Professor Rossell has shown that semantic memory is impaired in psychotic illnesses (schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder) and that it is related to the presence of psychotic symptoms like delusions (unusual ideas) and abnormal speech (thought disorder). We are currently examining how semantic memory functions in healthy people.  Our healthy participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire which asks about mild psychosis like experiences (questions like: Are your thoughts sometimes so strong that you can almost hear them?) to see if these experiences in healthy people also relate to abnormal semantic memory.

Participants
Healthy participants between the ages of 30-65

Methods
Participants will complete a number of tasks that measure semantic memory 

Project status
Ongoing

Researchers
Professor Susan Rossell and her team

 

4. Understanding auditory hallucinations

Aim
Patients with auditory hallucinations show auditory and cortical abnormalities not present in other psychosis patients with no auditory hallucination history. This project is seeking to further clarify these changes.

Participants
Patients with psychosis and their relatives.

Methods
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and auditory and cognitive tasks.

Project status 
Ongoing

Researchers
Susan Rossell
Neil Thomas
Wei Lin Toh
Rachel Mitchell (Durham University)
Henry Jackson
Chris Groot

 

5. Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT)

Aim
Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT) is designed to improve cognitive abilities such as attention, working memory, cognitive flexibility and planning, as well as executive functioning, with the eventual goal of improved social functioning, especially for individuals with a severe mental illness.

Participants
Individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder

Methods
Cognitive training using software, such as COGPACK

Project status
Ongoing

Researchers
Susan Rossell
Stuart Lee
Natalia Contreras
Shayden Bryce
Maree Reser

 

Too stressed to think clearly?