Dr. Bruce J. Rounsaville ’70, a pioneer in the field of psychiatry, whose groundbreaking work at the Yale School of Medicine revolutionized nationwide approaches to addiction and depression therapy, died Jan. 9. He was 61.
Although the cause of Rounsaville’s death remains unknown, he died while swimming at Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
During his time on the Yale faculty, Rounsaville, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone, authored over 350 papers and chapters as well as six books. His large body of work garnered him several important distinctions during his career from both Yale as well as the psychiatric community at large.
But friends and colleagues said what they best remember about Rounsaville was his compassionate spirit, sense of humor, and willingness to help all those around him.
“He was a very generous person with his expertise, his time, his willingness to read anyone’s grant applications that asked him,” Stephanie O’Malley, a fellow substance abuse researcher at Yale, said. “He was really amazing at knowing where the important issues were that really needed to be addressed.”
Rounsaville was a Yalie through and through — from his graduation from Yale College in 1970 to his 34-year tenure on the Yale School of Medicine faculty. Although he attended medical school at the University of Maryland, he returned to New Haven in 1973 to complete his residency and a fellowship in epidemiology and psychiatry.
Following the completion of his residency and fellowship at Yale School of Medicine, Rounsaville joined forces with two other Yale-based researchers, Dr. Myrna Weissman and Dr. Gerald Klerman, with whom he began to explore novel ways of treating depression that the current chair of Yale’ psychiatry department John Krystal described as “groundbreaking.”
With Weissman and Klerman, Rounsaville endeavored to reconcile psychotherapy treatments with medication-based procedures for depression. At the time, the two schools of treatment operated in isolation, and the researchers’ work to integrate them had a lasting effect on depression care.
“This idea of integrating psychotherapy and medical treatment is now mainstream,” Krystal said. “And this was right at the beginning of his career.”
Rounsaville later turned his attention to what became his primary research field — addiction and substance abuse. Continuing his previous work combining medical and psychotherapeutic treatments, Rounsaville successfully applied these ideas to addiction treatment.
In 1978, Rounsaville worked with Dr. Herbert Kleber to direct research in the Yale psychiatry department’s Division of Substance Abuse Research. Colleagues said that their program — now considered one of the top substance abuse research programs around the world — was largely fueled by Rounsaville’s dedication and sophistication in his efforts.
But for all of his many accomplishments during his career, it is Rousaville’s kindness that will be remembered.
“Over the course of nearly four decades, he was exceptionally well regarded as a colleague and mentor. His passing is a tremendous loss to his colleagues, friends, and family,” School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said in an email to the medical school community.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Golden Center, 268 Park St.