A Community of Heart Profile: David Servan-Schreiber (2)



On July 24, 2011, our friend and colleague, David Servan-Schreiber died at 50 years of age. He was a leader in our field. He brought his special talents to the understanding of healing and went beyond the usual Western medical framework in which he was educated. His interest in alternative ways of healing began after he was on a mission for Doctors Without Borders in Tibet and learned about meditation, acupuncture and nutrition and deepened after an early occurrence of brain cancer at the age of 31. He pursued and wrote about treatments that supported healing of the whole person and in so doing revolutionized the thinking of the French-speaking world. This celebration of David's life is an updated version of an article that I wrote for this newsletter in 2003 and includes the many contributions he has done since that time and the reminiscences of some of the many colleagues who loved and respected him. There is a man who is taking the French-speaking world by storm and his name is David Servan- Schreiber. He has written a bestselling book called "Guerir: le stress, l'anxiete et la depression sans medicaments ni psychanalyse" (The English title will be: "The Instinct to Heal: Curing stress, anxiety and depression"). However, we know David as a valued member of our international EMDR community. David first learned about EMDR during a lecture by Francine Shapiro. He became curious about EMDR and went on to take an EMDR Institute basic training in January 1998. During the training, he saw Robert Tinker's "The Mary Tape" about a woman dealing with issues of death and dying and was touched by it. Although skeptical if EMDR could really work, he went back to his office and used EMDR right away. He said the following: "It worked from the first day and I was hooked. That's the story! I think that it happens to everybody. It is surprising to see something work so well. After years of doing therapy, I never experienced somebody leaving my office and not feeling like the same person. People would feel better but that was nothing like what I saw with EMDR. Also, what happens with it made me feel less helpless and I felt more effective." David's first encounter with wanting to help others was when he was 2 years old. He was playing with his friends at a playground in Neuilly, a suburb of Paris, and there was another 2 year old there with thick glasses. David remembers that he wanted to help him. In fact, he says that the feeling of wanting to help others when they are in misery has been a feeling that has never left him. At first, he thought that he would follow in the footsteps of his great grandfather who was one of the first surgeons in France. He began his medical training at the Faculty of Medicine, Necker-Enfants Malades at the University of Paris. However, every summer during college, his other interests, computers and film, brought him to a university in North America to learn about these areas of interest. During that time, he learned how Americans were taught medicine and decided to transfer to The School of Medicine at Laval University in Quebec. While doing a clinical rotation at Stanford in conjunction with Laval U, he fell in love with Psychiatry. David said: "What could be better than to listen to people telling the story of their lives? It was like going to the movies!" Furthermore, he said that there was an aspect of EMDR that was similar to surgery: "You are working with one lesion at a time and you are cleaning it out with EMDR like you would a lesion." After medical school, he decided to do a bidisciplinary internship in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry at the Royal Victoria Hospital at McGill University. The following year he completed a Fellowship in the field of Artificial Intelligence in Medicine at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. He thought that his career would be about "information and how to improve medicine by how people make decisions and he would capture it in computer expert systems". Several years later he completed his Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience at the School of Computer Science at the same University. It was an exciting time where David had the opportunity to combine his love of Psychiatry, Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience. He was part of the group that developed a way to model neural networks on computers so that it would be possible to understand how thoughts and emotions arose from interactions between neurons and then gave rise to behavior. He worked under the Nobel Prize Scientist, Dr. Herbert Simon, and Dr. Jay McClelland. His thesis was a great success and was published in Science, August 1990 under the title "A network model of catecholamine effects: Gain, signal-to-noise ratio and behavior." In 1991, David began working with Doctors Without Borders in Iraqi Kurdistan after the first Persian Gulf War, as well as in Tajikistan, India and Kosovo. David provided medical and psychiatric support in these areas. Also, he was a Founding Board member of the United States branch of Doctors Without Borders. This international group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. David started an NIH lab for clinical applications of Cognitive Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that he co-directed for 8 years. During this time, he finished his Residency in Psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh. Throughout his research career, David published more than 90 papers in diverse areas of knowledge such as engineering; artificial intelligence and medical management; a system for sexually dysfunctional couples; computerized psychotherapy; language learning; schizophrenia; human brain mapping; fear conditioning; neuroleptic effects on learned behaviors; Anxiety Disorders; Dopamine and the mechanisms of cognition; computational modeling of emotion; etc. He won many awards in recognition of his research skills. The problem was that the more successful he became in research the less clinical work that he did. When he understood that his career would continue to move in this direction, he reflected on what was happening and decided that because teaching residents about Clinical Psychiatry was the best part of his work, it was time to make a change. He said that this was very hard to do and that it was the first time that anyone sent money back to NIH! David joined the Shadyside Hospital Staff and became the Chief of Psychiatry. He was appointed the Director of Psychiatric Services for the new Center for Complementary Medicine and later became its Medical Director. While he worked with people with medical conditions, he began to understand the importance of the mind-body connection. As he began to use this principle to organize his thinking about human behavior, he had more powerful results with his patients. The Center for Complementary Medicine was one of the very first university-affiliated units involved in the use of complementary-based medicine. In the new millennium, David became an EMDRIA Instructor and taught EMDR at the University of Pittsburgh and McGill University. A year later, he became an EMDR Institute Trainer and offered the first EMDR trainings taught in French. By 2003, David had trained 250-300 therapists in France and was in the process of creating a group of French-speaking Facilitators and Supervisors to support the growing number of clinicians in the French-speaking world. He was asked to take part in a Cognitive Therapy course at the University of Lyon where he was training medical students, psychiatrists, and therapists. Also, he helped to develop a university degree in Clinical Traumatology as part of a 2-year program at the University of Paris V; the basic training there included EMDR. In September, 2001, David wanted to assimilate all that he was learning and took a sabbatical to integrate his thinking, returning home to Paris, where he had grown up. Through his book "Guerir" (www. guerir.org), he pulled all of this information together into a coherent body of work. "Guerir" was published in March 2003 and changed the way the French-speaking people conceptualized healing. David has used studies published in some of the most prestigious scientific journals such as "General Psychiatry", "Lancet," and the "Journal of New England" to give support to the importance of natural treatment methods for stress, anxiety and depression. His thesis was that these natural methods all tap into the body and the emotional brain to help bring it into balance and that the emotional brain was more connected to the body and its experiences than it was to language and reason. David is a firm believer in the benefit of pets when it comes to stress and anxiety. He has a cat and enjoys cooking and playing cards with his friends on Sunday night as a way to deal with his own stress. To the EMDR community David wants to say: "I think that EMDR is at the forefront of this movement. This realization is going on worldwide. The new medicine of the 21st century will capitalize on the powerful healing connection between the mind and body. They should continue to do what they are doing because they are pioneers." Over the next 8 years, David wrote two more books. "Anticancer: A New Way of Life (2007)," has been translated into 36 languages, and looked at the benefits of a healthy diet and balanced lifestyle, including nutrition, exercise, emotional well-being and environmental awareness to prevent and battle cancer. In 2010, he found out that he had another brain tumor ??? he called it "The Big One"??? and he wrote his third book, "Not the Last Goodbye: On life, death, healing, & Cancer," with Ursula Gauthier, a journalist. In this book, David has shared this final passage of his life. He deals with the complex questions of life and death and shares his own experience to assist us in addressing our joys and fears about our own journey of life. All of David's endeavors show his dedication to science and his need to go beyond existing dogma to look for a new a profound understanding of human nature, but, also, the rare capacity to truly listen, understand and through his compassion to assist us in uncovering a healthier way of being. David has often been at the forefront of controversial issues. He is one of the scientists who spoke out on the potential dangers of cell phones and the importance of vitamin D. David was an Adjunct Professor in the Section of Integrative Medicine, Department of General Oncology, at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and a member of the Board of the Society for Integrative Oncology. Through "Anticancer," the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found a way to advance the goals of the Integrative Medicine Program run by Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D. They have been interested in supporting "the development and testing of a novel, comprehensive integrative oncology intervention." The model David outlined in "Anticancer" was the type of standardized integrative oncology program for which they were looking and now has evolved into a $5 million research program supported by the Servan-Schreiber/Cohen Anticancer Fund (for more information http://www.mdanderson.org/how-you-can-help/make-a-donation/theservan-schreiber/cohen-anticancer-fund.html). As a result of David's emphasis on research, a major part of the EMDR French Institute's mission is to support research. Annually, the Institute prepares a summary of the latest EMDR research, translates articles into French and encourages research during their trainings. Since 2002, David has been responsible for the EMDR French Institute's EMDR training curriculum. Since he started training in French, more than 1700 French-speaking mental health practitioners have been trained. EMDR Basic trainings are currently taking place at the University of Lyon and at the University of Metz. David has been a recipient of many awards throughout the course of his career. As a student, he received the following awards: Award of Best Paper, Joint National Congress of the American Association for Medical Systems and Informatics (1984); Individual Fellowship Award, National Institute of Mental Health (1988); Laur??at de la Facult?? de M??decine de Paris (1989); Outstanding Resident in Psychiatry Award, National Institute of Mental Health (1991); Laughlin Fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists (1992); Fellow of the Summer Institute of the McDonnell-Pew Foundation for Cognitive Neuroscience (1993); and the Young Investigator Award, National Association for Research in Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders Research Scientist Career Development Award, National Institute of Mental Health (1994). As his career continued, he was given these awards: Mead Johnson Award, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (1995); UPMC Shadyside Hospital Recognition Award (2000); Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society Presidential Award for Outsanding Career in Psychiatry (2002); William Cooper award - Hillman Cancer Center, University of Pittsburgh (2005); and the Board of the Prince Louis de Polignac Foundation Award (2009). David is survived by his wife (Gwena??lle Briseul), his 3 children (Hugo, Charlie, and Ana), his three brothers and his mother.


“A Community of Heart Profile: David Servan-Schreiber (2),” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 15, 2024, https://francineshapirolibrary.omeka.net/items/show/7684.

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