Specialty Expertise and Pioneering Behavioral Health Programs for Children and Adolescents at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital

December 4, 2021

Child and adolescent behavioral health care is a complex, multidimensional, and multidisciplinary field requiring integrative models of care, services, and support for the individual patient within the context of dynamic familial and societal concerns.

To achieve optimal patient and family outcomes of care for child and adolescent behavioral health patients, two world-class hospitals — UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh — work in concert to provide innovative behavioral health programs and services across the entire continuum of care – inpatient and outpatient – on a population-health basis. 

Few institutions in the United States have the comprehensive care capabilities of an internationally recognized children's hospital with dedicated behavioral health programs for children and adolescents, combined with a distinguished academic research, training, and clinical hub for psychiatric services.

Several innovative and unique specialty clinics, centers, and programs operate across UPMC Western to support the behavioral health needs of not only local children and adolescents, but also in national and international forums. Western’s geographical access is enhanced through its UPMC Western Behavioral Health network.

Western’s child and adolescent expertise is organized under three primary program areas: trauma and child development; mood disorder programs, including services for depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders; and the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders (CADD). 

Annually, approximately 20,000 unique patients are cared for across these hospital-based outpatient programs. Each of these areas has a legacy of research and program design throughout a continuum of care. 

Mood and Anxiety Disorders

A variety of individual and group therapy programs are provided for all levels of care intensity, including individual care, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and other group and outpatient programs. Some programs are particularly unique and condition focused, led by internationally respected experts with decades of experience in the development and testing of evidence-based assessments and interventions.

STAR-Center

One far-reaching program of Western is the Services for Teens at Risk – STAR-Center, which has the singular mission to combat child and adolescent suicide. The STAR-Center was co-developed and is led by David A. Brent, MD, distinguished professor of psychiatry with an endowed chair in suicide studies. Dr. Brent is one of the world’s foremost researchers and clinicians in studying, preventing, and treating child and adolescent depression and suicidal behavior. The STAR-Center provides rapid access to a spectrum of services, from outpatient assessment and treatment to acute intensive outpatient programs for children and adolescents who are depressed or anxious and acutely suicidal. The STAR-Center’s college and university program, CO-STAR, also offers services for undergraduate students ages 18 to 24.

The STAR-Center is a major training site for physicians and other mental health clinicians in the management of youth depression, anxiety, and suicidal risk.

CABS Program

Child and Adolescent Bipolar Spectrum Services (CABS) is a premier clinic at Western that provides evaluation and treatment for youth with various bipolar disorders. The CABS Program routinely attracts patients and families worldwide for its specialized care of early-onset bipolar disorder. Boris Birmaher, MD, distinguished professor of psychiatry and endowed chair in early onset bipolar disease, leads the clinical programs and research at Western in studying the complex paradigm of child and adolescent bipolar disorders. CABS also offers inpatient services through in-CABS, led by Rasim S. Diler, MD. In-CABS has received several awards for innovation and treatment of youth with bipolar disorder.

The STAR-Center and the CABS Program, in addition to a wealth of other programs and faculty dedicated to treating and researching mood disorders in children and adults, have shaped the field of behavioral health regionally and internationally, providing much-needed services to youth and families in western Pennsylvania. 

Child Development and Trauma

Matilda Theiss Center for Trauma and Early Childhood Behavioral Health

The Matilda H. Theiss Child Development Center, under the leadership of Paula M. Powe, MD, associate professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, provides high-quality behavioral health services for young children who have experienced trauma and/or are in need of mental health care.

Matilda Theiss offers a spectrum of behavioral health services for children from infancy to 17 years. Matilda Theiss offers a therapeutic nursery and preschool for children who are at risk for behavioral and emotional issues due to multiple factors, including parental substance use and mental illness. Frequently, Matilda Theiss is a last stop for kids who have been expelled from preschool and are in need of extra support.

Matilda Theiss provides a comprehensive, coordinated program of services, including outpatient care featuring dyadic treatments such as: parent-child interaction therapy, child-parent psychotherapy, child centered play therapy, integrative treatment for complex trauma, trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), intensive outpatient programs, mobile therapy, and home visits.

Matilda Theiss is also embedded in four elementary/middle schools. Children can visit the Children Overcoming Obstacles and Limits (COOL) Zone Igloo for help processing their strong emotions and to learn coping skills.

Autism and Developmental Disabilities

The Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities

The Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD) is led by a multidisciplinary group of child and adolescent behavioral health experts from Western. CADD is a comprehensive network of services within Western, ranging from acute inpatient care to outpatient care. CADD provides clinical services, training and education, and clinical research for children, adolescents, and adults. The program’s mission is to advance care models and integrated programming to provide innovative, evidence-based assessment and care to individuals with autism spectrum disorder and/or developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families.

The CADD program at Western is one of 20 sites in the Autism Care Network (ACNet), a multicenter collaborative network of treatment and research institutions working to improve care and quality of life for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

One of the CADD program's current initiatives is to provide enhanced training for emergency department staff at UPMC Children's to enable more informed and sensitive handling of children with autism spectrum disorder who need emergency care for an injury or illness.

Other Child and Adolescent Capabilities at Western

Emergency Services

Western offers the only psychiatric-specific emergency service in the Pittsburgh region with 24/7 access to a psychiatrist and multidisciplinary team for comprehensive diagnostic assessment. The hospital’s psychiatry emergency service was renovated to provide a separate area for children and adolescents. It is closely coordinated with regional crisis services, which Western manages across a number of counties.  

Substance Use and Addiction Services

Western operates a full continuum of ambulatory addiction services. In addition to its community network, the hospital offers school-based assessment and treatment for various conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal thoughts or actions, and trauma-based care. Services can be provided independently or in conjunction with school health nurse programs from Children’s.

Contact Information and Referrals

Inquiries and referrals for UPMC Western Behavioral Health Child Services should be directed to 412-235-5444. 

Emergency Referrals

In the event of a psychiatric emergency, please direct all calls and referrals to UPMC Western Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) at 412-624-1000.