cropped-EackStaff-11-2016web1.jpgWelcome to The ASCEND Program Website!

We are glad you are here and we welcome you to explore our site . Should you have any questions please feel free to email or call us by using the information on the Contact Us Page. We thank you for your time and interest in our Therapy Based Research Studies.

The ASCEND Program is dedicated to advancing science on the treatment of neurodevelopmental conditions.

A neurodevelopmental condition is a disorder that begins in childhood or adolescence and affects how the brain grows and responds to the world.  Common examples include autism spectrum disorders, which begin in early childhood, and schizophrenia, which begins in adolescence.

We are currently enrolling participants for several studies that provide research-based psychosocial treatments for individuals with different neurodevelopmental conditions.  These studies include:

  • ESSENCE Program – This study aims to develop new psychosocial treatments for young adults in the early course of schizophrenia and examine their impact on the brain
  • Perspectives Program – This study aims to develop the first evidence-based psychosocial treatments for verbal adults with autism spectrum disorder

The ASCEND Program is directed by Dr. Shaun M. Eack, David E. Epperson Associate Professor of Social Work, Psychiatry, and Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh and is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, Autism Speaks, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.


David E. Epperson Professor Shaun Eack’s work on adapting an existing therapy for adults with schizophrenia to help those with autism is featured in the newest issue of Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-social-ties-between-autism-and-schizophrenia/

Recent Posts


Help for young adults in the early course of schizophrenia

New evidence suggests that early psychological treatment after a person has first become ill with a psychotic episode, may reduce the level of impairment. The ESSENCE Program aims to study how best to help adults in the early course of schizophrenia using psychosocial treatment.

The ESSENCE Program is a treatment study for people diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective or schizophreniform disorder.  Participants will be treated for up to 18 months with either Cognitive Enhancement Therapy or Enriched Supportive Therapy, both of which have been shown to help people with schizophrenia.

In addition to receiving these research interventions, participants may also be asked to complete interviews, computer testing, and neuroimaging assessments. Participants will be compensated for completing these activities, and will not be billed for treatment provided by the program.

What is Cognitive Enhancement Therapy?

This research treatment aims to help with problems in thinking, planning, and
socialization. Participants begin with cognitive training using computer software
programs. They also participate in a small social-cognitive group to learn about their condition and how to act wisely in social situations by developing the abilities needed to understand another person’s perspective, evaluate social contexts, and be foresightful.

Time commitment: about 3 1/2 hours per week

What is Enriched Supportive Therapy?

This research treatment uses individual supportive therapy to help adults learn about their condition, manage their emotions and stress, improve their social skills, and cope with everyday problems. Participants will learn about the impact of stress on their lives, and how to identify their own early cues of distress and apply effective coping strategies to manage their illness.

Time commitment: about 1 hour per week

Who is Eligible to Participate?
Individuals with the following characteristics are eligible for the ESSENCE program:

  • Age 18-65
  • Diagnosis of schizophrenia, schizoaffective, or schizophreniform disorder within the past 8 years
  • Taking prescribed antipsychotic medication
  • No diagnosis or history of seizures, head trauma or mental retardation
  • No drug or alcohol abuse in the last 3 months
  • Ability to speak and read English

Is There a Charge to Participate?

There is no charge for any of the research procedures, including Cognitive
Enhancement Therapy and Enriched Supportive Therapy appointments. Financial
reimbursement for travel to the clinic is available, and participants could receive up to $975 for completing the study.

How to Contact Us

The referring clinician (or interested patient and family) can contact us by calling intake staff at 412-586-9000 or 412-246-5957. Please leave a message with your name and contact information if you receive an answering machine. The ESSENCE Program is located at Webster Hall, 4415 Fifth Avenue, Suite 142M in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Parking is available at Webster Hall (use the Bellefield Avenue entrance).


Support for the ESSENCE Program is provided by the National Institute of Mental Health.

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