Towards a specialism in affective neuroscience

The first course on Anxiety started in 1989 as an incentive of the Erasmus Programme of the European Union. Over the years, the programme has evolved into a complete postgraduate curriculum that covers the science behind anxiety, depression and emotions.

In the late eighties, at the initiative of the laboratory for Experimental Psychiatry at
Maastricht University, a postgraduate, advanced, research oriented teaching programme in the field of Anxiety Disorders was launched. This has since developed in close collaboration with the Psychiatric Department of the University of Florence (joined the project in 1992) and the Psychopharmacology Unit of the University of Bristol (joined in 1995). The joint venture now provides postdoctoral research training based in a series of annual intensive, one-week residential, “Gordon-style” courses, bringing together junior attendees and leading scientists in an informal atmosphere.

Twenty-nine selected students from seven different European Union member states attended the very first session in April 1989. With a fast and steady increase of applications each year, the Board of Directors decided in 1995 to establish the programme as a regular trans-European activity. Following suggestions by many participants, the scope of the conferences was broadened to the field of affective (mood) disorders. The training scheme required successful completion of at least one course on anxiety and one on mood pathology. At the same time, distance consultation by email, telephone or correspondence with faculty members was introduced to further support the attendees in their day-to-day clinical research activities. 
To preserve the much-appreciated small scale of the conferences, a fixed number of 60 attendees per course was set. Following a process of continuous, in-depth development, the project evolved as a two-year training scheme towards a postgraduate Master degree (MSc) in Affective Neuroscience, jointly awarded by the Universities of Maastricht and Florence.

Since its inception, the programme has been aimed at residents in psychiatry, neurology and related specialties, as well young graduates in psychology and behavioural or biomedical health sciences. The focus is on a research-oriented approach of affective pathology, including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders, suicidal and addictive conducts. The programme is at the interface between mental (dys)functions as expressed in clinical pathology and the broad field of basic and applied neurosciences. Since the programme primarily aims at filling the gap between practice and research, the conceptors put it deliberately at the interface between applied neurosciences and clinical pathology. 

At present, the programme evolved as two/four year scheme. Globally, the curriculum comprises four parts: residential courses and seminars, mentored research, a Masters’ dissertation and a personal portfolio to faculty’s standards. 
The entire programme largely relies on individual tailored training.

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