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Gatchel retires from UTA following pioneering career in health psychology

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Robert Gatchel, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, spent 21 years at UTA as part of a 47-year career in which he heavily influenced the fields of health psychology, ways to address chronic illness, and pain management

A highly respected professor and researcher in health psychology is retiring following a long and distinguished career, much of it spent at The University of Texas at Arlington.

Robert J. Gatchel, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, retired on September 1 following 21 years at UTA and a 47-year career in academia and research.

“It has been a very interesting and enjoyable career,” Gatchel said. “I feel proud of the clinical legacy which I developed in research and mentoring, as well as the large number of graduate students that received advanced degrees under my mentorship. I have great memories of a number of collaborators throughout the University that I had the pleasure of working with. Many of them have become lifelong friends.”

His research focused on three major areas: 1) translating clinical research findings to “real world” situations and environments; 2) the application of the biopsychosocial approach to the etiology, assessment, treatment and prevention of chronic pain; and 3) conducting treatment-outcomes research in order to advance the field of evidence-based medicine.

College of Science Dean Morteza Khaledi lauded Gatchel’s contributions to the field of health psychology.

“Dr. Gatchel is recognized as a pioneer in health psychology and the study of chronic pain, and his contributions to the field are significant,” Khaledi said. “I want to thank him for his decades of leadership and service. He has made a major mark at UTA and elsewhere and we will miss him.”

Gatchel first came to UTA in 1973, after completing his doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 1978, he was recruited to join the medical psychology faculty at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, where he took a major leadership role in the relatively new field of health psychology. Along with Jerome Singer, Andy Baum, and David Krantz, he developed the first doctoral training program in health psychology and behavioral medicine.

He and Baum co-authored the first health psychology textbook, An Introduction to Health Psychology, which helped to introduce the subject as a major discipline in psychology and medicine by addressing important biomedical issues for the first time in an integrated manner.

In 1981 he returned to Texas as a member of the psychology faculty at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he served as program director of the Eugene McDermott Center for Pain Management, among other roles.

Gatchel was an early advocate of the biopsychosocial model of chronic illness and disability, which is now viewed as the most practical approach to the etiology, assessment, treatment and prevention of chronic illnesses such as chronic musculoskeletal pain and disability. His extensive biomedical research, using the biopsychosocial model as the major perspective in the evaluation and intervention of chronic illnesses has helped make the model widely recognized and embraced throughout the fields of psychology and medicine.

Paul Paulus, UTA Distinguished Professor of Psychology and dean of the College of Science from 2004-2009, first met Gatchel when they were starting out as junior faculty in the early 1970s.

“We worked together on a number of research projects, but my strongest memories of Bob in those early days relate to playing tennis with him,” Paulus said. “He was very competitive and his competitiveness was also characteristic of his career. Like his approach to tennis, he was motivated to achieve a high level of excellence and enjoyed considerable success in his academic career.”

When Paulus became dean in 2004, he successfully recruited Gatchel to return to UTA as professor and chair of the Department of Psychology.

“He became an important part of a great team of chairs, was able to make some significant faculty hires, and continued his productive research career,” Paulus said. “He has had a stellar career, with many awards, mentoring many Ph.D. students, receiving continuous funding for his research for many years, and a phenomenal level of scholarly productivity. He is certainly one of the most accomplished research faculty in the history of this university.”

Gatchel was instrumental in the creation of Metroplex Day, an annual program which brought together faculty and students from UTA, UT Southwestern and UT Dallas for a day of collaboration and fellowship. The event, which rotated between the three campuses, included colloquia, guest speakers, and student poster presentations.

He served as department chair until 2013, when he stepped down to lead the newly created Center of Excellence for the Study of Health and Chronic Illnesses. Gatchel was founder and director of the Center, which was designed as a place to coordinate and stimulate biobehavioral and medical research.

Gatchel received a B.A. in Psychology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1969. He went on to the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he earned an M.S. in Clinical Psychology in 1971 and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1973.

His research has been continuously supported by millions of dollars in grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, and other sources. Gatchel authored or edited 31 books, 160 book chapters, and 455 peer-reviewed articles, and has more than 30,000 citations for his scholarly work. He was the major mentor of 77 Ph.D. students and 51 master’s level students.

Among the numerous awards he has received are the 2017 Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Application of Psychology from the American Psychological Foundation (APA); the 2017 Goldstein Lecture Award from the UNT Health Science Center’s Osteopathic Research Center; the 2011 Distinguished Career Contributions to Health Psychology Award (Division 38 of the American Psychological Association); the 2011 UTA Graduate Dean’s Excellence in Doctoral Mentoring Award; and the 2011 Texas Psychological Association's Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award.

Other awards include the 2009 Health Care Heroes Award from the Fort Worth Business Press/Health Point; induction into the UTA Academy of Distinguished Scholars in 2008; the 2008 Pain Management Center of Excellence Award from the APA; the 2007 Wilbert E. Fordyce Clinical Investigator Award from the American Pain Society; the 2006 John Liebeskind Pain Management Research Award from the American Academy for Pain Management; the 2004 Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Applied Research from the APA; and the 2003 Award for Outstanding Contributions to Science from the Texas Psychological Association.