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Since its inception, NYSPI has been at the forefront of psychiatry, making major contributions to the clinical care and understanding of the mentally ill. Among these accomplishments are: the discovery of the spirochaetal origin of general paresis, the earliest use of lithium in the United States, the first data describing a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, leadership in the discovery of the genes causing Huntington's and Wilson's disease, and the development of DSM-III, DSM III-R and DSM-IV. Through the years, distinguished figures in American psychiatry have served as directors of the Psychiatric Institute, including Drs. Ira Van Gieson, Adolph Meyer, August Hoch, Lawrence Kolb, Edward Sachar and Herbert Pardes. It is now led by a noted academic psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman. The Institute is the flagship for the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, for which it is the primary location of research and educational activities.
The Volunteer Services program within the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry is located at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Because NYSPI’s primary mission is psychiatric research, most volunteers are assigned to assist the Institute’s researchers. Tasks range from clerical and administrative responsibilities, including data management, to human research subject contact, observing testing and interviews.