Psychologist Joiner is 2010 Lawton Distinguished Professor

Professor of Psychology Thomas Joiner
Professor of Psychology Thomas Joiner

A psychology professor who is perhaps the nation’s leading expert on the causes and prevention of suicide and who has been ranked as the second most productive academic clinical psychologist in the world is set to receive The Florida State University’s highest faculty honor.

Thomas E. Joiner, 44, Florida State’s Bright-Burton Professor of Psychology and a Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology, now adds the title of 2010-2011 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

“It is hard to exaggerate the reverence with which I have always held the Lawton professorship, and I know that this sentiment is widely shared across the campus and beyond,” Joiner said. “Now that I have it myself, my feelings about it have grown of course and are hard to summarize succinctly, but suffice it to say that I will devote myself to living up to it.”

Joiner researches the interpersonal, cognitive and neurobiological causes, correlates and consequences of depression and related disorders such as anxiety or bulimia nervosa. In addition, he researches the nature and treatment of suicidal behavior.

In fact, Joiner’s critically acclaimed book, “Why People Die By Suicide” (Harvard University Press, 2005), has been hailed by author Pauline Boss (“Ambiguous Loss”) as providing the deepest understanding of suicide that has yet been written, and was chosen by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as one of 12 “nonfiction books that mattered” in 2006. What’s more, University of Pennsylvania psychiatry Professor Aaron T. Beck called it an “elegant description” of what professionals, families and friends can do to prevent the crisis that suicide creates for everyone involved.

Joiner has written or edited 14 other books and has written 346 peer-reviewed papers that were published in scientific journals.

Still squarely in the prime of his career, Joiner already has accumulated a “Mt. Everest of acclaim,” according to colleague Jon Maner, director of Florida State’s social psychology program. Joiner has received both the David Shakow Early Career Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution (1997) and the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution (2000) from the American Psychological Association. In 2003, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and, in 2006, he won a Bellagio Residential Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Joseph Travis, dean of Florida State’s College of Arts and Sciences, called Joiner the strongest candidate he has ever known for the Lawton Professorship.

“Thomas has changed how both academic and practicing clinical psychologists think about suicide and suicidal inclinations,” Travis said. “To change how one’s colleagues think about a subject is the ultimate accolade for a scholar. His research trajectory shows an evolutionary pathway that characterizes the very best scholars.

“He has been not only an extraordinary scholar, but at the same time, an accomplished teacher and mentor,” Travis said. “His students and protégés occupy highly desirable positions in their own right and he has shared the authorship and credit for some of his best work with his students. This generosity of spirit — not to mention the time and effort it requires to guide so many students and teach so many classes — embodies everything I have ever heard about the generosity that characterized Bob Lawton himself.”

Joiner earned his doctorate from the University of Texas-Austin in 1993.

The Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor award is the highest honor that Florida State University faculty can bestow on a colleague. It is named in honor of the late Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert O. Lawton. A longtime and highly esteemed member of the Florida State faculty, he died in 1980. For more information on Lawton and a list of previous recipients of the award that bears his name, visit