We are Tampere Brain & Mind – Professor in Child Psychiatry Kaija Puura

We are Tampere Brain & Mind – Professor in Child Psychiatry Kaija Puura

Kaija Puura works as the Chief Physician at Tampere University Hospital and leads the Child Psychiatry-research group at Tampere University. The group is part of a larger Tampere Center for Child, Adolescent, and Maternal Health Research-unit. In addition, she is the Executive Director of the World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) and is also a member of the executive committee at the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions (IACAPAP). She is also the founding member of the Finnish Association for Infant Mental Health (Pirpana ry).

At the start of her career, Kaija was acquainted with child psychiatry through her supervisor, Professor Tuula Tamminen. The first projects were looking at childrens’ mental health problems through epidemiological methodologies. One of the projects focused on comparing childrens’ own reports on their mental health to their parents’. The results from this study were quite significant, as they revealed how unaware parents were of their children’s mental health – even suicidal tendencies had gone unnoticed in some cases.

Kaija was also invited to participate in a European multi-centre study, which aimed to prevent childhood mental health problems, as well as enable and find ways for their early prevention. This successful project led to additional training of nurses at the maternity clinics, with a focus on interaction and an emphasis on eg. monitoring the children’s eye contact. This was a significant new set of instructions, because eye contact can be used as an indicator of social withdrawal of a child caused by parental depression, or child’s neuropsychiatric developmental disorders.

There has also been numerous other studies in collaboration with maternity clinics in Tampere, eg. focusing on early-stage detection of infant’s distress, child-parent interaction studies, as well as the positive impact of shared moments of joy (between child and a parent) to the child’s mental health state at a later stage of development. Kaija’s doctoral student, child- and adolescent psychiatrist Anuscha Lachman from Stellenbosch University, recently finished her PhD thesis, where she showed how the shared moments of joy during infancy are associated with better social and cognitive development of the child in later years.


Multidisciplinary research collaboration

In the last few years, there has been a huge increase in patients at child and adolescent psychiatry. Researchers and clinics in Tampere are trying to find solutions, and new ways to treat the young ones at this challenging situation. As an example, Tampere University Hospital has built a new sensory room, as well as obtained a VR-system, and a 360°-video system to be used in therapy. The new 360°-video room can for example be used to simulate cafeterias or other anxiety causing environments, thereby creating safe exposure situations for children with anxiety, and also use them to teach essential every-day skills to children and teenagers.

The focus of Kaija’s research has shifted from the initial epidemiological studies to the direction of the role of autonomic nervous system in treating disorders such as anxiety. Kaija is especially interested in intervention studies, non-medical treatment, as well as easy-to-use applications for use in basic health care. For example, breathing and relaxation training, as well as using deep-breathing rhythm in treating children with anxiety, has proven to be a very effective method. These are currently being studied in situations such as children needing injections. Such research projects are possible due to close collaboration between child- and adolescent psychiatry and paediatry, especially with Riittakerttu Kaltiala and Sauli Palmu.

Kaija also collaborates with professor Markku Turunen, whose work focuses on interactive technologies. One example is Digital Stories-pilot, which was used at early learning centers to study if the stories increase interaction and conversations about emotions between the children and the carers. The latest collaborative project focuses on social robotics, and it is currently ongoing at a few early learning centres in Tampere.


From research to practice

To summarise, the Child Psychiatry-group collaborates widely with numerous universities and research groups. The focus is on preventive interventions in early childhood education, digitalisation of the services, developing the combined use of VR and deep-breathing techniques in treatment of anxiety in children. Additionally, development of exposure techniques, which can be used to exercise certain skills the children are lacking. These studies aim to produce new, better ways to support both the children and their families.

Kaija is also on the lookout for new collaboration. Firstly, neuroscientists, who would be interested in looking at the physiological changes associated with the treatments and applications Kaija and her collaborators have developed. The question is if there are better measures than just looking at heart rate variation. Secondly, Kaija would be happy to talk to any early childhood educators who would be interested in the applications developed with Kaija and her collaborators. More testing and developing is always welcome!


Kaija also has other projects, alongside her clinical work and interesting research projects. She is currently working on a podcast series, which will answer some very important questions related to parenthood! Keep your eyes and ears open, we will tell more about this closer to the release date!


For more information, please visit:
Research Profile, Kaija Puura
Child Psychiatry-research group
Tampere Center for Child, Adolescent and Maternal Health Research
Tampere Center for Child, Adolescent and Maternal Health Research
The European Early Promotion Project: A new primary health care service to promote children’s mental health
World Association for Infant Mental Health
International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions
Pirpana ry