David Cohen

David Cohen, PhD is Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. In his work he studies the social and cultural effects of prescribed psychoactive drugs as they are constructed through language, attitudes, and social interactions. Public and private institutions in Canada, France, and the U.S. have funded him to conduct clinical-neuropsychological studies, qualitative investigations, and epidemiological surveys of patients, professionals, and the general population. He is also interested in international comparative research on mental health trends and efforts to implement non-coercive mental health practices.

He has developed a critique of bio-psychiatric views of distress and misbehavior as illnesses, and conventional views of the safety and efficacy of medications. He contributed to rethinking conventional models of drug action and to using subjective reports of medication effects to develop testable models of drug action. He has developed person-centered methods to withdraw from psychiatric drugs and given workshops to professionals on this topic around the world.

To educate child welfare professionals, he designed and launched the free CriticalThinkRx web-based Critical Curriculum on Psychotropic Medication in 2009, which has been taken by thousands of social workers, psychologists, and lawyers. Tested in a 16-month longitudinal controlled study in two Florida counties, CriticalThinkRx was shown to reduce psychiatric prescribing to children in foster care.

He has authored or co-authored over 100 book chapters and articles (some published in leading journals such as Social WorkSocial Service ReviewResearch on Social Work PracticeBritish Medical JournalHealthPLoS Medicine and PLoS One). His books include Challenging the Therapeutic State (1990), Médicalisation et contrôle social (with L. Bouchard, 1994), Guide critique des médicaments de l’âme (with S. Cohen, 1995), Your Drug May be Your Problem (with P. Breggin, 1999/2007), Critical New Perspectives on ADHD (with G. Lloyd and J. Stead, 2006), and Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (with S. Kirk and T. Gomory, 2013).

David Cohen graduated from McGill University, Carleton University, and the University of California at Berkeley. He has practiced clinical social work on and off since the mid-1970s. He was Professor at Université de Montréal and Florida International University before joining UCLA in 2013. In Montreal, he directed the Health & Prevention Social Research Group, and at FIU, he served as Director of the PhD Program and Interim Director of the School of Social Work. FIU named him a “Top Scholar” in 2012 for outstanding accomplishments in research and scholarship. In 2012, as the recipient of the Distinguished Fulbright-Tocqueville Chair to France, he lectured widely on psychoactive medications and sociocultural change.

He received the Eliott Freidson Award for Outstanding Publication in Medical Sociology, the Times Educational Supplement Prize for Best Academic Book, and awards for research, teaching, mentoring, and advocacy. His views have been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Times, the Toronto Globe & Mail, and other popular media, and debated on NPR’s Science Friday.

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