Karestan Koenen, PhD, is a Professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard-Chan) and leads the Global Neuropsychiatric Genomics Initiative of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Broad Institute. The broad goal of this initiative is to advance the genetic analysis of serious mental illness while contributing to global mental health equity by expanding the infrastructure and research findings from large-scale psychiatric genetic epidemiology to Africa and Mexico.
At Harvard-Chan Koenen does research and teaches about trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her work on PTSD focuses on three areas. First, she studies why, when exposed to a similar traumatic event, some persons develop PTSD while others are resilient. She is particularly interested in how genes shape risk for PTSD. Much of this work is done through the PTSD working group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium that she co-leads with Kerry Ressler and Israel Liberzon. Second, she investigates how trauma and PTSD influence weight gain and alter long-term physical health. Third, she documents global burden of trauma and PTSD through her work with the World Mental Health Surveys. Koenen also co-leads the training program in psychiatric epidemiology and biostatistics. Koenen’s work also uses research findings to advocate for evidence-based prevention of PTSD and response to trauma survivors, particularly victims of sexual violence.
In May 2011, Dr. Koenen testified before the House Foreign Affairs Full Committee hearing “Peace Corps at 50,” about the epidemic of sexual violence and victim blaming culture of the Peace Corps. She has written for the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and the Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege Project, a journalism project founded by Gloria Steinem that investigates how rape and other forms of sexualized violence are used as tools in conflict.
Dr. Koenen co-chairs the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC).