David Cohen is the Professor and Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare at the University of California at Los Angeles. In his work Dr. Cohen seeks to understand prescribed psychoactive drugs and their effects as social and cultural phenomena "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, as well as efforts to implement non-coercive mental health practices.
He has developed a critique of bio-psychiatric (1) views of distress and misbehavior as illnesses, and (2) views of psychoactive medications as conventional medicines. He has contributed to describing “lay expertise” about medications and to using subjective reports of medication effects to develop testable models of psychoactive drug action. In his clinical work with clients for over two decades, 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 Work, Social Service Review, Research on Social Practice, British Medical Journal, Health, PLoS Medicine and PLoS One). His co-authored and edited books include Challenging the Therapeutic State: Critical Perspectives on Psychiatry and the Mental Health System (1990), Médicalisation et contrôle social (1994), Guide critique des médicaments de l’âme (1995), Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications (with Peter R. Breggin, M.D.; 1999/2007), Critical New Perspectives on ADHD (2006), and Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (with S. Kirk and T. Gomory, 2013). His research experience spans large-scale surveys and meta-analyses to in-depth qualitative inquiries, with more than 20 externally-funded projects as principal or co-principal investigator.
Currently, International Journal of Critical Inquiry. He serves on the editorial boards of The Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry as well as The Journal of Critical Psychology, Counseling, and Psychotherapy, and he is Consulting Editor for Social Work. Dr. Cohen consults regularly on psychiatric drug issues with individuals, families, and organizations. He has presented to numerous academic, professional, and other groups, and has consulted with foreign governments on regulation of psychotropic drugs to children.
Prior to joining UCLA in 2013, Professor Cohen was a professor at Université de Montréal and Florida International University. 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 School of Social Work. In 2012, as recipient of the 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.