Karestan Koenen

Karestan Koenen, Ph.D.

Karestan Koenen

Karestan Chase Koenen is an institute member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH). At the Broad, she leads the Biology of Trauma Initiative and the Global Neuropsychiatric Genomics Initiative of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. The Biology of Trauma Initiative was launched in 2022 and seeks to discover the biological underpinnings of trauma in both the brain and other organ systems. The Global Neuropsychiatric Genomics Initiative was launched in 2014 and seeks to diversify genetic sample collection outside of the United States and Northern Europe to include Asian, Latin American, and African populations, as well as important population isolates such as that in Finland. Koenen leads the Neuropsychiatric Genetics of African Populations (NeuroGAP) and Neuropsychiatric Genetics in Mexican Populations (NeuroMex) programs, which aim to conduct collaborative neuropsychiatric genetics research and capacity building in historically underrepresented populations in Africa and Mexico.

At HSPH, Koenen does research and teaches about trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her work on PTSD focuses on three areas. First, she studies why some people develop PTSD and related mental and physical health problems and why some people are resilient when exposed to similar traumatic events.. Koenen co-leads the PTSD working group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which aims to identify genetic variants that increase risk and resilience following trauma exposure. Second, she investigates how violence, trauma, and PTSD alter long-term physical health and accelerate aging. Much of this work is done in collaboration with the Nurses’ Health Study. Third, she aims to expand access to evidence-based mental health treatment for survivors of violence and trauma. To this end, she co-wrote the book, Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse and Interpersonal Trauma, Second Edition: STAIR Narrative Therapy with Marylene Cloitre and Lisa Cohen. Koenen leads the NIMH-funded Training Program in Psychiatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Interdisciplinary Concentration in Population Mental Health at HSPH.

Koenen advocates for survivors of violence and trauma. In May 2011, Koenen testified before the House Foreign Affairs Full Committee 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, which investigates how rape and other forms of sexualized violence are used as tools in conflict. Koenen also consulted on the documentary, It Happened Here, which examined the epidemic of sexual assault on university campuses. In addition, Koenen speaks to lay audiences about the latest scientific findings around violence and trauma.

Koenen received her B.A. from Wellesley College, her M.A. in developmental psychology from Columbia University, and her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Boston University.

March 2023