MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

A Rising Star in Humanistic Psychology: Sarah Kamens’ role in DSM-5 reform

Sarah R. Kamens, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Fordham University and Student Representative to the Division 32 Executive Committee, is featured

By David N. Elkins and Fredrick J. Wertz

Sarah R. KamensSarah R. Kamens, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Fordham University and Student Representative to the Division 32 Executive Committee, is one of our "rising stars" in humanistic psychology.

When I formed the Division 32 Committee on the DSM-5 in August, 2011, I appointed Sarah, along with Brent Robbins, to serve on the committee because I knew she had studied the DSM-5 development and was highly knowledgeable about the problems with the proposed manual.  It quickly became obvious that Sarah not only had detailed, in-depth knowledge about the problems with the proposed DSM-5 but that she was also an excellent writer who was able to describe those problems in scholarly and convincing language. Although Brent Robbins and I have many years of experience and consider ourselves good writers, we stepped aside to let Sarah craft the "Open Letter to the DSM-5 Task Force and the American Psychiatric Association." To date, the Open Letter , which called for changes to the proposed DSM-5 and was posted on a petition website, has been signed by more than 8800 mental health professionals and 30 psychology organizations. Sarah also drafted other documents related to the DSM-5 effort. She has been, and remains, invaluable to our committee. In late November, 2011, she decided to leave the committee per se and to move to a consultancy position in which she will continue to work on an "as needed" basis with the committee to bring about changes in the DSM-5. Sarah will join other scholars at the 2012 Annual Conference of the Society for Humanistic Psychology (March 29-April 1, 2012) and also at the APA Convention in Orlando (August, 2012), to present papers in two similar symposia titled "The DSM-5 Controversy:  Division 32 President Symposium."

Prior to her current doctoral work, Sarah studied media theory at the European Graduate School (EGS) in Switzerland, where her professors included Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Slavoj Žižek, and Alain Badiou. Her MA thesis at EGS, published by Atropos Press, examined the intersections between traumatology and the “linguistic turn” in critical theory. Sarah also spent time in the Middle East, where she worked in film production and conducted psychosocial research. She was the associate producer on a fiction film set in a historical Israeli mental institution built atop a Palestinian village, and she produced a documentary about the nonviolent resistance movement for the liberation of Jammu-Kashmir. In the Middle East, she conducted research on psychosocial interventions for parents and their children with the Psychosocial Department of the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS). With PRCS, she designed a study of the psychosocial correlates of political violence in children’s drawings. She also conducted an interview study of Palestinian psychologists that addressed unique aspects of their experiences, such as their reflections on living under the same violent circumstances as their clients and their views of Western mental health professionals. Sarah continues to collaborate on research with her Palestinian colleagues, with whom she recently published a follow-up study of a school-based psychosocial intervention for at-risk adolescents in Peace and Conflict.

At Fordham University, Sarah studies phenomenology and qualitative research methods under Dr. Frederick Wertz. Each semester, she works as a graduate teaching assistant/lab instructor for undergraduate psychology courses. In her MA thesis research, Sarah investigated psychiatrists’ discourse about the DSM-5 controversies. She analyzed written texts by psychiatrists as well as interviews that she conducted with Robert Spitzer, MD (Chair of the DSM-III Task Force) and Michael First, MD (Director of the DSM-5 Prelude Project), using an innovative integration of phenomenological-existential and discourse analytic methods. An early article that she wrote on controversial issues for the upcoming DSM-5 appeared in the Society for Humanistic Psychology Newsletter, and a more recent piece on the DSM-5 proposals for paraphilias and gender-related diagnoses was published in The Humanistic Psychologist. She is currently preparing a dissertation proposal for a cross-cultural, phenomenological study of schizophrenia based in New York and Jerusalem.

In her clinical work, Sarah is interested in urban community mental health, interdisciplinary approaches to psychosis, and the psychological effects of environmental stressors such as homelessness and political violence. She recently completed a year-long clinical externship at Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, and she is currently an extern at the Addiction Institute of New York, St. Luke’s / Roosevelt Hospital. In the future, she hopes to continue teaching and conducting research in the areas of psychiatric theory, cross-cultural phenomenology, and methodological issues in the development of clinical nomenclatures.

Sarah is already a brilliant scholar, deeply committed to the humanistic vision. I have no doubt that Sarah will be a major leader of the next generation of humanistic psychologists and that she will make substantive contributions to the humanistic movement.

Please join me in congratulating Sarah on her outstanding contributions to Division 32 and as the first person to be selected for " SHP Member Spotlight."