Dr. Judith Lewis Herman: Psychiatrist and a Social Activist
Posted on June 2nd, 2014

The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.” ”• Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery

Dr. Judith Lewis Herman is a pioneer in the study of post-traumatic stress disorder and the sexual abuse of women and children. Herman’s best-known contribution to the field is her development of the diagnosis of Complex PTSD. Herman found that victims of prolonged or multiple traumas frequently developed symptoms that were markedly different from those associated with traditional PTSD. The development of Complex PTSD commonly results from a feeling of captivity or powerlessness that lasts for an extended period of time rather than just for the duration of one traumatic event. Her theories have changed the way experts think about and treat traumatic events and trauma victims.

Judith Lewis Herman was born in 1942 in New York City. She attended Radcliffe College as an undergraduate, and she received her MD from Harvard University in 1968. She completed her residency in psychiatry at the Boston University Medical Center. She has been a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University since 1981, and she has worked as psychiatric director at the Women’s Mental Health Collective in Somerville Massachusetts since 1973.  Herman has spent the majority of her career addressing issues arising from posttraumatic stress and in particular, incest.

She is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of Training at the Victims of Violence Program at The Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge, MA. Dr. Herman received her medical degree at Harvard Medical School and her training in general and community psychiatry at Boston University Medical Center. She is the author of two award-winning books: Father-Daughter Incest (Harvard University Press, 1981), and Trauma and Recovery (Basic Books, 1992), and co-author of The Trauma Recovery Group: A Guide for Practitioners (Guilford 2011).   She has lectured and written widely on the subject of sexual and domestic violence.   She is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Awards from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (1996) and the Trauma Psychology division of the American Psychological Association (2011). In 2007 she was named a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Herman is seen as an expert in the treatment of trauma and is an advocate for victims of traumatic crimes. Herman uses her experience and education to enlighten professional and legal communities and the public to the sensitivity of victims after traumatic events. She has educated family members, counselors, therapists, and other educators on how to interpret the hesitation, denial, and fear expressed by survivors of incest and other abuses. This information has helped clinicians better understand a survivor’s perspective and has paved the way for more empathic communication between professionals and survivors of trauma.

Conversations with History: Judith Herman

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