Patient Perspective

Karestan C. Koenen, PhD

“I became fascinated by the idea of being able to study a mental disorder that arises out of a terrible life experience in an empirical and objective way.”

As a 23-year-old Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, Karestan Koenen had her sights set on a career in international development. But after being raped while she was there, her career path took an unexpected turn. Karestan pursued cognitive behavioral therapy and learned breathing techniques that helped her regain the sense of control over her body that the sexual assault had compromised.

A new career path opened up to her when her therapist suggested she take some courses in psychology. Karestan earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and did clinical training at the women’s division of the VA hospital in Boston. She now heads the Global PTSD Genetics Initiative at the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, the largest comprehensive search for DNA variants associated with PTSD risk. The program, which involves more than 50 research centers worldwide, is supported by Cohen Veterans Bioscience.

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