In his work David 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 (1990), Médicalisation et contrôle social (1994), Guide critique des médicaments de l’âme (1995), Your Drug May be Your Problem (1999/2007), Critical New Perspectives on ADHD (2006), and Mad Science (2013).
David Cohen was a professor at Université de Montréal and Florida International University before joining UCLA in 2013. 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.