Helena Hershel (1974)

Psychotherapist and Professor, Center for Psychological Studies, Berkeley

Since my first reading of Freud at age eleven something inside of me said that I was destined to be a psychotherapist. But psychology alone was not enough - so where could one study race, alienation or phenomenology, not to speak of psychoanalytic theory? Sociology at Berkeley permitted all these fields to be subsumed under the title "the sociology of..." and the Department became a good home to me.

Grad school at Berkeley was a time of high excitement. Some of us thought we could affect the world by understanding grand theory and ideas and passion became inextricably bound. My dissertation led me to worked with patients at mental institutions in France and in the Bay Area to gather research on cross-cultural contrasts between French and American psychiatric wards and their treatment of patients. Postdoctoral fellowships at the Schools of Medicine in Hawaii and at UCSF in medical anthropology continued to widen my interests in ethnopsychiatry.

A professorship at an Ivy League college (Dartmouth) offered me a position that held promise for a few years. However, living in an isolated New England town was culturally challenging for my family and me. Moreover, I missed the immediacy of working with people not just from the head but also from the heart. So, I returned to the Bay Area, got additional clinical training and licensing and put out a shingle as a psychotherapist in Oakland.

I have had the good fortune to have a full and rewarding practice. My work incorporates a cross-cultural sensitivity with insights gained as a student of human nature across many disciplines. I also teach and mentor graduate students in clinical and cross-cultural psychology. When I have a sociological imagination, it finds expression in my writings on internalized oppression, biracial identity formation, and developmental issues.

Dissertation Title: 
The Internal Timebomb: An Interactonal Study of Emotion, Communication, and Ideology in Mental Illness