Helena Hansen earned an MD and a PhD in cultural anthropology as part of Yale University’s NIH funded Medical Scientist Training Program. She is the author of Addicted to Christ: Remaking Men in Puerto Rican Pentecostal Ministries, an in-depth analysis of Pentecostal ministries in Puerto Rico that were founded and run by self-identified “ex-addicts.” Hansen is a joint-appointed assistant professor of anthropology and psychiatry at New York University, and a research psychiatrist at the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Nathan Kline Institute.
During graduate school, she completed fieldwork in Havana on Cuban AIDS policy, in urban Connecticut on harm reduction and needle exchange, and in Puerto Rico on faith healing in evangelical Christian addiction ministries founded and run by self-identified ex-addicts. Her work has been published in both clinical and social science journals ranging from the Journal of the American Medical Association and Health Affairs to Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, and Medical Anthropology. After graduate school, she completed a clinical residency in psychiatry at NYU Medical Center/Bellevue Hospital, during which she also undertook an ethnographic study of the introduction of new addiction pharmaceuticals. She examined the social and political implications of clinicians’ efforts to establish addiction as a biomedical, rather than moral or social condition, as well as the ways that neurochemical treatments may be reinscribing hierarchies of ethnicity and race.
As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation fellow, she began work on a feature length visual documentary based on this work, “Managing the Fix,” on race, class, and addiction pharmaceuticals. The film follows three people in New York City as they go on and off of opioid medications (methadone and Suboxone) and navigate the fragmented public addiction treatment system, raising questions about the ontological and pragmatic implications of treating opiate addiction with long term opioid maintenance. Hansen is also leading a national movement for training of clinical practitioners to address social determinants of health, which she and co-leader RWJ Clinical Scholar Jonathan Metzl call “Structural Competency.” She is the recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Investigator Award, Kaiser Permanente Burche Minority Leadership Award, a NIDA K01 Award, a Mellon Sawyer Seminar grant, and the American Association of Directors of Psychiatry Residency Training Model Curriculum Award.