In Our Care

Elaine Carmen (Hilberman)

Psychiatrist, Educator, and Social Justice Advocate

"Carmen" –as she was widely known- born in the Bronx, NY on March 26, 1939, died in Cambridge, MA on May 29, 2020 from complications of dementia/stroke. Conditions that slowly eroded a sense of agency in this strong, vibrant, courageous trailblazer. She was the spirited daughter of immigrant parents from Poland and Estonia and was proud of both her heritage and growing up in the Bronx. She is survived by her noted and beloved tap dancer son Josh Hilberman, his gentle pianist wife Stephanie Detry, and her cherished grandson, Felix. They reside in Liege, Belgium. She also leaves numerous cousins and many dear friends, especially her best friend and colleague, Patricia Rieker. Carmen was loved by her colleagues and friends for her individuality, outrageous sense of humor, singular ability to be at once fierce and gentle, and her extraordinary kindness in the most unexpected ways.

Carmen graduated from the prestigious Bronx School of Math and Science in 1955, attended City College of New York, where she was elected into Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1959. When she graduated from New York University Medical School in 1964 she was one of only a handful of women graduates. That experience taught her about the dynamics and mental health effects of gender bias and other forms of discrimination, processes she emphasized throughout her long, distinguished career. During her first academic/clinical appointment in 1972 as a Psychiatry Instructor at the University of North Carolina (UNC), School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, she began working in the community with vulnerable and marginalized populations whose mental illness had yet to be recognized or who had little access to mental health services. Carmen's lifelong specialty became Community Psychiatry and Public Mental Health. She initially focused her research and practice on women's mental health and strongly urged her colleagues to consider the patient's social context in the development and treatment of psychological disorders. In 1984 she became a full Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UNC and over time helped to educate, supervise and mentor countless cohorts of medical students and young psychiatrists.

Her prescient concerns about women's hidden trauma led her in the 1970's to organize and staff the first hospital emergency room rape crisis center in NC which soon became a model for emergency rape crisis treatment. In 1976 she published the path breaking book, The Rape Victim (NY: Basic Books), a guide for clinicians treating patients who experienced traumatic events, such as rape.

Throughout the 1980's and 1990's Carmen published widely in the American Journal of Psychiatry and other mental health journals and called attention to the impact of traumatic experiences on mental health. Thirty-six years ago Carmen and her colleagues published groundbreaking research in the Am J Psychiatry that documented the role of sexual abuse in the development of psychological disorders in both women and men, well before the extent of such violence was widely recognized. That same year (1984) she co-published with Patricia Rieker the first edited volume on gender and mental health titled: The Gender Gap in Psychotherapy: Social Realities and Psychological Processes.

As an activist member of the American Psychiatric Association she helped organize and was a member of the first Task Force on Women from 1973-75 and the first Chair of the Committee on Women from 1978-80. In recognition of her advocacy and scholarly work she was invited in 1978 to serve on President Jimmy Carter's Presidential Commission on Mental Health as a member of the Subpanel on the Mental Health of Women. That same year she became a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and was inducted as a Distinguished Life Fellow in 2004.

Carmen moved to Cambridge, MA in 1987 to become Assistant Medical Director of the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center (SCFMHC) and Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School. She was promoted at SCFMHC to Director of Psychiatry and Medical Services in 1990 and Associate Superintendent three years later. She left that position in 1995 to become Medical Director of the Brockton Multi-Service Center where she worked until she retired in 2012. Carmen was honored that same year by The American Association of Community Psychiatrists with their McNeil Award for Excellence in Community Psychiatry for her pioneering work in that field.

Carmen's activism, scholarly work, and clinical practice has had a lasting impact on the treatment of mental illness in women and men and the training of Psychiatrists. It began in 1976 with her influential editorial in the Am J of Psychiatry titled "Rape: the ultimate violation of the self" and continued throughout the next four decades with a steady stream of research articles in prominent journals on the extent of traumatic events in the lives of patients. This included rethinking the use of restraint and seclusion in mental hospitals, especially with vulnerable patients who had histories of abuse. That work ultimately led to changes in thinking, practice and new regulations about the use of seclusion and restraint. Testimonials and letters of appreciation and digital communications from patients, students, trainees and colleagues alike, reflect her remarkable influence.

Carmen was a lifelong lover of opera, ballet, jazz, Cape Cod, the Beatles, and Manhattans, but during her 20 years in NC she became a devoted fan of the Red Clay Ramblers, Krispy Kreme donuts, Mexican beer, tap dancing, and also gained fame for her seal imitations. Admittedly, Carmen was not a gifted cook, but it should not be overlooked that she made the most exquisite baked chocolate Soufflé in the universe.
A celebration of her life and legacy will be held when it becomes safe to do so. Donations in her name may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union or the charity of your choice. Please see the DeVito Funeral Homes page for online condolences and updates.