Michael Wessells, PhD

  • Professor of Clinical, Population and Family Health
Profile Headshot


Michael Wessells, PhD, is Professor at Columbia University in the Program on Forced Migration and Health. A long time psychosocial and child protection practitioner, he is former Co-Chair of the IASC Task Force on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. Formerly, he was co-focal point on mental health and psychosocial support for the revision of the Sphere humanitarian standards. He has conducted extensive research on the holistic impacts of war and political violence on children, and he is author of Child soldiers: From violence to protection (Harvard University Press, 2006). Currently, he is lead researcher on inter-agency, multi-country action research on strengthening community-based child protection mechanisms by enabling effective linkages with national child protection systems. He regularly advises UN agencies, governments, and donors on issues of child protection and psychosocial support, including in communities and schools. Throughout Africa and Asia he helps to develop community-based, culturally grounded programs that assist people affected by armed conflict and natural disasters.

Academic Appointments

  • Professor of Clinical, Population and Family Health

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • BA, 1970 Roanoke College
  • MA, 1973 University of Massachusetts
  • PhD, 1974 University of Massachusetts

Committees, Societies, Councils

Co-Chair, IASC Task Force on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, 2005-2007

President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, 1994-1996

President, Division of Peace Psychology, American Psychological Association, 1991-1992

Editorial Boards

Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology

Child Abuse & Neglect


Honors & Awards

International Humanitarian Award 2009, American Psychological Association

Ralph K. White Lifetime Achievement Award, 2008, from the Society for the Study of Peace,

Marion Langer Award on Human Rights and Social Action, 2005, American Orthopsychiatric Association

Morton Deutsch Social Justice Award for Distinguished Contributions to Social Justice, 2016

Outstanding International Psychologist Award 2012 from the American Psychological Association Division of International Psychology


Research Interests

  • Community Health
  • Substance Use

Selected Publications

Wessells, M. Do No Harm: Toward contextually appropriate psychosocial support in international emergencies. American Psychologist 64 842-854 2009

Wessells, M. Child soliders: From violence to prevention Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA, U. S. 2006

Global Health Activities

Interagency Action Research on Strengthening Community-Based Child Protection Mechanisms, Kenya, Sierra Leone: This interagency research in Sierra Leone and Kenya is part of a bottom-up approach to developing effective national child protection systems and strengthening the evidence base regarding which child protection mechanisms improve children's lives. It includes ethnographic study of current child protection mechanisms at community level, definition of population based outcomes for gauging the effectiveness of national child protection systems, and action research that enables local communities to develop and take steps to strengthen community-based child protection mechanisms by linking effectively with national child protection systems.