State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Faculty Profile: Allen Zweben

Allen Zweben is currently doing landmark research on integrating behavioral and pharmacological treatment for alcohol problems. His specific focus has been on exploring the biological and psychosocial pathways that can produce lasting change for individuals with alcohol problems. Zweben has derived important insights on the kinds of behavioral strategies that might be employed along with effective medications to sustain the benefits from the medications. His work has been devoted to examining issues related to behavioral treatment within a context of conducting a pharmacological trial, an area that has received little attention until now.

Allen Zweben is also the associate dean for Research and Academic Affairs in the School of Social Work. In this capacity, he enjoys significant involvement with students and faculty across disciplines, and has long experience facilitating collaborations across the university and between the university and community agencies. He joined the Earth Institute faculty on a nomination from Dean Takamura of the School of Social Work in response to the need to facilitate a greater dialogue between School of Social Work researchers doing work in developing areas of the world and Earth Institute researchers. Although the relationship is relatively new, cross-institutional conversations on the researcher level are beginning.

Zweben’s own academic work has relied on motivational interviewing, a technique which he thinks has great potential for effectively teaching crop control, water purification and other sustainability techniques that some Earth Institute projects involve.

“You need to get people to buy-in in order to sustain the use of these techniques. Motivational interviewing has been shown to be very effective in these situations by inspiring the recipients of this field training to express their culturally-based concerns and to work out ways for them to adapt the techniques so that they make sense within their own cultural framework. Motivational interviewing has been used in a similar way by our own faculty doing work in Central Asia with populations with HIV and could be incorporated into some of the projects run by the Earth Institute.”

Zweben has played a major role in the planning and development of the Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) manual, a widely-used approach in the addictions, health and mental health fields. Based on principles of motivational psychology, it was developed specifically to guide the treatment of drug abusers, and incorporates procedures from motivational interviewing.

Zweben received his B.A. from Hunter College, his M.S.W. from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and a doctorate from the Columbia University School of Social Work. He was formerly the director of the Center for Addiction and Behavioral Health Research (CABHR) and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has been a principal investigator for numerous federally and privately funded behavioral and medication trials including two landmark studies: Project MATCH, an NIAAA-funded patient-treatment matching study, and the COMBINE study, an NIAAA-funded project examining the efficacy of combining pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy interventions for alcohol problems. He also served as member of the NIAAA’s research-in-residence program (RiR). Zweben is co-author of a forthcoming textbook titled “Addiction Counseling: A Guide for Professionals” to be published in 2011.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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