Ami Sha'ked takes long road to UW-Madison, remarkable career as pioneer in field of sexology

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Alumni Profile

Sha’ked takes long road to UW–Madison,
remarkable career as pioneer in field of sexology

Looking back at the life and career of alumnus Ami Sha’ked, it’s difficult to discern what’s more remarkable — the set of circumstances that led him to UW–Madison some four decades ago, or the pioneering career he has enjoyed in the field of sexology since returning to Israel in 1978.

Sha’ked was born in Tripoli, Libya, where his father was a rabbi and his mother taught Hebrew literature and biblical studies. At the age of 3, his family immigrated to Israel.

Years later, Sha’ked was critically injured in the Six-Day War in June 1967. But during his recovery, his experience with rehabilitation work and how effective it could be had a great impact on his academic pursuits.

Sha’ked went on to study psychology at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. During this time, he would sell flowers on Fridays from a stand that he placed on campus nicknamed, “Psycho-Flower.” Not only was the money good, explains Sha’ked, but one of his regular customers was Professor Ken Reagles, then the director of UW–Madison’s Regional Rehabilitation Research Institute who was on sabbatical at Bar-Ilan.

Ami Sha'ked“He got me very excited and interested in pursuing my doctorate studies with UW–Madison’s rehabilitation psychology program,” says Sha’ked.

So Sha’ked traveled to the United States and went on to earn a Ph.D. in rehabilitation psychology from UW–Madison in 1974. Sha’ked explains it was an awkward experience he had with one of his first clients in his beginning practicum that ultimately pushed him toward the career he enjoys today.

“This person complained about some sexual problems he had and I was so embarrassed for not being able to address these issues that, with the support of my clinical supervisor, I decided to expand my knowledge and clinical expertise in sexology, with emphasis on sexuality in disabling conditions,” says Sha’ked. “The rest is history.”

Among his stops, Sha’ked participated in a training program at the Masters and Johnson Institute in St. Louis, Missouri, and he helped edit the groundbreaking book, “Human Sexuality in Rehabilitation Medicine.” In 1978, he founded and edited “Sexuality and Disability,” a journal devoted to the psychological and medical aspects of sexuality in rehabilitation settings. The Journal is still published today by Springer.

After spending seven years in the United States, Sha’ked decided it was time to return home. So with “lots of Israeli chutzpah,” Sha’ked explains how he wrote a proposal that ultimately became the Institute for Couple and Sex Therapy at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. He founded this first-of-its-kind center in Israel, giving special attention to people with disabling conditions, and over the next two decades served thousands of couples and trained people in the helping professions.

He later co-founded the Center for Marriage and Family Studies in Jerusalem, where he has served as academic director since the center’s founding in 2000. This is in addition to his position as Chairperson of the Psychology Program at the College for Academic Studies in Tel-Aviv.

Most recently, Sha’ked reports he has bolstered his research activity and academic publishing, with several studies on loneliness in close relationships.

In 2015, he co-authored a book with Ami Rokach titled, “Addressing loneliness: Coping, prevention and clinical interventions.”

“Studying at UW prepared me to become an academic,” says Sha’ked. “Aside from the general curriculum, we doctoral students had to teach supervised graduate-level courses, do independent research and get thorough experience in supervising clinical practice of master’s level rehabilitation psychology students. This is what I’ve been doing ever since, so certainly UW–Madison shaped my long career.”