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Riess, Helen

Dr. Helen Riess is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.  She conducts translational research utilizing the neuroscience of emotions in educational curricula to improve empathy and relational skills in physicians and other health care providers. In 2010 Dr. Riess was a topic leader and consultant on the Coalition for Physician Communication that led a Quality Improvement initiative to enhance communication in 1500 physicians at MGH.

Committed to medical education, Dr. Riess has taught in the Psychiatry Residency Program at MGH since completing her own residency and research fellowship at MGH. She completed a Rabkin Medical Education Fellowship at Harvard Medical School. She was also a Harvard Macy Scholar at the Harvard Macy Institute for Educators in the Health Professions in 2009. There, she designed a research protocol to test her Empathy Training Program (ETP). She conducted a randomized, controlled trial of ETP at MGH and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in 2010, which demonstrated significant improvement in patient perception of physician empathy. In 2011 she was a scholar at the Harvard Macy Program for Leading Innovation in Healthcare. Her approach is being used at the individual and organizational level to improve interpersonal communication in healthcare.  .

Dr. Riess has received research funding from the Risk Management Foundation, the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation for Medical Education, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, the David Judah Fund and the Office for Patient Safety at MGH. Dr. Riess is an adult psychiatrist who specializes in psychotherapy and psychopharmacology for mood and anxiety disorders.

Dr. Riess has taught psychotherapy to residents since completing her own residency at MGH.  In her role as Director of Education for Psychotherapy Supervision, she designed several curricula, including her book on eating disorders and courses on psychotherapy supervision.

Dr. Riess has written numerous journal articles on risk management, the use of psychophysiology in psychotherapy research, and the necessity for empathy in patient-doctor relations, including the Journal of the American Medical Association.  She presents her research at national and international conferences.


Marci CD, Riess H. The clinical relevance of psychophysiology: Support for the psychobiology of empathy and psychodynamic process. American Journal of Psychotherapy 2005; 59: 213-226.

Riess H, Marci CD. The Neurobiology and Physiology of the Patient –Doctor Relationship: Measuring Empathy.  Medical Encounter 2007; 21(3):38-41.

Riess H, Herman, JB. Teaching the teachers: A model course for psychotherapy upervisors. Academic Psychiatry 2008; 32:259-264.

Kelley JM, Lembo AJ, Ablon JS, Villanueva JJ, Conboy LA, Levy R, Marci CD, Kerr CE, Kirsch I, Jacobson EE, Riess H,  Kaptchuk TJ. Patient and practitioner influences on the placebo effect in irritable bowel syndrome. Psychosomatic Medicine 2009;71: 789-804.

Riess H.  Risk Management for the Supervising Psychiatrist. Psychiatric Times 2009; 26(9):38-45.

Riess H, Kelley JM, Bailey RW, Konowitz P, Gray ST. Improving Empathy and Relational Skills in Otolaryngology Residents: A Pilot Study. Otolaryngology –Head & Neck Surgery, 2011; 144 (1) 120 -122.

Riess H. Empathy in Medicine: A neurobiological Perspective. JAMA 2010; 304(14) 1604-1605.

Riess H. Biomarkers in the psychotherapy relationship: The role of physiology, neurobiology, and biological correlates of E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 2011; 19:1-13.


Harvard Medical School

Since the school was established in 1782, faculty members have improved human health by innovating in their roles as physicians, mentors and scholars. They’ve piloted educational models, developed new curricula to address emerging needs in health care, and produced thousands of leaders...

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