In her latest book, The Empathy Effect, Helen Riess, the associate clinical professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, shares her years of scientific investigation into how empathy develops and works throughout the stages of our lives and interconnects us all. It also gives tools for how we cannot only improve our own lives but those around us, even the experience of patients.
Growing up in an immigrant family (her parents immigrated from Austria and the end of WWII), Riess was very aware of two things: 1) “The challenges that are presented when starting a new life in a new country, and 2) the incredible resilience that’s possible when people feel they are part of a community,” Riess says. In the beginning of her book, she states that while she was growing up, there was plenty of light, but with it, was always a darkness that draped around the windows because of what her parents had been through. It really made me curious about how to connect with people who have endured a lot of suffering and hardship,” she says. “And it instilled within me both a strong sense of social justice and of how people need to treat each other humanely. It’s this desire to help people who’ve been through difficult times heal that led to me to become a psychiatrist,” she recalls.