Book Review: The Empathy Effect: 7 NEUROSCIENCE-BASED KEYS for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, and CONNECT Across Differences

Empathy Effect

Authors: Helen Rises, MD and, Liz Neporent

Foreword by Alan Alda

Publisher: Sounds True Publishing

Genres: Self-Help: Emotions & Interpersonal Relations, Mental Health: Emotions

Page Count: 240 pages (Available in Hardback and Kindle)

ISBN-10: 1683640284

ISBN-13: 978-1683640288 

Publication Date: November 27, 2018

Pre-order Now From Amazon, Sounds True, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, or your favorite bookstore.

My Rating: 5 Stars

About the Authors: (From Publishers Page)

HELEN RIESS, MD, is the associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, HuffPost, JAMA, and more. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts. For more, visit 

Social Media Sites: Empathetics Website, Helen Riess MD Twitter, Empathetics Facebook, Empathetics YouTubeThe power of empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury

LIZ NEPORENT is an award-winning health and medical journalist and is currently a managing editor at Medscape/WebMD. She lives in New York City and upstate New York. For more, visit

Social Media Sites: LiZ Neporent Website, Liz Neporent Twitter, Liz Neporent Facebook

Description of The Empathy Effect from the Publisher: 

“Empathy is undergoing a new evolution. In a global and interconnected culture, we can no longer afford to identify only with people who seem to be a part of our “tribe.” As Dr. Helen Riess of Harvard Medical School has learned, our capacity for empathy is not just an innate trait—it is also a skill that we can learn and expand. With The Empathy Effect, the leading researcher presents a groundbreaking teaching book to help us learn essential skills for transforming the way we relate to others in any situation.

“Nourishing empathy lets us help not just ourselves,” says Dr. Riess, “but also everyone we interact with, whether for a moment or a lifetime.” Drawing from her empathy training curricula now used internationally in health care, business, and education, she takes us step by step through her EMPATHY program. Here you’ll learn to enhance empathic behavior in yourself and others; recognize and reverse dehumanization and scapegoating tactics; practice empathy at work, home, and in everyday settings; discover ways to build empathy in groups and leadership positions; and much more.”

My Review:

When I started reading The Empathy Effect, it did not take long for me to realize I was gulping every word like someone who was on the verge of starvation. My first thought was “I don’t want to write a book review, I want to have a conversation with Dr. Riess and Liz Neporent.” Having Alan Alda in the conversation would have been nice, but that would have been risky, mainly if I found myself starstruck and distracted from the conversation I wanted to have. However, it’s significantly critical that this book review is made public.

Please don’t ask me who Alan Alda is. “If you do not know who Alan Alda is, ask Siri, Google, ask your parents or your grandparents. I highlighted this for a reason, but I will come back to this later.

I had four books to review and I purposely elected to read The Empathy Effect last as I assumed since a scientist wrote the book, I was going to have to feed my brain well before taking this book on. I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life. Initially, Dr. Riess talks about applying the 7 Neuroscience-Based Keys to the doctor and patient relationship, or encounter. But as I often do, I got ahead of myself in my head and found myself thinking out loud, “These 7 Neuroscience-Based Keys can be applied to all human interactions in life, not solely to the doctor-patient connections,” but remember, I was gulping the book and getting ahead of myself.

Let me stop long enough to tell you that it’s important to understand there is a difference between sympathy and empathy and it’s significant, which you will understand more clearly when you read this extraordinary must-read book, The Empathy Effect. Often, sympathy and empathy get mistakenly used interchangeably; however, as I have already proffered, there is a significant difference in sympathy and empathy. You can go to your dictionary, or keep reading and I will tell you the difference according to Dr. Riess, who is the subject matter expert.

Sympathy is feeling bad for others or taking pity on others and doesn’t imply the fully shared sense of feeling with someone’s plight. Empathy is best understood as a human capacity consiting of several different facets that work together to enable us to be moved by the plight and emotions of others. I prefer to use the term “empathic capacity” rather than “empathy” becasue this conveys that empathy is made up of many different psychological and phyiological facets.” – Helen Riess, MD

The snapshot of the differences between sympathy and empathy are covered more thoroughly by Dr. Riess in The Empathy Effect. Because I pointed out the difference between sympathy and empathy, please don’t think that The Empathy Effect speaks solely to sympathy and empathy. Consider the full title of the book, The Empathy Effect: 7 NEUROSCIENCE BASED-KEYS for transforming the Way We LIVE, LOVE, WORK, and CONNECT Across Differences. Nowhere in the title do you see the word sympathy, but it is a distinction that must be pointed out, and Dr. Riess makes the time to do so.

The acronym for E. M. P. A. T. H. Y. is as follows: E = Eye Contact, M = Muscle Facial Expression, P = Posture, A = Affect, T = Tone of Voice, H = Hearing (the whole person), and Y = Your Response. Dr. Risess goes through each NEUROSCIENCE BASED_KEYS one by one in The Empathy Effect which you will come to learn more about as you read this book which is signicant to our relational lives with others. Knowing these 7 NEUROSCIENCE BASED-BASED KEYS will make all the difference in your life, as well as the lives of those you interact with. I cannot state strongly enough the affect this book will have on everyone that reads the book. Have you taken a break and pre-ordered your copy yet? Those who read my book reviews know that I do not write for the author, I write for my readers and I am telling everyone of you that The Empathy Effect had a profound affect on me, and could have a profound affect on our country as well.

As I continued reading, I asked myself, “Where has this book been for the last twenty or thirty years?” I was reading a book that helped me to understand my life more completely. I had always known my life was a bit off-kilter in some areas, but I had a drive from the time I was a young adult to figure out why I struggled so much in my life with trust. And with discerning the difference in unhealthy and healthy love, etc.. I sought out psychiatrists and psychologists in an attempt to understand and correct my off-kilter issues that were the direct effect of my very early years. I came to a screeching halt when I came to the following two sentences in The Empathy Effect:

“Throughout every stage of development, parents shape a child’s ability to give and receive empathy. …raised by an abusive parent, the child will rarely want much to do with a parent as an adult.” – Helen Riess, MD

I understood this was a crucial moment of realization for me, and I allowed myself some time to digest this before continuing with the book. I thought about how my family has never been a functional family. In my family, parents and siblings don’t see one another, and I suspect most of us don’t like one another. I have watched over the years as ‘healthy’ families shared this close-knit, loving connection and I was confused by the love, concern, and loving relationships. I sometimes wondered if the family members were merely going through the motions to give others the perception that they truly loved one another and wanted to be together. I now understand the difference between the families I watched and wondered about and the family I belonged in.

I’ve told you that Dr. Riess spoke of applying the 7 NEUROSCIENCE-BASED KEYS to doctor-patient interactions, and you know from what I have shared that these same keys can be applied to families, and that is merely the beginning. However, the fact is, these keys can be applied to all relational interactions. The Empathy Effect was not written for the sole benefit of scientists and those in the medical profession, including psychiatrists and phycologists. This book was written to benefit parent’s interactions with their children; for teachers to learn how to interact with their students from pre-school to college; for politicians to interact with world leaders; for those in intimate relationships to learn to interact with one another. And for our community, regardless of the community, we are part of; for law enforcement agencies to learn how to interact with the public; and for leaders to better interact with their subordinates.

The Empathy Effect is for parents with disabled children. It’s for caretakers, whether caring for an ill family member, as well as nurses and doctors treating patients on a daily basis, etc.. After reading this book and absorbing the power of the seven keys I feel very strongly that The Empathy Effect, coupled with a training environment should be made mandatory for teachers at all levels of education. It should be compulsory for politicians beginning with the president of this nation, as well for leaders charged with managing subordinate personnel. This book is a must for all leaders in the military branches responsible for directing subordinate troops; for all law enforcement agencies as this book has the potential to save hundreds of lives; for juvenile detention facilities staff, and any other entity where there is the chance of blunting, rather than engaging empathy in others.

We don’t look at one another anymore, and we don’t listen when someone else is speaking to us, we communicate via text message, email, and social media sites. When I was in the U.S. Military, I cannot tell you how many times I would receive an email from someone sitting in the office right next to my office and the tone was sometimes confusing and misread because I could not see the face of the sender. I wanted the sender to get off his or her lazy butt and walk next door to my office and talk to me. I always encouraged face-to-face when possible to avoid the confusion from misreading a sender’s feelings.

If you remember, at the beginning in a highlighted box I wrote, “Please don’t ask me who Alan Alda is. “If you do not know who Alan Alda is, ask Siri, Google, ask your parents or your grandparents. I admit this was deliberate as I knew some of you would laugh, but there would be others who would be disturbed by what I wrote because you could not see my face or hear the tone of my voice. Had you been able to see me, you would have known I was joking by the smile on my face. It was amusing to me as I considered how long ago it was that everyone would not only know who Alan Alda was but that he starred in Mash. Many years have passed, and I believe there are some who have never seen an episode of Mash, or heard of Alan Alda due to the generational gaps. Dr. Riess speaks to more broadly and much more elegantly than I have to this point.

I would not be honest if I did not tell you that I had questions running through my head as I read The Empathy Effect regarding violent individuals, but then I have always been known to be the curious type who asked a lot of questions, and still do. I was having difficulty understanding how it is if we all have empathy, how anyone can shoot up classrooms, theatres, malls, etc.. How does someone with empathy possess a weapon and while looking another human being in the eye take a life? I received my answers soon enough. You’ll have to read this mesmerizing book, The Empathy Effect to get the answer to this question and many more.

There should be a copy of The Empathy Effect in every home in our country including the White House. I encourage everyone that reads my review to pre-order this book. I am confident that if enough people bought and read The Empathy Effect, and put it to use in their everyday lives, we would begin to see the changes we are so desperately in need of in many areas of life, and within our country. Everyone old enough to comprehend what they are reading would benefit from reading this long overdue book.

I’ve now started holding my hand up in my home while saying, “Ten minutes, I get ten minutes,” or while in conversation, interrupting to say, “please look at me while I am talking to you.” And truthfully, I am the worst offender of all these things as I am ADD as well as a self-proclaimed multi-tasker. So, while I hold my hand up and say “ten minutes,” or I ask another to look at me while I’m talking, or say, “check your posture.” I’m having fun with this at home, but at the same time, I am instilling these seven keys into memory, so they become a permanent and automatic part of who I am, regardless of where I am.

I can’t say enough great things about this life-changing book or accentuate all the changes this 240-page book can make on every one of us, as well as our country. If I have not yet piqued your interest, or I have not been clear enough when stating the considerable impact The Empathy Effect will have on each of us, as well as our country; PLEASE get a copy of The Empathy Effect. And then begin the changes you need in your life to become a more empathetic person, or to increase your “empathic capacity” as Dr. Riess would say. The Empathy Effect can make our world great again. Go on, pre-order your copy. I’m pre-ordering my copy as soon as I’ve launched this blog post.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Empathy Effect: 7 NEUROSCIENCE-BASED KEYS for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, and CONNECT Across Differences

  1. Pingback: Book Review: BREAKDOWN: A Clinician’s Experience of Emergency Psychiatry – Book Reviews & Musings

  2. I will order this book and make it a required read for my management team, which might mean I will read it to them in snippets during meetings. Thank you,​ DB😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johnitha,

      I was so happy to see your comment. Perhaps you will be the one that influences a new trend throughout all Juvenile Detention Facilities by introducing mandatory training using The Empathy Effect. All it takes is one facility to stand out to get others to realize there’s something different in your facility than other facilities to attract the attention of the powers to be in similar facilities to the point of wanting to know what your secret is. Before long it becomes a domino effect and change is taking place in each facility that incorporates the training. All it takes is one to start a trend in making a difference in the lives around us.

      Thank you for sharing your intent. And good luck. Also, check out the links in my book review when you have time for additional information on training.



    • The Empathy Effect is a must read for everyone that can read and comprehend This book will change lives and has the ability to change our country. You will love this book, this I promise you!


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