Psychologically Speaking: Activating Empathy and Other Reward Winning Skills with Dr. Adam Stern & Colter Ray Ph.D.

Original Air Date Wednesday, April 13, 2022 

A cancer or other life-threatening disease diagnosis is a difficult blow to the patient receiving the news.The next steps for the patient include sharing the weight of the news with friends and loved ones. For some, certain expectations of support accompany the disclosure. A response can be difficult because the right thing to say differs from person to person. Is it better in some cases not to say anything and just listen? Our individual personality traits make it difficult to apply a one-size-fits-all communication style to all situations.

But, to explore how we can show up for loved ones as better humans, Positive Psychology Podcast Host, Lisa Cypers Kamen, speaks with two doctors who research the human condition and communication. Dr. Adam Stern shares his journey of seeing the doctor-patient relationship change when he received his cancer diagnosis as detailed in his book, Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training. Dr. Colter Ray studies how human beings support each other during difficult times and the metrics of an emotional scorecard. He shares his findings and offers guidance for those on the receiving end of hard news.

Dr. Adam Stern — Activating Empathy:

  • Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training details Adam’s journey from doctor to patient after developing a life-threatening disease. [1:50]
  • The duality of the word ‘committed’ is part of the message Adam intended to relay. [6:36]
  • Adam shares why he chose psychiatry over other types of medicine. [8:18]
  • A terrifying cancer diagnosis comes with an unexpected gift. [10:54]>li
  • Adam stayed on at Harvard Medical to train new psychiatrists about the empathetic aspects of the profession. [16:39]>li
  • Psychiatry today is a mix of age-old treatments, neuroscience-based trends, new discoveries in nature, and lifestyle interventions. [22:23]>li

Adam Stern with a white shirt, guest of podcast episode about empathy with Colter RayAdam Stern, MD, is a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has written extensively about his experience as a physician including in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the American Journal of Psychiatry. He lives with his family near Boston.

Book: Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training


Adam Stern MD
@adamphilipstern on Twitter
@adamsternmd on Instagram

Colter Ray Ph.D.— Supporting Others During Hard News:

  • Colter describes what led him to research after cancer diagnosis communications. [34:00]
  • There are a variety of reasons people don’t reach out to people they know who receive a cancer diagnosis. [35:37]
  • Why saying the wrong thing during tough times may be better than saying nothing. [38:37]
  • Lisa recalls times when she wasn’t sure quite what to say to a friend in need. [41:14]
  • Showing up for someone can be as simple as being a good listener. [47:11]
  • Colter describes a few of the metrics he will be researching as part of the emotional scorecard many people keep. [50:57]

Colter Ray with a white shirt, guest of podcast episode about empathy with Adam SternDr. Colter Ray is a professor and communication scientist at Louisiana State University whose research focuses on how people support loved ones who have been diagnosed with cancer. His work explores reasons why some attempts to be supportive are viewed negatively by cancer patients, and he also investigates instances when people choose not to communicate with those they know with cancer, and why they make that decision. Colter is also an expert trainer with the organization Empathy Boot Camp — teaching soft skills such as practicing empathy to business and educational leaders.



Colter Ray
@ColterRay on Instagram


This episode of Harvesting Happiness Talk Radio about intellectual humility and critical thinking  is sponsored by:

JoyBird — Home should be a hub for happiness. To make your home a happy haven and find furniture that fits your style, check out Joybird Furniture. It is made with scratch and stain-resistant, durable fabrics. Joybird furniture stands by its quality and craftsmanship and is committed to a more sustainable future. Create a space that brings you joy with Joybird. Visit to get 30% off your purchase.

Are We Happy Yet? Eight Keys to Unlocking a Joyful Life A boot camp manual for greater emotional fitness. Happiness waits for no one and sometimes we all need support. What is getting in the way of your happiness right now? 

HFactor: Where is Your Heart? — Lisa’s documentary film explores the journey of human happiness. Emotions are contagious and happiness is a universally desired state. We tend to forget we all have the freedom to be happy or the liberty to be miserable each day.

“To train a doctor to not only treat, but to deal with their patients with deep humanity, humility, and heart, is big.” @LisaKamen on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“If you are not maintaining a healthy diet, no wonder you might be depressed.” @LisaKamen on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“Is it specific to cancer or is it in general that when people we know go through hard times, some people feel so uncomfortable they take a hike?” @LisaKamen on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“Connection by way of the written word was powerful to me. So, I started writing and I kept writing.” @adamphilipstern on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“I don't know if I went into psychiatry because I love the blazers or now I wear blazers because I am a psychiatrist.” @adamphilipstern on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“It's a rare person who knows, at the age of 18, what they want to do.” @adamphilipstern on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“None of us have a certain future. It is always uncertain.” @adamphilipstern on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“The brain is starting to reveal its secrets through these new techniques we have.” @adamphilipstern on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“We will never do better than mother nature in terms of developing new approaches to adapt.” @adamphilipstern on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“If exercise were a drug every doctor would prescribe it.” @adamphilipstern on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“In psychiatry, some of the emotion you are bathing in passes through and some reflects back to you to carry home.” @adamphilipstern on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet“Think about who created an indelible mark on your life because of their actions and the things they said and mimic that.” @ColterRay on @HH_TalkRadio Click To Tweet



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