Richard McNally

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Richard J. McNally
Born (1954-04-17) April 17, 1954 (age 64)
Detroit, Michigan
Residence Massachusetts
Citizenship American
Alma mater Wayne State University
University of Illinois at Chicago
Known for Research into anxiety disorders
Awards Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, Fellow of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Distinguished Scientist Award of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology
Scientific career
Fields Psychology
Institutions Harvard University

Richard J. McNally is Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. A clinical psychologist and experimental psychopathologist, he studies anxiety disorders (e.g., phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder) and related syndromes (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD], obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD], complicated grief).


A native of Detroit, Michigan, McNally graduated from Edsel Ford high school in 1972 where he was co-captain of the football team but an academically disengaged student. He attended Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan for two years where he edited the student newspaper and was inspired by superb teachers of experimental and clinical psychology. Switching from journalism to psychology, he transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit, paying his way through school by working full time as a psychiatric attendant nurse at Northville State Hospital.

McNally received his B.S. in psychology from Wayne State University in 1976, and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1982, mentored by Steven Reiss. He did his clinical internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the Behavior Therapy Unit, Department of Psychiatry, Temple University School of Medicine. His clinical and research mentor was Edna B. Foa, and he also received clinical supervision from Joseph Wolpe. In 1984 he was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School where he established the Anxiety Disorders Clinic and directed the university counseling center. He moved to the Department of Psychology at Harvard University in 1991, where he currently serves as Professor and Director of Clinical Training.

McNally is a licensed clinical psychologist, a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, winner of the 2005 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for the Science of Clinical Psychology, and the winner of the 2010 Outstanding Mentor Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. McNally has been an associate editor for the journal Behavior Therapy, and has served on the editorial boards of Clinical Psychology Review, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, and Psychological Science. He also served on the specific phobia and posttraumatic stress disorder committees of the DSM-IV task force. McNally is on the Institute for Scientific Information’s “Highly Cited” list for psychology and psychiatry (top 0.5% of authors worldwide in terms of citation impact).

He has over 430 publications, most concerning anxiety disorders (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder), including the books: including the books: Panic Disorder: A Critical Analysis[1](1994), Remembering Trauma[2](2003), and What is Mental Illness?[3](2011). He has also conducted laboratory studies concerning cognitive functioning in adults reporting histories of childhood sexual abuse (including those reporting recovered memories of abuse). Based upon his research on the controversial topic of adulthood recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse , he concluded that there is no scientifically convincing evidence that people can repress[1][2] (or dissociate) memories of truly traumatic events that they have experienced.. A recent research emphasis is the application of network analysis to the understanding of psychopathology.


McNally had conducted primarily laboratory studies of anxiety disorders (e.g., social anxiety disorder), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complicated grief, and depression. A major emphasis of his work is on elucidating cognitive biases constitutive of these syndromes, and testing methods for reducing these biases, thereby fostering symptom reduction. Accordingly, much of the work falls under the general rubric of experimental psychopathology as it aims to uncover the mechanisms driving the development and maintenance of emotional disorders.

Complicated Grief[4]

Although most people who lose a loved one recover from the emotional shock, others continue to grieve intensely for months and years afterward. McNally’s research group studies mechanisms that may prevent people from overcoming the pain of grief.

Cognitive Bias Modification[5]

McNally’s lab has conducted experiments on one form of cognitive bias modification (CBM): attention bias modification (ABM), including studies on people with subclinical spider phobia and on people with social anxiety. In addition to testing people in the laboratory, they have also put these protocols on smartphones, delivering the ABM intervention remotely.

Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

McNally’s PTSD research has focused on the identification of risk and resilience variables in health personnel deployed to Iraq, adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and survivors of the earthquake in Wenchuan, China.

Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

McNally studies the cognitive aspects of social anxiety disorder ranging from deficits in Theory of Mind[6] to attentional biases for threat and their correction via computerized Attention Bias Modification (ABM) interventions.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD) and OCD spectrum disorders

The McNally lab’s work on OCD spans the topics of pain tolerance, guilt, and moral reasoning, while their studies of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)[7] have been designed to test hypotheses about cognitive mechanisms potentially capable of explaining why these patients falsely believe they are hideous to others, contrary to all evidence.

Recovered Memories of Sexual Abuse

In part in collaboration with his student Susan Clancy[8], McNally was a major contributor to research on the controversial topic of adult recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse and the more general concept of repressed memories[9][10] . The major take-home message of this research is that there is no scientifically convincing evidence that people can repress (or dissociate) memories of truly traumatic events that they have experienced. However, some people who experienced childhood sexual molestation in their childhood, but who did not experience the events as traumatic, may forget their abuse for many years, and then may recall it upon encountering reminders in adulthood. Interpreting their molestation through the eyes of an adult, they often experience PTSD symptoms. Accordingly, people may forget and “recover” memories of abuse that they did not experience as traumatic at the time of their occurrence. They forget the memories not because they were traumatic and thus “repressed,” but rather because they did not experience them as traumatic at the time they occurred.[11]

Trigger Warnings

A trigger warning[12] is a message presented to an audience about the contents of a book or other media, to warn them that it contains potentially distressing content. In McNally’s research[13] on the effects of the provision of trigger warnings, it was found that, among people who were not currently experiencing effects of trauma, the provision of trigger warnings increased the participants' anxiety and sense of being psychologically vulnerable after reading a passage of text that included potentially disturbing content. The warnings also reduced the participants' perception of their own and other people's natural psychological resilience (the idea that, despite the near-universality of traumatic experiences and the potential of a short-term acute stress reaction, the person experiencing trauma will be okay in the end).

Honors and awards[edit]

Year Award
1998 Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science
2003 Honorable mention for Remembering Trauma, Association of American Publishers, Professional/Scholarly Publishing Annual Award in Psychology
2004 Who's Who in America[14]
2004 Institute for Scientific Information’s Highly Cited list of published authors in psychology and psychiatry
2005 Distinguished Scientist Award, Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology
2006 Who's Who in the World[15]
2006 Who's Who in Science and Engineering[16]
2009 American Men & Women of Science[17]
2010 Outstanding Mentor Award, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
2016 Fellow, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies


Selected journal articles[edit]

McNally has published articles concerning anxiety disorders and memories of people reporting traumatic experiences.

Taylor, S; Koch WJ; McNally RJ (1992). "How does anxiety sensitivity vary across the anxiety disorders?". Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 6 (3): 249–259. doi:10.1016/0887-6185(92)90037-8.

Whalen, PJ; Bush G; McNally RJ; Wilhelm S; McInerney SC; Jenike MA; Rauch SL (1998). "The emotional counting Stroop paradigm". Biological Psychiatry. 44 (12): 1219–28. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(98)00251-0. PMID 9861465.

Shin, LM; McNally RJ; Kosslyn SM; Thompson WL; Rauch SL; Alpert NM; Metzger LJ; Lasko NB; Orr SP; Pitman RK (1999). "Regional cerebral blood flow during script-driven imagery in childhood sexual abuse-related PTSD: a PET investigation". American Journal of Psychiatry. 156 (4). doi:10.1176/ajp.156.4.575.

McNally, RJ; Bryant RA; Ehlers A (2003). "Does Early Psychological Intervention Promote Recovery From Posttraumatic Stress?". Psychological science in the public interest. 40 (1): 45–79. doi:10.1111/1529-1006.01421.

Heeren, A; Mogoaşe C; Philippot P; McNally RJ (2015). "Attention bias modification for social anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis". Clinical Psychology Review. 4 (2): 76–90. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2015.06.001.

Bellett, B; Jones P; McNally RJ (2018). "Trigger warning: Empirical evidence ahead". Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 61: 134–141.


Panic Disorder: A Critical Analysis. McNally RJ (1994). New York: Guilford Press.[1]

Remembering trauma. McNally RJ (2003). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.[2]

What is mental illness?. McNally RJ (2011). Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.[3]


  1. ^ a b McNally, Richard (1994). Panic Disorder: A Critical Analysis. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 0898622638.
  2. ^ a b McNally, Richard (2003). Remembering Trauma. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674018028.
  3. ^ a b McNally, Richard (2011). What is Mental Illness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  4. ^ Robinaugh, D; McNally, RJ (2013). "Remembering the past and envisioning the future in bereaved adults with and without complicated grief". Clinical Psychological Science. 1: 290-300.
  5. ^ McNally, RJ; Enock, PE; Tsai, C; Tousian, M (2013). "Attention bias modification for reducing speech anxiety". Attention bias modification for reducing speech anxiety. 51: 882-888.
  6. ^ Hezel, DM; McNally, RJ (2014). "Theory of mind impairments in social anxiety disorder". Behavior Therapy. 45: 530-540.
  7. ^ Reese, HE; McNally, RJ; Wilhelm, S (2010). "Facial asymmetry detection in patients with body dysmorphic disorder". Behaviour Research and Therapy. 48: 936-940.
  8. ^ Clancy, Susan (2007). Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 067402401X.
  9. ^ Loftus, Elizabeth; Ketchum, Katherine (1996). The myth of repressed memory. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0312141238.
  10. ^ Carroll, Robert. "Skeptic's Dictionary: Repressed Memory". Skeptic's Dictionary. Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  11. ^ McNally, RJ (2012). "Searching for repressed memory". Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. 58: 121-147.
  12. ^ McNally, Richard. "Hazards ahead: The problem with trigger warnings". Pacific Standard. Pacific Standard. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  13. ^ Bellett, Benjamin; Jones, Payton; McNally, Richard (December 2018). "Trigger warning: Empirical evidence ahead". Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 61: 134-141.
  14. ^ Who's Who in America 2004. NJ: Marquis Who’s Who. 2004. ISBN 978-0837969749.
  15. ^ Who's Who in the World 2006. NJ: Marquis Who’s Who. 2006. ISBN 978-0837911359.
  16. ^ Who's Who in Science and Engineering 2006. NJ: Marquis Who’s Who. 2006. ISBN 978-0837957661.
  17. ^ American Men & Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today's Leaders in Physical, Biological and Related Sciences. New York: Gale. 2009. ISBN 978-1414433004.

External links[edit]