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Holly Gwen Prigerson, PhD


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Holly Gwen Prigerson, PhD


  • Director, Center for Psychosocial Epidemiology and Outcomes Research
  • Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Contact Information

  • Office Phone Number(617) 632-2369
  • Fax(617) 632-3161


Dr. Prigerson received graduate degrees in history and sociology and her PhD in sociology from Stanford University in 1990. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the epidemiology of aging at Yale University School of Medicine, where she later became an assistant professor of psychiatry, then associate professor of psychiatry, and associate professor of epidemiology and public health. In 2004, she became director of the Center for Psycho-Oncology and Palliative Care Research at Dana-Farber, and in 2005 became associate professor of psychiatry, Brigham and Women's department of psychiatry.


Loss, Bereavement, and Prolonged Grief Disorder

The primary focus of our research has been to advance understanding of the interpersonal and intrapersonal factors that influence the quality of life of individuals confronting life-threatening illness and death. Our work has concentrated on an examination of psychosocial determinants of terminally ill patient's understanding of illness, their surviving family member's reactions to their death, and the way interpersonal dynamics influence medical decision-making, care and related end-of-life (EOL) outcomes. Determinants examined include: Physician-patient communication, ethnic and spiritual influences on care, and how care, preparation for, and the quality of a patient's death affect surviving family members' bereavement adjustment. We lead the research effort justifying the inclusion of Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) as a new diagnostic entity for included in the DSM-V and ICD-11. In a series of studies stemming from an NIMH R01 field trial of consensus criteria for this disorder, we have conducted the foundational psychiatric epidemiologic investigations to define Prolonged Grief Disorder. Our scales to assess pathological grief (termed "complicated" and "traumatic" before we settled on "prolonged") have been described as the standard grief measures advocated for the field. Our grief scales have been translated into over 15 foreign languages, used for a wide variety of traumatic (e.g., 9/11, London bombings, Hurricane Katrina; Chinese earthquake 2008) and non-traumatic (terminally ill patients, caregiving parents, spouses, offspring) losses, and have been cited over 180 times in the literature. Dr. Prigerson directs the Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care Research seminar series and teaches seminars to the Brigham and Women's Hospital psychiatry residents on psychiatric epidemiology, psycho-oncology and grief, specifically. She also hosts many visiting and local scholars in research collaborations. Her goals are to continue to foster the development of promising junior investigators and to advance the evidence base pointing the way toward best practices in the care provided to advanced cancer patients and their family members who survive them.

Siegel MD, Hayes E, Vanderwerker LC, Loseth D, Prigerson HG. Psychiatric Illness in the Next-of-Kin of Patients who Die in the Intensive Care Unit. Critical Care Medicine 2008; 36 (6): 1722-8

Phelps AC, Maciejewski PK, Nilsson M, Balboni TA, Wright AA, Paulk ME, Trice E, Schrag D, Peteet JR, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Coping with Cancer: Religious Coping Predicts Use of Intensive Life-Prolonging Care Near Death. JAMA. 2009 Mar 18; 301(11):1140-7

Zhang B, Wright AA, Huskamp HA, Nilsson ME, Maciejewski, Earle C, Block SD, Maciejewski PK, Prigerson HG. Health Care Costs in the Last Week of Life: Associations with End of Life Conversations. Archives of Internal Medicine. March 9, 2009; 169(5):480-8

Wright AA, Ray A, Zhang B, Mack JW, Mitchell SL, Nilsson ME, Trice ED, Block SD, Maciejewski PK, Prigerson HG. Medical Care and Emotional Distress Associated with Advanced Cancer Patients' End-of-Life Discussions with their Physicians. JAMA 2008; 300: 1665-1673

Kiely DK, Prigerson H, Mitchell SL. Health Care Proxy Grief Symptoms before the Death of Nursing Home Residents with Advanced Dementia. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2008 Aug;16(8):664-73.

Nilsson M, Maciejewski PK, Baohui Zhang, Wright AA, Trice ED, Muriel AC, Friedlander R, Fasciano K, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Mental Health, Treatment Preferences, Advance Care Planning, and Location and Quality of Death in Advanced Cancer Patients with Dependent Children. Cancer 15:399-409, 2009

Lannen P, Wolfe J, Prigerson H, Onelov E, Kreicbergs U. Unresolved Grief in a National Sample of Bereaved Parents: Impaired Mental and Physical Health 4 to 9 Years Later. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2008;26:5870-6

Goldsmith B, Morrison RS, Vanderwerker LC, Prigerson HG. Elevated Rates of Prolonged Grief Disorder in African Americans. Death Studies. 2008; 32; 4: 352-365

Mack JW, Nilsson M, Balboni TA, Friedlander RJ, Block SD, Trice E, Prigerson HG. "Peace, Equanimity, and Acceptance in the Cancer Experience (PEACE): Validation of a Scale to Assess Acceptance and Struggle with Terminal Illness" Cancer 2008 Jun 1;112(11):2509-17

Lichtenthal WG, Nilsson M, Zhang B, Trice ED, Kissane DW, Breitbart W, Prigerson HG. "Do Rates of Mental Disorders and Existential Distress among Advanced Stage Cancer Patients Increase as Death Approaches?" Psycho-Oncology 2008 Jun 3. [Epub ahead of print]

Smith AK, McCarthy E, Paulk E, Balboni TA, Maciejewski P, Block SD, Prigerson HG. "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Advance Care Planning Among Patients with Cancer: Impact of Terminal Illness Acknowledgement, Religiousness, and Treatment Preferences" Journal of Clinical Oncology JCO Sep 1 2008: 41314137

Zhang B, Mitchell SL, Jones R, Prigerson HG. Depressive Symptom Trajectories and Associated Risks among Bereaved Alzheimers Disease Caregivers. Am J Geriatric Psychiatry 2008; 16: 145-155

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR{line break}Phelps AC, Maciejewski PK, Prigerson HG. In Reply to Religious Coping and Aggressive Care Near Death JAMA June 2009{line break}Prigerson HG, Maciejewski PK. In Reply to Grief and acceptance as opposite sides of the same coin: setting a research agenda to study peaceful acceptance of loss The British Journal of Psychiatry. June 2009{line break}Maciejewski P, Zhang B, Block S, Prigerson HG. In Reply to "Empirical Testing of the Stage Theory of Grief" JAMA 2007{line break}Prigerson HG, Bradley EH, Kasl SV, Jacobs SC. A Good Death Is An Oxymoron without Consideration of Mental Health. British Medical Journal 2003; 327 (7408):222.

Trice ED, Maciejewski PK, Paulk E, DeSanto-Madeya, S, Nilsson M, Viswanath V, Wright AA, Balboni TA, Temel J, Stieglitz H, Block SD, Prigerson HG. Racial Differences in Predictors of Intensive End-of-Life Care in Advanced Cancer Patients. J Clinical Oncology (accepted) (editorial invited)

Ganzini L, Goy E, Dobscha S, Prigerson HG. Mental Health Outcomes of Family Members of Oregonians Who Request Physician Aid in Dying. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management (accepted)

Mack JW, Block SD, Nilsson M, Wright A, Trice E, Friedlander R, Paulk E, Prigerson HG. Measuring therapeutic alliance between oncologists and patients with advanced cancer: The Human Connection Scale. Cancer (accepted)

Holland JM, Neimeyer RA, Boelen PA, Prigerson HG. The Underlying Structure of Grief: A Taxometric Investigation of Prolonged and Normal Reactions to Loss. J Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment (accepted)

Research Departments:


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