Helen Blair Simpson, MD, PhD

  • Professor of Psychiatry at CUMC
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Helen Blair Simpson, MD, PhD, is Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and Director of Center for Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders (columbia-ocd.org). She is also the Director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Dr. Simpson's research program focuses on how to improve treatments for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and related disorders so that these people can live productive lives. Her research is interdisciplinary. It ranges from treatment development studies to clinical trials examining the effects of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy to brain imaging studies exploring the brain mechanisms of OCD to animal studies in collaboration with basic scientists. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health and private foundations like the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation and NARSAD. She was a member of the workgroup that developed the first Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with OCD for the American Psychiatric Association. She is an advisor to the World Health Organization for OCD and related disorder.

Dr. Simpson graduated from Yale College with a BS in biology. She then completed the MD-PhD program at The Rockefeller University/Cornell University Medical College. Her PhD focused on the brain pathways underlying learned versus unlearned vocalizations in songbirds. She then completed the internship and residency in psychiatry at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Dr. Simpson has been associated with the Anxiety Disorders Clinic since 1996, first as a National Institutes of Mental Health Research Fellow under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Liebowitz, then as an independent researcher, and now as its director.

Academic Appointments

  • Professor of Psychiatry at CUMC

Administrative Titles

  • Director, Translational Therapeutics Program, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York NY
  • Co-Researcher Director, The Youth Anxiety Center, NY-Presbyterian Hospital, New York NY
  • Director, Center for Obsessive-Compulsive & Related Disorders, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York NY


  • Female

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • Weill Cornell Medical College
  • Residency: New York State Psychiatric Institute
  • Fellowship: New York State Psychiatric Institute


My research program seeks to transform our understanding of and treatments for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). My long-term goal is to determine what causes symptoms like anxiety, obsessions and compulsions and to identify novel brain targets for treatment development.

For the patients of today, I conduct clinical trials to determine how best to deliver our current treatments and to test novel treatments. For the patients of tomorrow, I partner with cognitive neuroscientists, experts in neuroimaging (including positron emission tomography, task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy), and basic scientists to study the brain mechanisms underlying psychopathology. My overall approach is to conduct bi-directional translational research: to use insights from basic and cognitive neuroscience to design studies in patient populations and to use insights from human studies to help guide future animal studies. In addition to my basic science and imaging collaborators, my research team includes research psychiatrists, doctoral level scientists, and research staff in the Anxiety Disorders Clinic and the Center for OCD and Related Disorders in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute, both of which I direct. My work is supported by NIMH grants, foundations, and philanthropy.

Research Interests

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • OCD

Selected Publications

  • Simpson HB, Foa EB, Liebowitz MR, Huppert JD, Cahill S, Maher MJ, McLean CP, Bender J, Marcus SM, Williams MT, Waver J, Vermes D, Van Meter PE, Rodriguez CI, Powers M, Pinto A, Imms P, Hahn C, Campeas R: Cognitive-behavioral therapy vs risperidone for augmenting serotonin reuptake inhibitors in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry 2013; 70(11): 1190-9.
  • Ahmari SE, Spellman T, Douglass NL, Kheirbek MA, Simpson HB, Deisseroth K, Gordon JA, Hen R: Repeated cortico-striatal stimulation generates persistent OCD-like behavior. Science 2013; 340(6137): 1234-9.
  • Pinto A, Steinglass JE, Greene AL, Weber EU, Simpson HB: Capacity to delay reward differentiates obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Biological Psychiatry 2014; 75(8): 653-659.
  • Marsh R, Tau GZ, Wang Z, Huo Y, Liu G, Hao X, Packard MJ, Peterson BS, Simpson HB: Reward-based spatial learning in unmedicated adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 2015; 172(4): 383-392.
  • The ENIGMA-OCD Working Group (of which Dr. Helen Blair Simpson is a member): Distinct subcortical volume alterations in pediatric and adult OCD: A worldwide meta- and mega-analysis. The American Journal of Psychiatry (in press).