Jesse Wright, M.D.,Ph.D.

Born and raised in Hollidaysburg, PA., Dr. Jesse H. Wright (M.D. ’69, Residency ‘73, Ph.D. ’86) received his undergraduate degree from Juniata College in 1965 and his medical degree at Jefferson Medical College in 1969. Dr. Wright knew psychiatry was his calling after seeing the deep need for it during medical school. He completed his psychiatry residency training at the University of Michigan 1973 where he was Chief Resident and then received his board certification in psychiatry in 1975.

Inspired by a number of top-notch faculty including: George Curtis; Phil Margolis; and Derek Miller, Dr. Wright’s experience at U-M “sealed the deal” in terms of pursuing academic psychiatry. The fact that there were not a lot of evidence-based therapy options available at the time of his U-M residency is one of the reasons he decided to work in a medical school setting.

After being drafted during the Vietnam War and given a deferment to complete his residency, Dr. Wright served his country as Chief of Neuropsychiatry at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota where he was one of only two psychiatrists in northern North Dakota. To say the need was deep would be an understatement. While in North Dakota, Dr. Wright also worked at community psychiatry center in Minot to help fulfill the need for psychiatric services.

“Serving the Air Force was quite a transition from being in Ann Arbor, though I felt I was very well-prepared from my training at U-M.” Dr. Wright then went on to earn his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychopharmacology from the University of Louisville in 1986.

“During the early years working on my Ph.D. I became interested in the interaction between psychopharmacology and psychotherapy,” said Dr. Wright. “I was introduced to Aaron Beck, MD who is known as the father of cognitive therapy. Beck took an interest in my work because we were some of the first to apply cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to treatment of severely ill patients such as those with bipolar disorder and treatment resistant depression.” CBT is “a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. The goal of CBT is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people's difficulties.”

Dr. Wright’s first book on CBT was titled Cognitive Therapy with Inpatients: Developing a Cognitive Milieu. “Writing this book set me on the path that I would end up focusing on for my career,” he said. 
Subsequently, Dr. Wright has published seven books on CBT including a trilogy for American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. that include videos interwoven with text. The first in this series, Learning Cognitive-Behavior Therapy: An Illustrated Guide, has become a standard book throughout the world for training residents, psychologists, and others in CBT. Another book in this series is titled, Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for Severe Mental Illness, won the British Medical Association’s Mental Health Book of the Year Award.

For the last 20 years, Dr. Wright’s research has focused on developing and testing innovative methods to use technology in the delivery of psychiatric treatment. “In the early 1990’s, we had an idea to use computer technology as part of the treatment with CBT,” said Dr. Wright. “In the beginning, there was a lot of criticism that a computer could not replace a doctor. However, since the beginning, our aim has not been to replace but to help clinicians. Our goal is to give more people access to treatment at a lower cost. That is how computer-assisted CBT (CCBT) was born.”

Dr. Wright noted that he had presented on this topic at the 2014 National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC) annual meeting. Findings from a recently completed study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health showed that CCBT was just as effective as standard CBT, even though the amount of clinician time supporting treatment was reduced by two-thirds with CCBT. His group also presented a meta-analysis of a large number of studies on CCBT for depression computerized CBT vs. regular therapy. He noted that there has been a rapid acceleration of research on computer-assisted CBT. “Thankfully, we just received a new research grant from the Agency of Health Care Research and Quality to do a four-year study on dissemination of computerized assisted therapy in primary care patients with depression.”

Dr. Wright noted that he is fortunate to be able to work with his family in a professional setting.

“Along with my son (Andrew Wright, MD who is now a surgeon at University of Washington), and Dr. Aaron Beck,  we developed a prototype for the first multimedia computer program for cognitive therapy,  called “Good Days Ahead,” which was released in 1995.” Since then, Dr. Wright’s research team has expanded to include investigators at many universities and has developed enhanced versions of their computer programs that are now available online.”

Today, Dr. Jesse Wright is Professor and Vice-Chair for Academic Affairs and Director of the University of Louisville Depression Center. He is involved in many professional groups and is the Founder and President of Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He also won the highly respected Distinguished Educator of the Year award from the University of Louisville in 2010. Another especially meaningful award to Dr. Wright is the Aaron T. Beck Institute for Cognitive Studies Award for Excellence, which he received in 2014.

“I still see patients almost every day. I’m an avid gardener and I’ve been dedicated to lifelong exercise. I’m also a vocalist and still sing with a group. I’ve been married for 48 years and have two children and four grandchildren. A special privilege has been the opportunity to work professionally with both my son, Dr. Andrew Wright, and my daughter, Dr. Laura McCray. She is the Director of Residency Training in Family Medicine at the University of Vermont. We authored the book Breaking Free from Depression: Pathways to Wellness together.”

Dr. Wright remembers his years at the University of Michigan with fondness. “My training and education at Michigan was stellar, and I still love coming back to Ann Arbor. The U-M Psychiatry Department is one of the best in world.”