One of America’s most important and innovative therapists, Dr. Debora Phillips, died Wednesday in San Francisco.
Best known for her book, still in print 36 years after its first publication, “How to Fall Out of Love,” her many appearances on Oprah, and her hundreds of academic articles, lectures, and for her famous patients, Dr. Phillips insisted that therapy should be held to the same standards as medicine; that therapy should be fast, specific, and effective. Many of her innovations are used by therapists around the world today.
Dr. Phillips was born and grew up in Brooklyn where she won her first beauty contest at age 3. The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper commented at the time that “she was the first 3 year old we’ve met who could discuss Corot’s use of green.”
Dr. Phillips was educated at Barnard, with a masters from Rutgers and a doctorate from San Francisco’s Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. She was six months short of finishing her Ph. D. thesis in Princeton, frustrated with the inefficiency of conventional therapy, she left to do a residency under Joseph Wolpe, the “father” of Behavior Therapy at Temple University Medical School.
Despite a prolific and productive career as an academic, a therapist, an author and a teacher, the center of Dr. Phillips life was always her family. “Nothing,” she said, “is as intellectually challenging, physically demanding or as emotionally rewarding as raising a child.”
Her deep compassion led her to become a therapist, to heal the anguish and suffering in, as she said, “the problems of being human.” She treated friends (and they remained friends) and it was not unusual for a patient at the conclusion of therapy to ask if they might become friends.
Dr. Phillips began her academic career as Assistant Clinical Professor at the Temple University School of Medicine and was the Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at USC’s medical school, and the Assistant Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.
She was a Director of the Princeton Center for Behavior Therapy, a Director of Clinical Training at Temple University School of Medicine, a Director of Princeton's student counseling program and a director of Temple University School of Medicine’s sex therapy program and a director of the Beverly Hills Center for Anxiety and Depression. Most recently, she was the Director of End Teen Cruelty in New York City, a program she developed to end bullying after the shootings at Columbine.
She had a private practice in New York City, Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Paris.
Dr. Phillips wrote three books, How to Fall Out of Love, Sexual Confidence, and How to Give your Child a Great Self Image.
How to Fall Out of Love with Robert Judd, first published in 1978 and re-issued in a revised 2nd edition last year, and How to Give your Child a Great Self Image, 1989, are both still in print. As Oprah said, “I love your stuff because I know it works. If I had a broken heart I know you could fix it.”
Dr. Phillips also published widely in academic journals, published articles in Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Redbook, Glamour, and The New York Times. She was a consultant to NBC-TV Children’s Television Workshop, the Wesley-Westminster Foundation at Princeton, and Charles of the Ritz. Her invited lectures (for IBM, American Bar Association, R. F. Kennedy Foundation, American Psychiatric Foundation, etc. etc.), her papers presented, courses developed, and her popular workshops (for
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She has also appeared on Today, Oprah, Good Morning America, the Phil Donohue Show etc. etc. and has been the subject of innumerable radio interviews.
Her first marriage to Physicist William Phillips, Ph.D., ended in divorce. Her second husband, Psychiatrist Dennis Munjack, Ph.D., died of cancer in 2008 after of 24 years of marriage.
Dr. Phillips is survived by her son Ronald Phillips, his wife Frances and their children Lily, Lenora, and Berry. And by her daughter, Wendy Phillips. And by her brother Michael Phillips and his wife, Karen