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Debora Rothman Phillips

Obituary
  • "She was such a caring person i've ever met. May God bless..."
    - April Nguyen
  • "She was a bright and healing light in the dark fields of..."
    - Bob Judd

One of America's most important and innovative therapists, Dr. Debora Rothman Phillips, died March 12, 2014 in San Francisco.

Best known for her book, How to Fall Out of Love, her many appearances on Oprah, hundreds of academic articles, and her famous patients, Dr. Phillips insisted that therapy should be held to the same standards as medicine; it should be fast, specific, and effective. Therapists around the world use her behavior therapy techniques.

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: "she was the first 3-year-old we've met who could discuss Corot's use of green." She attended Midwood High School and Barnard College.

Dr. Phillips had almost finished her Ph.D. thesis at Princeton when, 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 her career as an academic, therapist, author, and teacher, the center of Dr. Phillips' life was always her family. "Nothing," she said, "is as intellectually and physically challenging or as emotionally rewarding as raising a child."

Dr. Phillips began her academic career as Assistant Clinical Professor at the Temple University School of Medicine. She was a Director of the Princeton Center for Behavior Therapy, of Clinical Training at Temple University School of Medicine, of Princeton University's SECH counseling program, of Temple's School of Medicine's sex therapy program, and 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, first published in 1978 and 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 and wrote articles featured 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, and Charles of the Ritz. She appeared on Today, Oprah, Good Morning America, and numerous radio shows.

Her first marriage to physicist William Phillips, Ph.D., ended in divorce. She was married for 24 years to her second husband, psychiatrist Dennis Munjack, Ph.D., before he died of cancer in 2008.

Dr. Phillips is survived by her brother Michael Rothman, daughter Wendy Phillips, son Ronald Phillips, and three grandchildren.
Published on NYTimes.com from Mar. 24 to Mar. 25, 2014
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