December 10, 2013

Dr. Howard B. Liebgold, MD — 1932–2013

Kaiser Permanente, and the practice of phobic medicine, lost a great leader this summer when Howard Barry Liebgold, MD, passed away at age 81.

Dr. Liebgold, who died August 15, got his undergraduate education at the University of California, Los Angeles and served his residency at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center (1956–1958) until earning his medical degree. He joined the Vallejo Kaiser Permanente Rehabilitation Center permanent staff as a rehabilitation physician in 1962.

During his tenure he served in many key capacities, including the chief of Kaiser Federation Rehabilitation Center, director of medical education at Vallejo, and chief of the chronic pain and acupuncture clinics.

Affectionately known as “Dr. Fear,” Dr. Liebgold was best known for 25 years of teaching classes and workshops about easing the painful restriction of phobic symptoms. Liebgold himself was severely phobic for more than three decades, but eventually developed a method of slow desensitization that worked. He called the resulting program Phobease, and wrote several books on the subject, including Curing Anxiety, Phobias, Shyness and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (self-published, 1995). He helped to cure more than 10,000 people of their severe anxieties and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders.

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Dr. Liebgold, former Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, and Margaret “Maggie” Knott at the Kaiser Permanente Rehabilitation Center (Vallejo), January 25, 1975

Dr. Liebgold also was an early proponent of acupuncture. In 1975 he received national media coverage for helping former Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg recover from an injured arm. Goldberg hailed the Vallejo center as “Most outstanding in the country.” Dr. Liebgold treated a thousand patients a year in addition to his inpatient rehabilitation work, and believed that acupuncture filled a very real need.

“I never embraced the Chinese philosophy. I was a Western physician. What I embraced was the Canadian belief, what they called the dry-needling technique, that this was purely a biomedical phenomenon. What acupuncture does is to produce micro-injuries and the healing of the micro-injuries also heals anything in the area.” [i]

Dr. Liebgold also embraced modern technology in the service of medical care. In 1964, he participated in a series of medical radio conferences that linked the University of California Medical Center with groups of practicing physicians from the Oregon border south to Bakersfield. The program, which was broadcast twice weekly, was conducted in a question-and-answer forum with participation from medical staff representing 70 California hospitals. According to Dr. Liebgold, this program provided the opportunity for small hospitals to have direct contact with the medical school and eminent specialists in various fields of medicine.

Dr. Liebgold represented the inquisitive mind and personal bravery that makes a doctor a true healer. He will be missed.


[i] Unpublished interview by Steve Gilford, 1999 (TPMG P2853)