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Dr. Joseph Wolpe; Pioneer of Psychiatric Behavior Therapy

December 09, 1997

Dr. Joseph Wolpe, 82, pioneer of behavior therapy in psychiatry. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wolpe was educated at the University of the Witwatersrand there and served as a medical officer in the South African army during World War II. He began using drug therapy to help his military patients overcome what is now known as post-traumatic stress syndrome. After teaching at his alma mater, Wolpe immigrated to the United States, where he taught at the University of Virginia and for most of his career at Temple University in Philadelphia. He helped steer psychiatry toward behavior therapy, which espouses that neurotic disorders are learned and can be unlearned through treatment. He specifically devised the techniques of systematic desensitization and assertiveness training, and the measuring systems known as the Subjective Anxiety Scale and the Fear Survey Schedule. Wolpe was the second president of the Assn. for Advancement of Behavior Therapy and wrote widely, including two classic textbooks, "Psychotherapy by Reciprocal Inhibition" and "The Practice of Behavior Therapy." During his retirement years in California, Wolpe often lectured at Pepperdine University. On Thursday in Los Angeles of lung cancer.

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