Tiburon psychiatrist Jerry Jampolsky founded Center for Attitudinal Healing
Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Gershan Jampolsky, a longtime former Tiburon resident and psychiatrist who founded the widely influential Center for Attitudinal Healing in 1975, died Dec. 29 at his houseboat home in Sausalito while under hospice care. He was 95.
The idea for the center, a nonprofit that aimed to help clients cope with catastrophic illness and trauma by coaching them to displace feelings of conflict and fear with feelings of peace, love and gratitude, grew out of an experience Dr. Jampolsky had while making rounds at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. According to the center’s website, Dr. Jampolsky overheard a young boy with leukemia ask a doctor, “What is it like to die?” Dr. Jampolsky said the doctor changed the subject and asked the child about his bowel movements. Dr. Jampolsky later learned the boy asked the same question of the cleaning woman, who listened to his concerns and let him talk. Dr. Jampolsky said he realized there needed to be a safe place for seriously ill kids to be able to honestly discuss their own questions, fears and thoughts.
The center, which was founded at 19 Main St. in Tiburon but later moved into larger quarters in Sausalito, achieved national acclaim when talk show host Phil Donahue invited Dr. Jampolsky and a group of the center’s growing number of young participants to appear on his television show in 1979. The television special won an Emmy Award. Dr. Jampolsky was also the subject of a feature by “60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer.
Dr. Jampolsky helped others establish independent centers employing Attitudinal Healing principles in more than 30 countries across the globe and held training sessions in 30 more countries across six continents. He worked with Mother Theresa and trained the nuns under her in the principles to his teachings, according to his wife, Diane Cirincione, the organization’s executive director.
The center uses a support-group format, with participants separated into age groups to address specific needs. As it evolved, the center added groups for women with breast cancer and people with AIDS and AIDS-related conditions. The center relies not only on full-time and part-time staff but also a large cadre of volunteers to serve in a variety of support positions.
Dr. Jampolsky sought not to replace traditional health care but to supplement it, “to provide an environment where those faced with life-threatening illness (could) actively participate in the process of attitudinal healing.”
“If we want to hold onto grievances, we will never be really be happy,” Dr. Jampolsky told Oprah Winfrey when he was a guest on her show in 1990. “It really means letting go of the past that we thought that we wanted.”
Years later, Winfrey said in an interview that can be viewed on YouTube that Dr. Jampolsky’s advice was “a transcendent moment” that changed her life.
In addition to serving as a consultant to the center, Dr. Jampolsky had a private psychiatry practice in Tiburon and was director of the Child Care Annex, a center for children with mental-health issues and learning challenges that was located in Kentfield. He and Cirincione co-authored 20 books that sold more than 10 million copies, including “Love is Letting Go of Fear,” “Change Your Mind, Change Your Life” and “Aging with Attitude.”
Dr. Donald Abrams, an oncologist and professor emeritus at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, said he first met Dr. Jampolsky and Cirincione in the mid-1980s when he was a young doctor seeing AIDS patients. He asked the two to conduct group therapy sessions with him and his colleagues.
Dr. Jampolsky “taught us how to cope with very grave and depressing situations by learning to choose peace, and that became a lifelong mantra for me,” Abrams said in an interview. “I do attribute much of my essence as a human being to lessons I learned from Jerry. Whenever we were together, the joy of being with Jerry is that he would always ask a question that would make you look so deep into yourself, you would remember and rediscover your heart.”
In 1986, Dr. Jampolsky worked with Marin graphic artist Jack Keeler, a longtime Ark cartoonist, to create an award-wining poster of a child with outstretched arms and the caption, “I Have AIDS — Please Hug Me — I Can’t Make You Sick.” The World Health Organization distributed the poster in 42 countries. In 2008, the WHO designated it “the most effective AIDS education tool in addressing the psychological, social and emotional needs surrounding the AIDS pandemic.”
Paige Peterson of Belvedere first met Dr. Jampolsky when she was in first grade at Reed Elementary School; she and Dr. Jampolsky’s son Greg were in the same class. Dr. Jampolsky, who knew Peterson’s father had been out of the picture since she was 18 months old, became a surrogate father to her and called himself her “Papa Bear.”
Their relationship became especially important to Peterson when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The night before she underwent surgery to remove it, Dr. Jampolsky called her and said, “Paige, when you are wheeled into the operating room, I want you to look in the eyes of everyone in the room and thank them for their education, for their sacrifice. Thank them for being in the room with you, and let them know you know they will do their best and that you are grateful.”
“I did,” Peterson said. “And he was so loving I felt that there were good people in the world.”
Over the course of his career, Dr. Jampolsky won numerous awards, among them the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the American Medical Association Excellence in Medicine Pride in the Profession Award.
He retired in 2015.
Dr. Jampolsky was born Feb. 11, 1925, in Long Beach to Leo Jampolsky, a Russian immigrant, and Tillie Fellman Jampolsky, whose own Russian family had emigrated to the U.S. via Manchester, England. Dr. Jampolsky received a bachelor’s in pre-medical studies from Stanford University in 1949 and earned his medical degree there a year later. He did an internship at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Boston and his residency at Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California at San Francisco. He then became board certified in psychiatry. For a time, he served as a staff psychiatrist at Travis Air Force Base in Solano County.
He also served as an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF School of Medicine and a child psychiatry fellow at Langley Porter.
In his free time, he enjoyed writing, sculpting, reading, gardening, bodysurfing and walking on the beach.
In addition to Cirincione, Dr. Jampolsky is survived by his two sons from a previous marriage to the late Patricia Jampolsky, Gregory Jampolsky of San Jose de Cabo, Mexico, and Lee Jampolsky of Carmel Valley; brother Dr. Arthur Jampolsky of Belvedere; grandchildren Jacquelyn Jampolsky of San Jose de Cabo, Grant Jampolsky of Olympic Valley, Jalena Jampolsky of Newark, Del., and Lexi Jampolsky of Carmel Valley; niece Eve Miller of Arcadia; and nephews Michael Jampolsky of Sebastopol and David Jampolsky of Novato.
His second brother, Lester Jampolsky, predeceased him.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Contributions in his memory may be sent to Attitudinal Healing International, 3001 Bridgeway, Suite K-368, Sausalito, CA 94965.
Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.