WASHINGTON - Jerilyn Ross, 63, a psychotherapist who overcame her phobia to help hundreds of other people peacefully meet their fears face to face, died Thursday at Sibley Memorial Hospital. She had neuroendocrine cancer in her abdomen.
Ross, who had a lifelong fear of heights, bucked the trend in 1970s psychotherapy by taking her patients off the couch and into the environment that caused them anxiety. She would accompany her clients on nerve-racking trips up and down a long public-transit escalator or on elevator rides to the top of the Washington Monument.
Ross achieved wide notice in the 1980s as the host of a radio show, where she was known as the "Phobia Lady." She would give common-sense advice to listeners. "Phobic people are generally considered to be weak and helpless. That's not the case," Ross told The Washington Post in 1980. "Most of them are bright and competent people with one thing ruining their lives."
Jerilyn Ross was born Dec. 20, 1946, in the Bronx. She was a 1968 graduate of SUNY Cortland. In 1975, she received a master's degree in psychology from the New School for Social Research in New York.
In 1978, after taking part in an experimental program, Ross learned to manage her fear of heights, though she never conquered it entirely. Shortly afterward, she moved to the District of Columbia and joined the practice of Robert DuPont, a psychiatrist and expert in the field of phobia, as a psychotherapist. In 1991, Ross founded an outpatient clinic, the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, which she ran until her death.
Survivors include husband Ronald Cohen and three stepchildren, all of Potomac, Md.; a brother, Richard Ross of the District of Columbia; and seven grandchildren.