Dr. Lester Luborsky, one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy research, died at home in Philadelphia on Oct 22, at the age of 89. A longtime Vineyard summer resident, he first came to the Island in 1947. He became a yearly summer resident in 1965 when he and his wife Ruth bought a home in Chilmark, where he loved the view of the ponds, the wildlife and tranquility.
Lester first thought of becoming a botanist, but when he discovered a collection of Freud in his landlady’s attic, he changed his mind. He went off to Duke University for his Ph.D., becoming a clinical psychologist who spent his lifetime career bringing two worlds together — psychotherapy and scientific research. He went on to the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kan., where he did psychoanalytic training and research for 11 years. He returned to Philadelphia in 1959, and was on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania ever since.
He developed methods to investigate what makes psychotherapy work, and became a pioneer in psychotherapy research. He was a respected teacher and mentor who, according to Dr. Dwight Evans, the chairman of the psychiatry department of the University of Pennsylvania, “has had a tremendous impact on the field.”
Author of nine books and over 400 articles, he was the recipient of over 20 awards for his contributions, notably the Gold Medal award for the Applications of Psychology by the American Psychological Foundation, the Sigourney award for research in psychoanalysis, the Distinguished Professional Contributions to Knowledge award (American Psychological Association) and the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.
He relished time with his family on the Vineyard, where he used to nurture the trees and plants, consulting with Preston Harris about their care. He also enjoyed swimming in the ponds. He always brought his work to the Vineyard, continuing his lifelong pursuit of psychotherapy research. Some of the writing for his last book, Research and Psychotherapy: The Vital Link, coauthored with his daughter Ellen and published in 2006, took place on the Chilmark porch.
He is survived by his three children: Lise, a lawyer, Ellen, a psychologist, and Peter, a teacher and linguist; four grandchildren, Miranda, Alex, David and Marie; and three great-grandchildren, Kora, Noah and Elijah.
Contributions may be made in his honor to the Vineyard Conservation Society.