Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.
Family Pictures



Harriet Lerner was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 30, 1944. She is the second of two daughters of Rose and Archie Goldhor. Her parents were first-generation Americans, both born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. They were high school graduates who held jobs they did for paychecks but avocations that brought them great joy.

Archie worked for the New York State Employment Agency for more than thirty years, but his real love was his shop in the basement of their house. "He could build anything", says Lerner. "He made all of our furniture, along with toys, lamps and jigsaw puzzles. He loved rosewood, classical music, The New York Times, and peace and quiet. He had a peace-at-any-price philosophy, which I did not abide by."

Lerner's mother, Rose, worked in an office, but her passion was art. When she was in her late fifties, she started working for artists she admired; in exchange, she asked for artwork, thus creating an art gallery in her home. Rose, who died recently at the age of 94, left her daughters a wonderful collection of paintings and sculpture and, more important, an enduring love of art and beauty.

Lerner's sister, Susan, five years her senior, is a biologist and researcher in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The two sisters have collaborated in writing award-wining children's books; their first is called What's So Terrible About Swallowing an Apple Seed (HarperCollins). Their latest book Franny B. Kranny, There's A Bird in Your Hair! (HarperCollins)

Growing up, Harriet and Susan often spent weekends at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Museum. "These places were free and just a subway token away."

Lerner's mother had an unwavering belief in her daughters and strong principles about how to raise children. In Harriet's words:

"Even during the hardest economic times my mother, Rose, made sure that Susan and I had four things that she believed were essential to our later success:

    1. Good shoes (I don't mean stylish)
    2. A firm, quality mattress
    3. A top pediatrician (none other than Doctor Benjamin Spock);
    4. A therapist

Unlike other parents of the day who considered therapy to be a last resort of the mentally ill, my mother thought it was a learning experience. She put me in therapy before I was three, after obtaining a health insurance policy that provided weekly therapy sessions for one dollar. I later joked that my mother would send me to a therapist if I came home from school with anything less than a B plus. I was exaggerating, but only a little bit. "

Her mother's belief in therapy undoubtedly contributed to Lerner's career choice. She decided to become a clinical psychologist before finishing kindergarten - a decision she never veered from.


Lerner attended local public schools in Brooklyn including Midwood High School. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she majored in psychology and Indian studies. She spent her junior year studying and doing research in Delhi, India. Lerner received an M.A. in educational psychology from Teachers' College of Columbia University and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the City University of New York. It was there that she met and later married Steve Lerner, also a clinical psychologist.

"It's been great to be in the same field because we love exchanging ideas and sharing our work," says Lerner. The couple did a pre-doctoral internship at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco and moved to Topeka, Kansas in 1972 for a two-year postdoctoral training program at the Menninger Foundation, where they subsequently joined the staff

"We always planned to move back to Berkeley or New York,” says Lerner. “But two years in Topeka turned into two decades - and then some” She now identifies herself as a Kansan and claims to have overcome her coastal arrogance. She has grown to love the simple life (meaning she has never had to learn to parallel park) and the big open skies. After Menninger closed shop in Topeka and moved to Houston, Lerner and her husband moved to Lawrence, Kansas where they currently have a private practice. They have two sons, Matt and Ben.

Lerner is best known for her work on the psychology of women and family relationships. Feminism and family systems theory continue to inform her writing. She has dedicated her writing life to translating complex theory into accessible and useful prose, an d has become one of our nation most trusted and respected relationship experts.

Lerner's books have been published in more than thirty foreign editions with book sales of over three million. Her “Dance” books include The Dance of Anger The Dance of Intimacy, and The Dance of Deception, The Mother Dance and The Dance of Connection.

Lerner is also the author of Life Preservers: Good Advice When You Need It Most, and Women in Therapy, a feminist revision of psychoanalytic theory and practice

Lerner's latest book (May 2004) is Fear and Other Uninvited Guests: Tackling the Anxiety, Fear and Shame That Keep Us From Optimal Living and Loving. See Appearances for her tour schedule.

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