Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (July 8, 1926 August 24, 2004) was a Swiss-American psychiatrist, a pioneer in near-death studies, and author of the internationally best-selling book, On Death and Dying (1969), where she first discussed her theory of the five stages of grief, also known as the "Kübler-Ross model".[1]

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Born(1926-07-08)July 8, 1926
Zürich, Switzerland
DiedAugust 24, 2004(2004-08-24) (aged 78)
Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
Known forKübler-Ross model
Spouse(s)Manny Ross (1958–1979)
ChildrenKen Ross
Barbara Ross
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Chicago
InfluencedCaroline Myss, Vern Barnet, Bruce Greyson, Sogyal Rinpoche

Elisabeth was a 2007 inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame,[2] she was named by Time (magazine) as one of the "100 Most Important Thinkers" of the 20th Century[3] and she was the recipient of nineteen honorary degrees. By July 1982 Kübler-Ross taught 125,000 students in death and dying courses in colleges, seminaries, medical schools, hospitals, and social-work institutions.[4] In 1970, she delivered an Ingersoll Lecture at Harvard University on the theme On Death and Dying.

Birth and education

Elisabeth Kübler was born on July 8, 1926, in Zürich, Switzerland, into a Protestant Christian Family. She was one of a set of triplets. Her survival was jeopardized due to complications after birth.[5] Her father wanted her to run his small business. She went to the university of Zurich to study medicine and graduated in 1957. She was a tireless worker but regretted not taking more leisure time.In an interview she stated:

In Switzerland I was educated in line with the basic premise: work work work. You are only a valuable human being if you work. This is utterly wrong. Half working, half dancing - that is the right mixture. I myself have danced and played too little.[6]


During World War II she worked with refugees, in Zürich, and following the war, did relief work in Poland. She would later visit Majandek death camp which sparked her interest in the power of compassion and resilience of the human spirit. The horror stories of the survivors left permanent impressions on Elisabeth.[8]

Personal life

In 1958 she married a fellow medical student from America, Emanuel ("Manny") Ross, and moved to the United States. Becoming pregnant disqualified her from a residency in pediatrics, so she took one in psychiatry. After suffering two miscarriages, she had a son, Kenneth, and a daughter, Barbara, in the early 1960s.[9] Her husband requested a divorce in 1979.

Academic career

Kübler-Ross moved to New York in 1958 to work and continued her studies.

She began her psychiatric residency in the Manhattan State Hospital in the early 1960's, she began her career working to create treatment for those who were schizophrenic along with those faced with the title "hopeless patient". These treatment programs would work to restore the patient's sense of dignity and self-respect. Elisabeth also intended to reduce the medications that kept these patients overly sedated, and found ways to help them relate to the outside world[8] During her time at the hospital, she realized how appalling the treatments of the imminently dying patients were. This realization made her strive to make a difference in the lives of these individuals.

In 1962, she accepted a position at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. There, Elisabeth was a junior faculty member and gave her first interview of a young terminally ill woman in front of a roomful of medical students. Her intentions were not to be an example of pathology, but Kübler-Ross wanted to depict a human being who desired to be understood as she was coping with her illness and how it has impacted her life. [8] She states to her students,

"Now you are reacting like human beings instead of scientists. Maybe now you'll not only know how a dying patient feels but you will also be able to treat them with compassion the same compassion that you would want for yourself"[8]

Kübler-Ross completed her training in psychiatry in 1963, and then moved to Chicago in 1965. She sometimes questioned the practices of traditional psychiatry that she observed. She also undertook 39 months of classical psychoanalysis training in Chicago. She became an instructor at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine where she began to conduct a regular weekly educational seminar that consisted of live interviews with terminally ill patients. She had her students participate in these despite a large amount of resistance from the medical staff.[8].

Healing Center

Kübler-Ross encouraged the hospice care movement, believing that euthanasia prevents people from completing their 'unfinished business'.

In 1977 she persuaded her husband to buy forty acres of land in Escondido, California, near San Diego, where she founded "Shanti Nilaya" (Home of Peace). She intended it as a healing center for the dying and their families. She was also a co-founder of the American Holistic Medical Association.

In the late 1970s, she became interested in out-of-body experiences, mediumship, spiritualism, and other ways of attempting to contact the dead. This led to a scandal connected to the Shanti Nilaya Healing Center, in which she was duped by Jay Barham, founder of the Church of the Facet of the Divinity. Claiming he could channel the spirits of the departed and summon ethereal "entities", he encouraged church members to engage in sexual relations with the "spirits". He may have hired several women to play the parts of female spirits for this purpose.[10] Kubler-Ross' friend Deanna Edwards attended a service to ascertain whether allegations against Barham were true. He was found to be naked and wearing only a turban when Edwards unexpectedly pulled masking tape off the light switch and flipped on the light.[11][12][13]

Investigations on near death experiences

Kübler-Ross also dealt with the phenomenon of near-death experiences. Her reputation began to decline when she began researching the controversial subject of near-death experiences. Elisabeth was also an advocate for spiritual guides and afterlife,[8] serving on the Advisory Board of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS)[3] Elisabeth reported her interviews for the first time in her book, On Death and Dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy, and their own families (1969)[14][15]

AIDS work

One of her greatest wishes was her plan to build a hospice for infants and children infected with HIV to give them a lasting home where they could live until their death. This was inspired by the aid-project of British doctor Cicely Saunders. Elisabeth attempted to do this in 1985 in Virginia, but local residents feared the possibility of infection and blocked the necessary re-zoning. In 1994, she lost her house and possessions to an arson fire that is suspected to have been set by opponents of her AIDS work.[16]

She conducted many workshops on AIDS in different parts of the world. In 1990, she moved the Healing Center to her own farm in Head Waters, Virginia, to reduce her extensive traveling.


Kübler-Ross suffered a series of strokes in 1995 which left her partially paralyzed on her left side, in the meantime Shanti Nilaya Healing Center closed. She found herself living in a wheelchair, slowly waiting for death to come, and wished to be able to determine her time of death.[17] In a 2002 interview with The Arizona Republic, she stated that she was ready for death and even welcomed it, calling God a "damned procrastinator"[3]. Elisabeth passed in 2004 at a nursing home in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the presence of her son, daughter, and two family friends.[3] She was buried at the Paradise Memorial Gardens Cemetery.


Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the first individual to transfigure the way that the world looks at the terminally ill, she pioneered hospice-care and near-death research, and was the first to bring terminally ill individuals' lives to the public eye.[8] Elisabeth was the driving force behind the movement for doctors and nurses alike to “treat the dying with dignity”.[3] Her extensive work with the dying led to the internationally best-selling book On Death and Dying in 1969, she proposed the, now famous, Five Stages of Grief as a pattern of adjustment: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In general, individuals experience most of these stages when faced with  facing their imminent death. The five stages have since been adopted by bereavement as applying to the survivors of a loved one's death as well alike.

Elisabeth wrote over 20 books on death and dying. [3] At the end of her life she was mentally active, co-authoring a book with David Kessler on grief and grieving.[3]

Honorary degrees

  • Doctor of Science, H.C., Albany Medical College, New York 1974
  • Doctor of Laws, University of Notre Dame, IN.,1974
  • Doctor of Science, Smith College 1975
  • Doctor of Science, Molloy College, Rockville Centre, NY, 1976
  • Doctor of Humanities, Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN. 1975
  • Doctor of Laws, Hamline University, MN. 1975
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Amherst College, MA. 1975
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Loyola University, IL 1975
  • Doctor of Humanities, Hood College, MD 1976
  • Doctor of Letters, Rosary College, IL. 1976
  • Doctor of Pedagogy, Keuka College, NY 1976
  • Doctor of Humane Science, University of Miami, FL 1976
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Bard College, NY 1977
  • Doctor of Science, Regis College, Weston MA., 1977
  • Honorary Degree, Anna Maria College, MA., 1978
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Union College, New York 1978
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, D'Youville College, New York 1979
  • Doctor of Science, Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1979
  • Doctor of Divinity, 1996

Selected bibliography

  • On Death & Dying, (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1969
  • Questions & Answers on Death & Dying, (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1972
  • Death: The Final Stage of Growth, (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1974
  • Questions and Answers on Death and Dying: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Macmillan, 1976. ISBN 0-02-567120-0.
  • To Live Until We Say Goodbye, (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1978
  • The Dougy Letter -A Letter to a Dying Child, (Celestial Arts/Ten Speed Press), 1979
  • Quest, Biography of EKR (Written with Derek Gill), (Harper & Row), 1980
  • Working It Through, (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1981
  • Living with Death & Dying, (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone), 1981
  • Remember the Secret, (Celestial Arts/Ten Speed Press), 1981
  • On Children & Death, (Simon & Schuster), 1985
  • AIDS: The Ultimate Challenge, (Simon & Schuster), 1988
  • On Life After Death, (Celestial Arts), 1991
  • Death Is of Vital Importance, (Out of Print- Now The Tunnel and the Light), 1995
  • Unfolding the Wings of Love (Germany only - Silberschnur), 1996
  • Making the Most of the Inbetween, (Various Foreign), 1996
  • AIDS & Love, The Conference in Barcelona, (Spain), 1996
  • Longing to Go Back Home, (Germany only - Silberschnur), 1997
  • Working It Through: An Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Workshop on Life, Death, and Transition, Simon & Schuster, 1997. ISBN 0-684-83942-3.
  • The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying, (Simon & Schuster/Scribner), 1997
  • Why Are We Here, (Germany only - Silberschnur), 1999
  • The Tunnel and the Light, (Avalon), 1999
  • Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living, with David Kessler, Scribner, 2001. ISBN 0-684-87074-6.
  • On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, with David Kessler. Scribner, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-6628-5.
  • Real Taste of Life: A photographic Journal


  1. Broom, Sarah M. (Aug 30, 2004). "Milestones". TIME.
  2. "Elisabeth Kübler-Ross". Women of the Hall. National Women's Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 3 January 2008.
  3. [(https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc799085/ "Obituaries: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross"] Check |url= value (help). Journal of Near Death Studies. 2004.
  4. "Turn on, tune in, drop dead" by Ron Rosenbaum, Harper's, July 1982, pages 32-42
  5. Newman, Laura. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. (2004). British Medical Journal, 329 (7466), 627. Retrieved November 17, 2006.
  6. de.wikipedia
  7. "Elisabeth Kübler-Ross | American psychologist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  8. Blaylock, B (2005). "In memoriam: Elisabeth kubler-ross, 1926-2004". Families, Systems, & Health. 23: 108–109 via EBSCO.
  9. Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth
  10. Sex, Visitors from the Grave, Psychic Healing: Kubler-Ross Is a Public Storm Center Again by Karen G. Jackovich. In People, October 29, 1979, page found 2011-03-05.
  11. Playboy Interview with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's' Playboy Magazine, May, 1981
  12. TIME.com, The Conversion of Kubler-Ross, TIME, November 12, 1979
  13. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the Afterworld of Entities by Kate Coleman, New West, 30 July 1979
  14. Video: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross über Nahtoderfahrungen (1981) , abgerufen am 14. März 2014
  15. Bild der Wissenschaft: Sind Nahtod-Erfahrungen Bilder aus dem Jenseits? abgerufen am 16. März 2014.
  16. Kinofenster.de (in German)
  17. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On life After Death, Foreword by Caroline Myss p.vii. Celestial Arts. ISBN 9781587613180

Further reading

  • Quest: The Life of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, by Derek Gill. Ballantine Books (Mm), 1982. ISBN 0-345-30094-7.
  • The Life Work of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Its Impact on the Death Awareness Movement, by Michèle Catherine Gantois Chaban. E. Mellen Press, 2000. ISBN 0-7734-8302-0.
  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Encountering Death and Dying, by Richard Worth. Published by Facts On File, Inc., 2004. ISBN 0-7910-8027-7.
  • Tea With Elisabeth tributes to Hospice Pioneer Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, compiled by Fern Stewart Welch, Rose Winters and Ken Ross, Published by Quality of Life Publishing Co 2009 ISBN 978-0-9816219-9-9


  • Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Facing Death (2003) (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross – Dem Tod ins Gesicht sehen) Director & writer Stefan Haupt, 98 min
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