Skip to main content

In his honor, here is a tribute written by Andrea Gold, PhD, and Suzanne Decker, PhD.

Seth Axelrod, PhD was a DBT clinician, teacher, mentor, scholar, and friend. He directed the Dialectical Behavior Therapy track at the Yale-New Haven Hospital Intensive Outpatient Program, serving some of the highest-risk and most deeply suffering individuals who receive mental health care. He was Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a trainer and consultant with Behavioral Tech, LLC. He taught and mentored over 100 mental health care providers in DBT. Seth took tremendous joy in connecting members of the DBT community to one another, whether it was by “let me introduce you to…” at a conference, an email sent on a trainee’s behalf, or co-developing the annual Yale-National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder conference with the late Perry Hoffman, PhD, a conference now in its 17th year. As a clinician and mentor, Seth embodied the dialectic of total acceptance of a person exactly as they are, and, total and unrelenting push towards their life worth living. He was honored with the ISITDBT Cindy Sanderson Outstanding Educator Award in 2019, an experience he described as deeply humbling, as he considered the other award recipients to be ‘the giants that [he] looked up to’. Seth had a contagious laugh, an incredible generosity of spirit, and both a half-smile and a winning full smile. He truly lived DBT, pushing for change, encouragement, cheerleading, while grappling with cancer and deeply accepting its effects. He practiced his skills actively and publicly while undergoing treatment, as described in his interview with Charlie Swenson, MD, on his podcast To Hell and Back Seth is survived by his wife, Rebecca, and children Emma and Eli, and will be deeply missed by his clients, colleagues, and the entire DBT family.

In Memory of Seth Axelrod – a Tribute from Emily Cooney

Seth was an Associate Professor at the Yale School of Medicine, and the Director of the Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital DBT Intensive Outpatient Program.  He had a local and national reputation for his expertise on Dialectical Behavior Therapy, suicidality, self-harm, and borderline personality disorder.  He mentored and taught numerous students, colleagues, fellows, practitioners, and investigators, assisted Marsha in the 2nd edition of her DBT skills manual, and has been a tremendous resource both nationally and internationally for the DBT community. He was a tireless advocate for individuals and families affected by emotion dysregulation and BPD, continuing to engage in activities such as participating in the annual Sashbear Foundation walk, and spearheading the development of a DBT treatment directory, even when experiencing the limits of a life-threatening illness.  With his friend and colleague, the late and dear Perry Hoffman, he founded and co-directed the annual BPD conference at Yale in partnership with the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder that is now moving towards its third decade.

He was also a devoted husband and father, a collaborative and encouraging colleague, an astute and incredibly generous therapist and mentor, and my dear friend.  He brought warmth, humanity and mutual respect to his unerring focus on clinical excellence.  In doing so, he asked for, in his words: “full commitment to success balanced by full openness to failure, with the synthesis of the freedom to do one’s best”.  This was nowhere exemplified so strongly as his valiant commitment to a life of meaning, joy and service, in the midst of living with cancer.  In this he embodied the application of DBT skills to transmute suffering to the full catastrophe of pain and delight that is life.  With his beloved wife, Rebecca he contributed to Charlie Swenson’s superlative podcast where they described how DBT principles and skills guided their response to Seth’s illness in interviews that were inspiring and uplifting.

In 2019, Andrea Gold suggested nominating him for the ISIDBT Cindy Sanderson award, and we invited members of the DBT community who had experienced his teaching and mentorship to provide letters of support.  The outpouring of messages describing his impact on people’s lives and careers was overwhelming and incredibly moving.  It is similar to the gratitude, affection and respect in the messages that have been posted on the DBT listserv from those who have been affected by him.  I know that this represents a miniscule proportion of the people whom Seth has touched with his wisdom, enthusiasm, and compassion; the individuals living with BPD to whom he dedicated his working life are legion. 

I am very grateful to have known him.