John C. Kelleher III, M.D.

Passed away: Los Angeles on 26 January 2020

Aged: 49 years

The Story

Dr. John C. Kelleher, III, M.D. passed away on January 26th, 2020, of brain cancer, at the age of 49. Dr. Kelleher earned his M.D. at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, R.I., and received his training in psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Behavior. Dr. Kelleher was trained in Mentalization-Based Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder by Dr. Peter Fonagy and Dr. Anthony Bateman, its originators. He was a clinical fellow at the Borderline Personality Disorder Initiative at UCLA and also worked as Medical Director at the Clearview Women's Center for Borderline Personality Disorder. At the time of his passing, he was a Clinical Associate at the New Center for Psychoanalysis, where he served as Co-President of the Clinical Associates Organization.

Dr. Kelleher was a dedicated advocate for the health of his LGBTQ community. In medical school, he co-led and revitalized the Queer Med student group, and in later life was a supporter of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. He also co-authored the chapter "Taking a Comprehensive History and Providing Relevant Risk-reduction Counseling," in The Fenway Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health, published by the American College of Physicians in 2008.

His patients were grateful to know Dr. Kelleher as a talented, humble, and devoted physician and psychoanalyst, who saved lives with his incredible empathy and the rare compassion and bravery to specialize in the stigmatized diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD is considered among the most painful and damaging mental illnesses, and there is a 10% mortality rate by suicide. Few mental health professionals are willing to take on this terrible disease, let alone to be so open-hearted to its sufferers and treat them with such love and respect as Dr. Kelleher did. His work will continue to help others for many years to come, via the impact made in the lives of his patients, and by a suicide prevention app developed by one of them in his honor. When launched, the app will be available at (If you are currently in need of support, please reach out to the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit to see an international list.)

In the words of pioneering psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, a key influence on Dr. Kelleher's extraordinarily nurturing and committed style of practice: "the analyst survives." Dr. Kelleher most certainly will, in the hearts and thoughts of each and every one of the people he cared for.

Note: This memorial page has been created on behalf of Dr. Kelleher's patients who may be struggling with "disenfranchised grief." When a psychotherapist dies, the patients are not able to seek comfort in sharing memories of this very important person in their lives with anybody else, as when grieving a friend or family member. It is hoped this gesture would be in line with Dr. Kelleher's wishes, as in life he worked so hard and cared so abundantly that those he treated would not have to suffer alone.
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I am one of Dr. Kelleher's patients with Borderline Personality Disorder. I got to work with him for three and a half years and it's hard for me to believe the change our work made in me, after 15 years of unsuccessful attempts at therapy with many others. I always wondered (and often asked, though he wouldn't say) why on earth he had chosen to work with borderlines, who are fairly universally reviled by mental health practitioners and not for no reason -- we are difficult, angry, needy, paranoid, at times irrational; the disease is intractable, interminable, our defenses are "primitive" in that the damage was done to us when we were preverbal and our emotions can be as uncontrollable and agonizing as a mindless infant's. The suicide risk alone rules us out for many who are rightly concerned about liability should we die under their care. Although he never told me why he was so willing to take all this on, by the end I came to an answer that I found satisfying. I believe he wanted to be, wanted to help, where the greatest pain was. "Gratitude" does not begin to encompass the feelings I have for him.

Anonymous Patient