Phobia expert, Dr. Fear, to talk at April 7 Health Day

Not only that, but the average "phoboc" — a combination of phobic and obsessive compulsive — is highly creative, very intelligent, imaginative and empathetic.

"That describes most Jews," says Liebgold, who suffered silently for 31 years with his own severe claustrophobia. His 21-year-old son Mark, an undiagnosed agoraphobic, took his life in order to end his pain.

Phobics "catastrophize" what they fear. Individuals suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders exhibit behaviors such as excessive hand-washing and neatening. Alcoholism, drug abuse and eating disorders are often a form of such disorders.

Liebgold was so ashamed of his own phobias that he spent thousands of dollars on private psychotherapy sessions before finding Territorial Apprehensiveness (Terrap), a phobia group led by East Bay therapist Joyce Kaplan.

"Joyce gave me back my life. I finally found someone who knew what I had and told me I was curable," says Liebgold. "After four weeks, I was 95 percent better."

Thrilled with his recovery, the physician devoured every piece of medical and psychological literature he could find on the subject. He has since become "the self-proclaimed world expert" on phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders and says he has treated 7,000 sufferers.

He has developed a form of therapy he calls "phobia karate" and has written a book on the subject, now in its fourth printing. For the past 11 years, he has conducted workshops, lectured extensively and appeared on television and radio to spread his message, namely: "You are not crazy.

"All phobias, anxieties and obsessive-compulsive disorders can be cured," says Liebgold.

It takes six to 10 years to diagnose phobics, and 70 percent of those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders are never diagnosed, says Liebgold.

"Most doctors do not recognize the symptoms," he says.

Health Day co-chairwoman Beth Pascal of Hillsborough suffered for years from claustrophobia and a fear of flying. After taking a three-hour workshop with Liebgold, she embarked on a successful European family vacation that included six plane trips in three weeks.

"Dr. Liebgold provided me with the tools to handle my phobic challenges," Pascal said. "If not for him, I would not have been able to get on a plane."

Liebgold credits his Jewish heritage — with an emphasis on humanity — with making him a more caring physician.

He calls himself a "hugging doctor."

"The reason I am doing this lecture for Shaare Zedek is because there will be someone in the audience who desperately needs my help. I do 100 lectures a year to save people," he says.

"It is my mission."