25 Faces 25 Years: Elizabeth Lombardo
By Diane Ketler
Photo by Karl Krummenacher
June 8, 2017
“My life was forever changed by a man whose leg had been amputated,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a clinical psychologist and national media consultant, recalling a former patient at the Baltimore Veterans Association Medical Center. At the time of their meeting, Lombardo had just graduated from Duke University with her master’s in physical therapy.
“I knew if I could get him up on the parallel bars, he’d be able to walk,” she says, “and I could teach him how to transfer in and out of his wheelchair.”
But the veteran didn’t share her optimism. After losing his leg to complications from diabetes, he was angry, frustrated, depressed.
“Someone literally cut this man’s leg off,” Lombardo says. “He needed to talk about it. He needed to process the loss, but I didn’t have any of those skills [to help him].”
She considers that day a sign of her true purpose in life. Soon after, she applied to doctoral programs in clinical psychology and chose Drexel’s program (formerly part of Hahnemann University) because of its location and because of Arthur Nezu, PhD, one of the program’s directors, with whom she interviewed.
“Art is incredible,” she says, “I really liked his skills-oriented approach to helping clients. I knew I had to work with him.”
The mentorship she received from Nezu and his wife, fellow Drexel psychology professor Christine Maguth Nezu, PhD, was invaluable in her training.
Lombardo remembers she and her classmates trying to outwit the two professors, proposing complicated scenarios, posing as the most difficult clients, but the Nezus would always have an answer.
“They’re unbelievable clinicians and researchers,” Lombardo says, “I feel so fortunate to have worked with mentors who were so strong in both of those areas, because that doesn’t always happen.”
The majority of Lombardo’s research and clinical hours were spent with cancer patients at the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit of Hahnemann Hospital. Many of the patients were terminally ill, and one still sticks out vividly in her mind: a father in his 40s diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Given just two months to live, the man was estranged from his adult children and riddled with guilt about the father he had been to them. Through their work together, Lombardo, then 28, was able to help the man find forgiveness and reunite with one of his two children.
“Helping him get to a place of peace before he passed, getting to be a part of such an intimate, meaningful experience and getting to teach him skills — that will always stay with me. That’s what I view as the role of a psychologist: to help people learn new skills and how to interact with the world differently,” she says.
When she graduated from Drexel, she poured purpose and passion — words she lives by — into everything she did, first in her private practice, then as a bestselling author, wife, mother, and ultimately, as a media consultant appearing on countless programs including “The Dr. Oz Show,” “The Today Show” and the “Steve Harvey Show.”
Years earlier, though, Lombardo never would have predicted a career in the national spotlight.
“When I got married, I didn’t even want to have a videographer at the wedding because I was so uncomfortable in front of a camera,” Lombardo says. “But when I wrote my first book, the stats were pretty poor. I wanted more than just my mother and my husband to buy the book.”
So she created a national platform for herself, getting the word out through speaking and media engagements. Lombardo made her first national TV appearance on “The Montel Williams Show” as one of three doctors speaking on the emotional aspects of pain.
Since then, her reputation and media reel has grown exponentially. She’s appeared as a guest expert discussing everything from “happiness hangovers” with “Fox & Friends,” to stress management on “The Today Show.” But despite speaking in front of millions on a regular basis, she remains humble and focused.
“I made a big shift in my ability to be effective in the media when I went from focusing on ‘Don’t mess up, don’t mess up,’ to ‘What’s my purpose and passion?’” she says. “My purpose and passion are to teach at least one nugget of advice that at least one person can hear and apply to their lives.”
Of all the people she’s met in green rooms over the years, it’s not the celebrities who leave a lasting impression.
“I remember this one young man who was 17 or 18 and had just won ‘Jeopardy,’ and he was so nervous. We had this really fun conversation about his life and what he wanted to do after ‘Jeopardy,’ because he was just graduating from high school and going into college,” she says. “It’s those kinds of real people who I find most interesting.”
Lombardo has worked with individuals from all walks of life — household names like Shaquille O’Neal, CEOs, mothers, the terminally ill — but her role with each client remains the same.
“I help people develop a sense of resiliency and perseverance. That’s what I get to do. I get to teach people skills so they can flourish, so that they can fulfill whoever they’re supposed to be. I don’t know what’s more incredible than that.”
This article originally appeared in the College of Arts and Sciences' Ask magazine feature story, "25 Faces, 25 Years." For more Ask stories, visit askmagazine.org.