A Conversation with Judith Orloff, M.D.
by Walter Jacobson, M.D.
Re-printed from the Newsletter of the Southern California Psychiatric Society
Judith Orloff, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. In her first book, Second Sight, she chronicles the development of her intuitive abilities. In her subsequent book, Intuitive Healing: 5 Steps to Physical, Emotional and Sexual Wellness, she explores the impact of her ideas in over fifteen years of psychiatric practice, demonstrating how breakthroughs are accomplished by awakening intuition. Dr. Orloff shared some of her thoughts in a recent telephone interview:
Jacobson: Perhaps we could start by you describing what you do and how you apply it in a psychiatric practice setting.
Orloff: What I do is called intuitive healing. It’s bringing intuition into the practice of psychiatry and medicine. What that means is that I listen to every kind of linear, logical, rational, analytic piece of information that comes in, but I’m also aware of images, impressions, gut feelings, sights, smells, sounds, and senses of energy that I get in my body which help to add to the diagnosis. It’s not at all divorcing us from our analytic training. It’s about integrating new tools along with what we’ve learned traditionally.
Jacobson: A patient comes in and says he’s depressed. Is there a different way you’d do the initial assessment?
Orloff: It’s about intuitive listening. It’s more than going down the list of signs and symptoms. It’s about me listening to other forms of intuitive input that could come in at that time that could help lend more depth and richness to what they’re presenting. For instance, I had a patient, whom I knew very, very well. She came in and was talking about some stress symptoms at work. I was listening to her and suddenly had a premonition or a knowing that she had cancer, and it came to me very clearly and it had nothing to do with what she was saying. At that point, of course, I didn’t interrupt her and say, by the way, I think you have cancer; but what I did do was I suggested that she go for a physical exam. She did, and they found a mass in her breast. It was malignant and she had early diagnosis and treatment. Because I was listening to what came to me during her session, and, despite it having no clinical correlation at all, I trusted it, and it helped point her in a very positive direction in terms of something that she didn’t even know about herself that needed tending to.
Jacobson: Is there an analogy to an emotional symptom where your intuition picks up something out of the blue that can be reflected back to them?
Orloff: It happens all the time. I mentioned this in my first book, Second Sight. I was seeing a patient soon after I opened my private practice. She came in with major depression, with all the signs and symptoms, and I prescribed antidepressants, and she got significantly better over a period of eight months. She had lots of positive changes in her life, and nothing that would point to her depression not improving. One day I was sitting with her and I had a knowing that came to me that she was going to make a suicide attempt, and it had no bearing on anything she said or did; there was no clinical correlation, so I ignored it, and within a week she overdosed on the pills I prescribed for her and ended up in Brotman ICU. That was an example when I did not listen to my intuition and felt devastated; I felt like I had harmed her by not listening to a pertinent piece of critical information that came in at that point.
Jacobson: Are you now at a different place in your development where you would bring that up if you had that sense?
Orloff: I’m in an interesting position right now. I’ve had two books come out about intuitive healing. And so people come to me for this. I’m convinced this is the new wave of health care. People who come to me all say the same thing: they all say I’ve been in traditional therapy and I’ve made really good strides, but now I want to go on to an intuitive and spiritual level and my therapist can’t take me there. And not only that, they’re afraid of telling their therapists certain intuitive experiences they have for fear of being called crazy.
Jacobson: So what you’re saying is that in the practice you have now, it’s welcomed, patients want you to sift out things that may not be at their level of knowing.
Orloff: And also to train them to do the same. Part of my psychotherapy practice is training my patients how to listen to their dreams, how to listen to their gut feelings, how to meditate, how to go inward, how to find the still voice inside so that they can get an authentic sense of inner truth, as opposed to floundering around and trying to make decisions based on simply their intellect. Many people come to me with many things on the outside, so many things materially, and yet they’re lost. One reason why I think that’s so true is because they don’t know how to find the still small voice inside that will tell the truth about things. So part of what I do as an intuitive therapist is to help them find that, to teach them to know what a gut feeling feels like, to know if it’s accurate, to know what’s fear, to know if it’s an authentic intuition. I walk them through it piece by piece, helping them to deal with all the resistances. Because people have a lot of resistance to realizing the power of their intuitive voice, and they’re always looking to other people to do it for them, or to give them answers. I think part of therapy and part of healing is being accountable for one’s own power and getting in touch with that. When people realize they do have this voice inside and it is accessible and they can develop it and even when they leave therapy they have something inside of themselves they can trust, it gives them an enormous amount of strength to confront anything in life.
Jacobson: Do you believe this alters the course of their depression or anxiety disorder?
Orloff: Oh, totally. In my second book, Intuitive Healing, part of what I talk about is the intuitive sensing of subtle energies. This is based on the Chinese medical practitioner’s concept of chi, which has been known for thousands of years, the energy meridians in the body, something that can be sensed. It’s based on the chakra system. So what I teach my patients to do is to get in touch with this sense of energy which is located in various centers in their body, the most important one being their heart. And once they begin to get a sense that there is something very real there, they can begin to activate the heart energy. When the heart energy is activated, it brings a sense of self-soothing, like a warm sun inside of yourself. It’s more calming than any anti-anxiety medicine anyone could ever take, but most people don’t know how to access it. So once I teach people how to do that, then, let’s say they’re having a panic attack, they immediately go into their heart, and it helps them to listen to the panic symptoms. There’s another thing I work with intuitively in regard to agoraphobia and panic attacks: we have flesh and blood bodies, but there is energy that goes beyond the body, what I call subtle energy fields. A lot of people are very sensitive to this kind of energy, and when they get in crowded places with a lot of this physical and subtle energy intermixing, they become overloaded energetically and they panic. They never learn how to work with the subtle energetic correlate of that panic experience. That’s an important piece I work with. Some people have what I call intuitive empathy, they’re extremely sensitive and they pick up various things that are going on in other people and they absorb it in themselves. And this can be very debilitating. This is an intuitive explanation to consider with panic disorder and agoraphobia.
Jacobson: By “intuitive empathy,” you’re saying that some people take on the pains and chaos of the world around them. Can it go the other way? Can a therapist use intuitive empathy in a healing fashion?
Orloff: Absolutely. One of the most important qualities for a therapist to have is the ability to connect with their own heart energy and that sense of deep compassion and deep love within them that is centered in the heart chakra. If a therapist learns how to meditate and learns how to get in touch with this very palpable energy, you can begin to consciously channel it, and then you can begin to create not only an intellectually and emotionally safe environment for a patient, but energetically, it feels like a womb, it’s a most beautiful feeling, it’s a palpable sense when someone gives off a sense of heart. And therapists can develop this but it takes training because we’re not taught in our culture how to do this. In Intuitive Healing, I go through how everyone can do it and must do it. I think learning how to open hearts should be basic 101 training for all residents, but certainly psychiatric residents.
Jacobson: You say that people, even if they feel they are grounded with feet of clay, can learn these skills to get in touch with their inner source?
Orloff: If people have the desire to do it, they can be taught. I give training programs around the country for therapists and MDs to learn to do this. I gave a talk on intuitive healing at the American Psychiatric Association meeting this year in Chicago. I got the most incredible response. The doctors were so open. They wanted to learn added skills; they wanted to learn how to use intuition to help their patients. A lot of the doctors who attended the workshop were from the heartland of America. They wanted to know how to incorporate intuition.
Jacobson: Do you think psychiatric training will move in this direction?
Orloff: I hope so. Psychiatry needs to value the power of opening the heart, to realize there are subtle energies that run through the body that we can activate as healers to help heal ourselves and to help heal others. We physicians desperately need to restore our sense of the visionary, to fight to keep the spirit of medicine alive. And the future of that spirit lies in the integration of technological advances with intuition, the wedding of the heart and mind.
Jacobson: Thank you.