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Alternatives For Healing

An Interview With Dr. Judith Orloff

by Edie Weinstein Moser

What would it be like to experience emotions as a daily part of human existence, rather than being at the mercy of the effect of them? Imagine a life in which you are able to ride the ebb and flow without being capsized by a tidal wave of feeling. Sound too amazing to be true? Renowned psychiatrist and bestselling author, Dr. Judith Orloff invites readers to release themselves from the tyranny of pre-programmed and self-perpetuated emotional states in her new book "Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life." In accessible form that includes anecdotes from her own life and those of patients over the years, as well as exercises that the reader can use immediately, it addresses subjects such as: emotional vampires, fear, frustration, loneliness and loving-kindness.

Wisdom: I understand that there is a Philly connection that some of our readers will find interesting since many who are holding this article now are based in that area.

Judith: I had family in the area and was there until I was about 5 and then I did my first two years of medical school at Hahnemann. I did my second two years at USC.

Wisdom: How long have you been a doctor?

Judith: How long ago did I get my MD? 1979.

Wisdom: I understand from reading your book that medicine is a family legacy.

Judith: I have 25 doctors in my family.

Wisdom: So what if you had decided to do something else? How would it have gone over?

Judith: I had no conscious desire to become a doctor. I was always very artistic and creative. I had been brought up around doctors and found them quite boring. It was a dream that told me to go to medical school in my twenties when I had no conscious desire to do it. The dream told me I was to become a psychiatrist to have the credentials to legitimize intuition in medicine.

Wisdom: You are a pioneer in a sense of what you call "energy psychiatry". How would you describe it?

Judith: Energy psychiatry is a combination of traditional medicine with intuition, subtle energies, spirituality and my conception of emotional freedom. I blend worlds. I don’t choose one over the other. I just choose what’s best for my patients.

Wisdom: Do you find that you create a bridge between the metaphysical and the mainstream?

Judith: Yes, I do.

Wisdom: What do you think makes people afraid to walk across that bridge at times?

Judith: I think people don’t have the experience and the comfort level I do at this point, going back and forth. I think they are in their heads and going around with this disembodied head and intellectualizing. They are not in their bodies or listening to their gut or intuition. It’s kind of alien in Western culture. That’s why as a psychiatrist, I wanted to bring an intuitive and spiritual knowing to emotions so people could begin to look at emotions as a path to spiritual awakening, not just as drudgery or torture.

Wisdom: You use the term ‘emotional freedom’. How are we often imprisoned by our perceptions of our emotions?

Judith: Emotional freedom is the ability to make mindful decisions about transforming negativity into something more positive. People get imprisoned by their emotions, because they simply react to them and don’t look at emotions as a path to develop their own spiritual growth. For instance, in the book, I talk about transformation in that the point of fear is to develop courage and the point of having frustration is to develop patience. The spiritual point of having anger is to transform it with compassion.

Wisdom: Are you saying that our emotions are springboards into a different way of being?

Judith: Yes. As opposed to being tortured by them or simply reacting, if you use them, they will springboard you to a higher state of consciousness.

Wisdom: I imagine that in your professional field, you have encountered resistance to your idea from colleagues. Is that less so now then when you first began your work?

Judith: I think it is gradually getting less and less as time goes on, which is really great. There has been so much national media attention on the science of meditation or the fact that spirituality is taught in medical schools. I teach Residents at UCLA to incorporate my techniques of emotional freedom and energy psychiatry. I am mentoring a UCLA medical student now in terms of really starting to live it. I started out with her in her first year and now she is in her second year.

Wisdom: You not only are able to send your work out there, but are mentoring others who carry the message out. Imagine the ripple effect. One of the other things that gives your work credibility is that you were once on the other side of the locked doors.

Judith: I was. I was in a psychiatric hospital. My parents put me in there because I was involved with drugs in the 60’s and running from my intuition, so they locked me up. It was a very brave sign of coming together on their part to lock their only daughter up in a psychiatric hospital. At the time I hated it and now I look back on it as the beginning of my path to emotional freedom. I was locked up and was able to see everything from that point of view and have compassion now. It’s funny because many times I had patients at that same hospital. So it was truly a case of the ‘inmates running the institution’.

Wisdom: This was one of those ‘ who woulda thunk it?’ scenarios. When you walked through the doors again, was there a sense of flashback of when you were there and now you have this perspective all these years later?

Judith: There were fond memories. My parents never looked at it that way. They said to me, "We still haven’t gotten over your adolescence." It was exciting to me. That’s when I first began to learn to check my intuition and grow up. I wrote that section of the book, because I want people to have compassion for themselves no matter what experience they go through and look at every experience as a potential breakthrough to something larger.

Wisdom: Are you saying that some of the experiences that can be the darkest and most painful, can also be the most healing and rewarding?

Judith:Yes. Also the joyous and celebratory can be healing. It’s how you balance them all.

Wisdom: How was your book birthed?

Judith: I had such a passion to be able to present emotions in a different way. There was so much suffering in the world and my patients didn’t know how to work with emotions in a way that was transformative. In my psychiatric training, I was taught the biological components of emotions and how to give medication. I was never taught the spiritual aspects and how revelatory that is to find a purpose in what they go through that goes beyond even psychology. It goes to a larger reality and I feel passionate in communicating that to people. It is a big mind shift to see that it is exactly what they need for their growth. They might never choose it in a million years consciously. Patients come to me and say they wish they could come to me with something more spiritual than a panic attack. I remind them that the essence of spirituality is using even a panic to grow and transform. I ask them if they can use it as a gift for themselves.

Wisdom: I had an experience a few years ago, working in a psychiatric hospital as a social worker that taps into what you are saying. I was having a conversation with one of the nurses and asked, "What if someone comes into the hospital with psychotic symptoms and what’s really happening is that they are having a spiritual awakening?" Do you find that happens in your practice that people are given a diagnosis when they are really connecting with Spirit?

Judith: I think everything is a connection with Spirit, not just diagnoses. I think every breath we take is connected to it and I think what we are presented with emotionally, all have a spiritual meaning. The problem is that in traditional psychiatry, they put people in a little box and label them. They diminish the profound nature of their experience. Each person goes through this experience in a different way. In traditional psychiatry, there is more of a cookie cutter approach. In my approach, I look at each person fresh, every time I see them.

Wisdom: For those who are reading this interview who may be mental health professionals, how can we be of support to our clients and patients as they express psychic abilities, without diagnosing them as being ‘crazy’?

Judith: Part of emotional freedom for the health care practitioner is to get in touch with intuition and to affirm the intuition that you have in your gut, in your dreams, so that you can become confident of that and so that when patients express intuition, you can help them develop that too without raising an eyebrow, thinking things are crazy or putting them into a diagnostic box. Often times in traditional psychology, it connects ‘psychotic’ with ‘psychic’. They don’t have the range to see the beauty of intuition.

Wisdom: How do you help people change their perspective about their history, their abuse, addictions and losses?

Judith: In terms of emotional freedom, I help them look at the experience as transformative, not as a way of imprisoning themselves, like accepting betrayal or abuse. They can deal with it using the techniques in the book. There is the biology and spirituality and energetic component and then the psychology and then blend it with compassion. The experience is not the end in itself.

Wisdom: Do you find that people find it easier to be compassionate toward others more than themselves?

Judith: Always.

Wisdom: How do you help people turn the love and compassion inward?

Judith: It’s a daily practice and part of emotional freedom is to treat yourself with compassion. When you start to beat yourself up, do it a little bit less each day. That’s part of your spiritual practice. People always put themselves down. Just for one day, instead of saying "You’re no good and you’ll never make it.", tell yourself, this is a gorgeous day and you’re part of it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t fuel the negative and live a fear driven life. Show restraint and discipline and don't be seduced by negative energy. Negative energy has a much stronger pull than positive. It takes a certain mindfulness to say "Alright, I’m not going there."

Wisdom: What about the temptation to push past uncomfortable emotions to want to get to the bliss?

Judith: That won’t work. I would encourage them to accept the emotions they are working with and little by little, experience incorporation. I feel very strongly about developing patience instead of walking around frustrated all the time. I encourage them to stand in the longest possible line to learn to deal with it in a different way instead of being bitchy and pushy. Let somebody go in front of you instead. Be cheerful. Be centered. Feel the change in the energy in the line. When we do that, everything moves faster. It’s kind of against intellectual common sense. You just need to do it and see the change. With emotional freedom, I ask everyone to go to the smallest mundane event and transform that energy. Look at the lines in the bank as the stomping ground for the soul; a spiritual laboratory, to not look at it as an annoyance, but an opportunity to transform.

Wisdom: How do you encourage people to experience love vs. fear as a choice?

Judith: I encourage them to try the strategies in the book so they can have a relief from suffering. Sometimes people have to reach a bottom with this where it’s just intolerable, they hate it and it is ruining their lives. They want to make some changes. People don’t have the strategies and that’s what I hope this book offers, to be able to inspire people to move ahead even when they are afraid and even when they think they can’t do it.

Wisdom: What I got from the book is that it is a companion and guide, more than just a how-to. It’s almost as if you are symbolically holding the candle to illuminate the path that they are walking.

Judith: I’m so glad that you said that. That was one of my goals, to offer them that kind of guide book for a lifetime. It took me four years to write this book and I wanted it to be a blend of my own personal experiences with each emotion and what I have learned also in my professional practice. It would be coming from my doctor part and also from my growing part dealing with each emotion. We’re all in this together.

Wisdom: In your book, you talk a lot about dreams. How can we use them as teachers and guides?

Judith: I have been writing about my dreams since I was little and I suggest that people get a dream journal and before they go to sleep at night ask one question, not more than one, because then the answers get mushed up. Ask one question from your heart and in the morning, five minutes of silence is the key, so you can retrieve the wisdom and then write it down without analyzing it and see the answer to the question came in the dream. Every night you go to another realm, outside the mind and ego.

Wisdom: How can we use our bodies as barometers for our emotional states?

Judith: Part of emotional freedom is listening to your body and listening to whether the energy goes up or down around somebody. If you are with an emotional vampire as I talk about...do you feel like taking a nap around somebody? Listen to that: "Do I feel tired when I am around somebody? Do I feel anxious? Am I avoiding emotions around other people? Am I a sponge?" Learn not to absorb the emotions of others into your body. Part of emotional freedom is to prepare yourself and not absorb, to recognize who you are dealing with, but don’t take it on.

Wisdom: For those of us who are empaths, it’s more challenging to refrain from being sponges.

Judith: I am so sensitive, it’s unbelievable. I practice everything I write about. Time management is very important. For me, it’s about blending solitude with being out in the world. It’s very helpful. Meditation practice regularly each day. Breathing it out when the negativity hits is helpful. Noticing your own psychological buttons that get pushed and the areas you have to work on so you don’t explode, is very important. Taking baths and being in water, is helpful. Noticing if you do take on emotions of others, because you can be co-dependent on an intuitive level. It’s also important to be around positive people. I’m a huge lover of friendships. Friendships are sacred and the time I spend with people is really important to me. We’re medicine for one another. I really replenish myself, alone time is important too. I look at the ocean and hike up in the mountains. When I get tired and over-do it, I try to be compassionate with myself. I allow myself whatever I need. I don’t beat myself up. I’m good at saying "No." If you’re an empath, you have to do that, otherwise you get demolished.

Wisdom: Being a martyr isn’t pretty.

Judith: Being a martyr means you absorb other people’s negative emotions. That’s very unpleasant. That’s not the way I want to lead my life and in the book I wanted to teach people how not to do that and still be sensitive. I am a deep believer that being free means being more and more sensitive and opening up to this material world and beyond.

Judith Orloff MD is author of the new book Emotional Freedom, upon which this article is based. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. For free articles, videos, and information visit www.drjudithorloff.com

Join Judith June 5-7 for a Kripalu Weekend Event based on her new book Emotional Freedom. To register: call 413. 448.3152 www.kripalu.org.

Judith will also be appearing for her book launch 7pm, March 3rd, with the New York Open Center held at Community Church, 40 East 35th Street, NYC. To register: 212-219-9635, www.opencenter.org

Edie Weinstein-Moser is a Renaissance Woman – free-lance journalist, speaker, therapist, interfaith minister and radio talk show host. She can be reached via her website at www.liveinjoy.org  

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