By integrating the use of intuition into traditional medicine, Dr. Judith Orloff hopes to transform the field of psychiatry.
“This is my favorite time—to have the luxury to be able to write and let my mind wander,” says Dr. Judith Orloff, looking around her serene canal-side home in Venice, California. Orloff, a psychiatrist, is the author of the best-selling Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life. She’s on the verge of finishing The Ecstasy of Surrender, due out next spring.
“It’s about how surrender is applied to various aspects of life, from financial success, relationships, aging, illness, death, and the afterlife. . . . Finding that balance and flow of energy.”
Energy is at the center of her life’s work. “Unlike conventional psychiatrists, Dr. Orloff brings the essence and spirit of the divine to all patients,” says the psychotherapist and author Ronald Alexander. Orloff cites Taoism as the root of her spiritual practice. “The body is infused with divine energy, and everything is divine,” she says.
She also has a special diagnostic tool, one that has been controversial but is now gaining acceptance: energy psychiatry. “I can feel in my body energetically what goes on in another person,” she explains. “The instant I see someone, it starts. I ‘read’ them. It only takes a few seconds. As a psychiatrist, you have to see someone’s soul when you sit across from them. You can’t just see their biochemistry and prescribe medications. That’s not enough. You have to use your intuition to see into people in places where they can’t see themselves.”
A rebellious flower child of the 1960s, Orloff originally tried to dodge her medical destiny. She comes from a family of 25 doctors, many of them women: her mother, her aunt, and her cousin. Her father was a radiologist.
“My mother used to take me on house calls. She had a pink Cadillac convertible and her black bag. We’d wind up the hills of Bel Air, and I’d watch her with her patients, listening to their hearts, tapping their knees. I thought it was beautiful, the process.” Yet she had no interest in following in those footsteps. Then she had a dream that told her to become a doctor, a psychiatrist, so that she could legitimize intuition in medicine. Her premonition was so strong, she went back to school. She’s now an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA.
When Orloff discussed her use of intuition in her first book, Second Sight, she was labeled a maverick. “She put a lot on the line to tell her truth, with the certainty of backlash from conventional thinkers in psychiatry and medicine in general,” says Larry Dossey, an internist and the executive editor of Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. “Unfortunately many of my colleagues within medicine are die-hard materialists who equate consciousness with the brain, and they are reluctant to seriously consider the premise—and evidence—that we can gain information intuitively and nonlocally, transcending the physical senses.”
“It was really hard,” recalls Orloff. “There was huge resistance. This rocked people’s world, believe it or not. I became an expert in flowing with resistance instead of going against it. Dealing with resistance is part of the job description.”
Over the years, Orloff’s job has gotten easier. “Judith’s work makes it clear to people that we are systems of energy as well as flesh-and-blood cellular processes and emotions,” says Joan Borysenko, a fellow pioneer in integrative medicine. For example, brain imaging led to the discovery of mirror neurons, which help explain why humans feel empathy. “I just try to embody the message,” Orloff says. “I’m very results oriented, so I show concrete examples, link it to an article or a picture of the brain where things are lighting up. That’s what’s so great about the current brain research: you can show all these things. It’s so gratifying.”
“Judith has been seminal in bringing the importance of intuition out of the shadows into the light,” Borysenko says. “She has given us permission to pay more attention to our ‘sixth sense’ and use that in conjunction with our left-brain skills to come into a more complete understanding and therapeutic relationship with our clients.”
Orloff still sees patients in the same office she’s had since the beginning of her practice. “People come to me for everything, from dealing with cancer to depression to relationship problems. The common thread is they want to tune in to their intuition and their deeper selves.” She also treats an epidemic of exhaustion. “Everybody is tired. We’re overachieving, in our heads too much, beating ourselves up too much. Too much activity and not enough spiritual development. And we’re constantly taking on the stress of other people. You know, ‘No’ is a complete sentence. ‘No, I’m sorry I can’t do that.’ You say it with a loving tone. This is hard for people because they feel like they have to be there all the time. It’s about setting loving boundaries.”
So how can we stay centered in the face of enormous stresses, be they financial or familial? “There are spiritual interventions and practical interventions, but you have to have a belief in something higher,” suggests Orloff. “You must avoid a fear-driven life. You need tools, because things will happen.”
In her workshops and with her patients, Orloff teaches people to listen to their bodies and the body’s signals. And how to make decisions based on intuition. “You have to feel something moving within you. You have to think about how connected something is to your path.”
She also focuses on the power of the breath. “It allows circulation and connection to spirit,” she says. “If you see everything as energy and luminous, you are breathing in everything. It’s a stabilization. I incorporate science with spirituality. They are not separate.”