03/04/2009 03:24 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Judith Orloff, Psychiatrist & Healer: 'Fear Is Viral. So Is Courage. Choose Courage.'

Judith Orloff announces she's a doctor right on the cover of her books. That's because she knows she'd lose a lot of potential readers if, instead of billboarding her professional credential, she chose to announce, "My native tongue is intuition." Yes, it is, and she says that right in the introduction, and there's more where that came from. So her M.D. matters --- it separates Orloff from any number of spirit-drenched writers who will forever be banished to the New Age shelves.

Second Sight was how I came to her writing, and then I was drawn in more by her thrilling narrative than by her message. Orloff was a rebellious Los Angeles kid, with 25 doctors in her family, who was intent on forging an original path in life. Her tale has a twist, right from the start --- as a child, she was a talented intuitive. But seeing into the lives of others and using those insights to help them? Not her thing.

Life schooled her. Yes, she became a psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, but she also let dreams and meditation and premonition into her practice. Now she's the ultimate holistic practitioner: She takes what works, wherever it comes from.

Proof that Orloff is a gifted intuitive is Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life. It's the right book for any season --- fear and negativity never go out of style --- but it makes special sense in March of 2009, when many of us are flailing in a sea of negativity and fear. Like "Second Sight", this book moves along briskly, in part because Orloff has great stories about her own wallow in the less useful emotions, but also because it's very much a how-to book.

It's one thing to tell you that accepting fear is a choice you make --- and that you have the power to choose courage. It's quite another to tell you how to accomplish that. Orloff smartly delivers two books for the price of one: an argument for emotional freedom and a set of strategies that may help you attain it. So along with the story of her mother's death, you get recipes to defeat depression, loneliness, grief, frustration and envy. And, at the end, you get a vision of how you live when you're free: "Manifest love with abandon."

In a time when many people have practical concerns that terrify them --- Will I lose my job? my home? my health? --- I decided it would be more useful not to write about the book but to grill Dr. Orloff. I appreciate her willingness to be badgered. As follows:

JK: Fear is contagious --- and so is fearlessness, according to the Nelson Mandela. How is fear viral?

JO: Our world is in the midst of an economic and emotional meltdown. We are inundated with fear --- from the news, in our own heads, from friends and relatives. I love the saying: 'When one fearful person talks to another fearful person, it's like passing fire to a scarecrow.' Fear is incendiary. It gains power from our insecurities and grows the more we focus on it. There are real things to be afraid of, but we must try to face them from a calm, centered place rather from frenzy.

JK: You spent your first few weeks of life separated from your mother --- and spent decades fearing abandonment. Is it common that fear is learned in childhood? How, short of therapy, can we check that out in our own lives?

JO: Fear is learned from the moment we enter the world. Fearful parents make fearful children. During childhood, we have traumas, letdowns, poor parental modeling. I am passionate about being free, so I want to fight to overcome fears in myself. In the book, I talk about Four Questions to Transform Fear. It starts with naming what scares you. If you can do that, fear won't take you by surprise.

JK: You write, "Fear is the mother of all negative emotions." No way to work around it? Work up to it?

JO: In the book, I suggest starting with smaller fears first --- don't start with your mother! But you can't postpone or avoid this confrontation. If you don't make it your business to overcome fear, you better believe it will overcome you.

JK: You write, "What underscores fear the feeling that you won't be all right." Well, what if not being all right is the realistic likelihood? How can we deny economic meltdown, loss of income, etc?

JO: Yes, there are real events that trigger fear. What I'm saying is that we have a choice how we deal with fear. We can go down for the count and be paralyzed. Or, with courage, we can move forward towards solutions and keep focused on the present and how we can better it, instead of catastrophizing about the future. You've got to work fear down, not up. Otherwise your fear may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the book I view emotions as a path to awakening. The role of fear, as I see it, is to teach us courage. Westerners aren't typically thinking about courage in their daily lives much. But now, with the economic crisis, ordinary people are asked to find courage like never before. Think about it: If you didn't have fear, how could you develop courage? We need this point-counterpoint to grow.

JK: You write, "Fear renders intelligent people dumb, so they're not clear-headed or intuitively in synch enough to make brave decisions." If true, we're screwed, aren't we: deer in headlights

JO: First, you must say "no" to fear instead of indulging it. You are more powerful than it is. The philosophy you take about fear shapes how you deal with it. I see fear as a shrinking of my soul and a waning of power. I hate that. I won't stand for it. I hope you are as angry as I am about how fear can eclipse our radiance and clarity if you let it. Breathe. Center. Be extraordinary. Take positive steps to correct a situation. I can't tell you how many times I've been trembling in my boots, but I went forward anyway. Courage doesn't mean you don't have fear. It means you don't let it control you.

JK: You write, "Once you're aware of how fear works, you can stop the cycle." How? What are the techniques?

JO: To short-circuit fear and turn off you fight of flight response, you can train your brain to send chemicals to counteract them. With a calm biology, it's easier to find courage by practicing the combined techniques below to quiet your system. So...
-- Eliminate caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants; these fuel the fight-or-flight response.
-- Avoid people who reinforce your fear--they are biological irritants; stick close to emotional nurturers.
-- Stay away from violent newscasts, traffic jams, arguments, or other stress inducers.
-- Take small steps in a direction to solve the problem that is causing fear.

JK: You talk about fear and courage in spiritual terms. How do we access this side of the problem/solution?

JO: I see emotions as a path to spiritual awakening. The purpose of fear is to help us develop courage. The purpose of courage is to free ourselves from fear. For milennia, the masses have been manipulated by leaders who instill fear in them. Why? Because that's the quickest way to control people.

JK: Let's say we succeed in tipping the balance. How do we protect our new courage: avoid bad news, keep away from losers?

JO: In the book I have a chapter on Emotional Vampires, negative people who can bring your mood down and sap your energy. Stay away from people with a victim mentality. Especially in these times, we need others to lift us up, to support us in being courageous and free, not doom-and-gloomers who lead the way toward depression. Also I recommend taking news fasts instead of being addicted to listening to fearful newscasts. Go out for a walk. Play with your kids. Take a deep breath. Be grateful for your life and the love in it. The power that comes from loving is the greatest source of emotional freedom.

[cross-posted from]