The Chicago Sun-Times
By Debra Pickett
Judith Orloff is a University of Southern California-trained psychiatrist with a small private practice and a spot on the medical school faculty at UCLA.
She is also an “intuitive empath,” able to gain great insight into people by reading the energy they project.
Guess which one she’s famous for.
The people who flock to her appearances and seminars are not there for medical advice. Or, anyway, not the sort of advice you could get from the doctors Orloff describes as “the good-old-boy surgeon types.”
Instead, they’re more like the woman who showed up last night at Transitions Bookplace, where Orloff was signing copies of her latest book, Positive Energy (Harmony Books).
“She was really kind of miserable,” Orloff says, crossing a slim leg beneath our table at 437 Rush. “She was talking about her job at Victoria’s Secret.”
When Orloff asked her if there was something she felt like she should be doing, rather than selling underwear, she replied that she’d always pictured herself running a child-care center. Orloff told the woman that was her intuition speaking to her: she was meant to be taking care of kids.
I decide that it’s possible that I, too, might be an intuitive empath.
Orloff grew up in Beverly Hills, where both her Philadelphia-reared parents were doctors. Her personality seems to reflect a blending of East Coast achiever with California flake.
So she tries hard to steer clear of the new age-y jargon that invites cynics to heap contempt on ideas like intuitive healing and positive energy. But she also manages to make it clear that, when she describes the “subtle energy” people project, she’s talking about what your average guru would call “auras” or “chakras” or “chi.”
“I don’t want to portray intuition as a new age phenomena,” she says, when I ask her about this. “It isn’t. It’s a human phenomena and it needs to be integrated into modern, Western medicine. So I’m very careful with my vocabulary.”
Still, she does flirt with a certain metaphysical goofiness, as when, taking a bite into the scallopini-thin chicken breast she’s ordered, she declares, “This chicken gives me energy. I try not to eat foods that deplete me.”
It’s hard to know how seriously to take her. So, when she tells a story about the time — she was about 10, she thinks — she told her parents that a friend of theirs was going to kill himself and he did, I’m speechless. After several seconds of awkward silence, I manage to force out a follow-up question: Did you really understand what that meant when you said it?
“I didn’t understand it,” she says. “And my parents forbade me to express any of my intuitions at home, so I grew up thinking there was something wrong with it.”
In retrospect, she says, she understands that her parents, now gone, were just trying to protect her. Her mother “just never wanted me to be thought of as strange or weird.”
But, she says, it made for a sometimes-difficult childhood. She didn’t know what to do with the complicated thoughts and feelings that seemed to arrive, unbidden, in her mind. She’d find herself deeply exhausted after leaving a crowded public place, like a shopping center, because, she says, she’d absorbed all the energy being put out by the people there.
I nod in understanding. Malls wear me out, too.
You know, I really just might be an intuitive empath.
Orloff figured out that she was one as a teenager, when, in the aftermath of a serious car accident, her parents took her to talk to a psychiatrist. From then on, she says, she decided to start listening to her premonitions and dreams.
Fine-boned, and with wide eyes that seem to pop out from her fair skin, Orloff, 52, has a certain ingenue-like quality. She speaks softly and eats her lunch in tiny bites.
Her book is all about how people can protect themselves from the aspects of modern life — like constant multitasking — that tend to drain our energy away. (Somewhat predictably, she prescribes meditation and deep breathing and long, candlelit baths.) And Orloff herself seems like someone who doesn’t quite want to live in the modern world.
She’s had the same office for 20 years, doesn’t travel too much, doesn’t like trying new restaurants or meeting lots of new people.
“I think happiness comes from inside,” she says, “so I don’t look for it in things like that.”
She doesn’t talk much about her personal life, other than saying that yes, she definitely has one. And, when she talks about phases of her life — college, medical school, the fame she found after her first book was published and she “came out” as an intuitive empath — she mentions a different boyfriend for each one.
There was the Venice Beach mural artist she was living with when she had the dream that told her to go to medical school. And then there was the medical school boyfriend who worked in the anatomy lab and tutored her in the basic sciences.
But since she published Second Sight (Warner Books) in 1997, she’s discovered that being an intuitive empath is not actually a great help in romantic relationships.
“In dating,” she says, “men always think I’m reading their minds.”
She laughs. “I don’t go there,” she says. “But that’s what they always think.”
Her life has changed in other ways since that first book, too. She’s become a favorite on the magazine and talk-show circuit and regularly sells out large seminars for people eager to get in touch with their own intuition. She’s continued to be a practicing psychiatrist, though her 20 regular patients now include some serious Hollywood movers and shakers. And she’s got a waiting list 5,000 names long, just in case someone should drop out.
A true Southern Californian, she’s keenly aware of the nature of celebrity. So, in Positive Energy, she includes an interview with a celebrity at the end of each chapter. Shirley MacLaine discusses creativity. And Larry King talks about generating positive energy. She also quotes Kenny Loggins (“Footloose”) as an authority on sexuality and Cheryl Tiegs on yoga.
“People will hear it better,” she says, if her advice on how to use your intuition and raise your energy level comes from the very famous.
But she does have to admit that sometimes the message can get a little muddled.
Donald Trump showed up at her book party, she says, and she took the opportunity to ask him if positive energy plays a role in business.
“He said, ‘Absolutely,'” she says, “And he went on, saying how positive energy is the single most important factor in business: ‘You have to be positive . . . because life is a bitch.'”
It’s not exactly the way she’d put it, but she laughs and says she loves it. She knows other people will, too.
Judith Orloff, an “intuitive empath,” tries to avoid new age jargon. But she believes in the importance of “subtle energy” and teaches people how to protect themselves from energy-sapping multitasking.
Copyright 2004 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
Judith Orloff, MD is the author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing.