When Judith Orloff was a child, her doctor parents became so frustrated with her vivid premonitions -- on everything from illnesses to deaths to earthquakes -- they finally told her not to mention them again.
"I grew up believing something was wrong with me," says Orloff, now a board-certified psychiatrist, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, and author of Second Sight and Dr. Judith Orloff's Guide to Intuitive Healing: 5 Steps to Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Wellness. As a result, Orloff says she strayed far from her intuition (without much difficulty) as she pursued her medical studies. It wasn't until she was in private practice that she once again learned to trust her intuitive skills. Orloff recalls that she had been treating a woman for major depression who was responding well to antidepressants and conventional therapy. Seemingly out of the blue, though, Orloff had an image of the patient committing suicide.
"I didn't say anything because I had learned not to listen to myself," says Orloff. "Several weeks later the woman overdosed and was in a coma for weeks."
Fortunately, the patient recovered, and Orloff says she learned to pay attention to her own intuitive abilities.
Orloff says she believes that we all have an intuitive sense, although not everyone realizes it can be accessed. "Intuition is that still, small voice inside of you," she says. "It's your inner wisdom that can help you deal with anything from health issues to relationships to death and dying."
Orloff prefers to call herself an intuitive, rather than a psychic or clairvoyant, because she believes those terms have been too "tarnished" in our society and evoke images of sideshow acts.
In her practice -- which has a waiting list of 6,000 patients -- and in her workshops for healthcare professionals around the country, Orloff teaches people to develop their own intuition.
Be Open to Intuitive Messages
"When I speak to other physicians," says Orloff, "I tell them to listen to their patients ... not just to hear what they're saying, but also to be open to any images, sensations, or dreams that arise ... anything that comes to them in a nonlinear way. It's important to listen with your body and your spirit."
Orloff encourages her patients to learn how to be quiet. "Many people don't know that by using meditation and breathing exercises, they can reach their intuition. It's not something that's left to chance. You have to work to develop your intuitive abilities."
There are five steps to becoming more intuitive, according to Orloff:
- Noticing your beliefs about healing
- Being in tune with your body
- Sensing and reading subtle energy changes
- Asking for inner guidance
- Listening to your dreams
Listening to your body's signals means learning to sense warning signs that can help you act sooner to restore your health, sometimes even before symptoms appear. Ongoing fatigue, for example, is frequently an early signal that something is wrong, Orloff says.
She says she is very careful about what she tells people and estimates that she doesn't say about 60% of what she intuits. "I'm very careful about what I say and how I say it," she says. "Only if it would be helpful for someone do I tell them what I see."
Instead, she might tell a patient to see a doctor. Orloff once had a flash that one of her patients, whom she was treating for stress, had cancer. She only suggested that the woman see her doctor for a check-up. Good thing, too: The doctor found a lump in her breast. The early diagnosis resulted in successful treatment.
Not all medical intuitives are doctors (even though Orloff says all physicians can hone their intuitive skills). Frances Fox, for example, calls herself a "master intuitive and diagnostician" and offers workshops for healthcare professionals designed to increase their intuitive abilities for diagnosing and healing.
Fox says the links between the emotions and the immune system are the focus of a new field called psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). PNI proponents believe that a patient's positive emotions play a role in healing the body. By using intuition, she says healers -- whether conventional or alternative -- can identify the root cause of ailments.
Trust Your Own Instincts
Even intuitives like Orloff, however, admit that there is a danger in consulting unskilled, untrained people, so she refers patients only to those with credentials like medical, nursing, or doctoral degrees. "I think it's important that along with the intuitive abilities, the person has a background in traditional medicine," she says.
"There is no way to measure someone's intuitive abilities," Orloff says. "There is a danger in telling someone something that he can't cope with, or being wrong and having the person embark on a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Be wary of accepting anything anyone tells you that doesn't feel right,, but be open to intuition in general."
Originally published October 2000.
Medically updated Jan. 6, 2003.