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A Talk With Dr. Bernie Siegel

by New World Library


Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, MD, retired from general and pediatric surgical practice in 1989 and has since dedicated himself to humanizing the medical establishment’s approach to patients and empowering patients to induce their own healing. A sought-after speaker on patient and caregiver issues, he lives in Woodbridge, Connecticut.

Why do you refer to yourself as a “Jungian surgeon”?

I use that term to define the fact that I treat the whole person and not just their body and disease. Jung’s work revealed to me that psyche and soma were one entity and both needed to be healed for the patient to recover. Jung interpreted a dream and diagnosed a brain tumor. I learned to question my patients about their dreams and ask them to draw pictures; these dreams and drawings revealed information their conscious minds were not aware of. I treated patients’ life experiences and saw how their bodies responded to their creating a new life they could love and a body they could love, too. Medical training focuses on information and not a true, well-rounded education. The term “Jungian surgeon” speaks of treating mind, body, and spirit and truly healing lives as well as curing a disease. Our life experience is stored within our bodies and people need to stop ignoring their truth and abandoning the wounds of the past.

Why do you ask patients to draw spontaneous pictures of themselves?

The body can only speak to us through images. So dreams and drawings gave me the opportunity to uncover incredible information and wisdom, which led to my diagnosing illness in a way modern medicine cannot and also knowing when people didn't need surgery based on the images they portrayed. Art therapists and psychotherapists who do not know anatomy and so can miss these aspects of the drawings that doctors can interpret because of their knowledge. Jungian therapist Susan Bach told me Jung was always fascinated by the somatic aspects of the drawings. I showed her some of my patients’ drawings and pointed out that she missed things because she was not aware of anatomy. Doctors are unaware of the value of drawings but find them interesting and therapists know their value but too often miss the somatic aspects they are unaware of. It takes a “Jungian surgeon” to help patients see the truth in these drawings, and point to the direction for healing.

Can you give us some examples of what colors used in patient drawings reveal?

Think of the rainbow with each color having meaning. Purple is a spiritual color, which can represent the symbol of death or spiritual healing coming from God in the form of an x-ray machine. Yellow represents energy but where is the color used in the patient’s representation of their treatment or their disease? This can help patients make decisions and improve their imagery. Black is grief and despair and the absence of color and life but charcoal can become a diamond under pressure when it is used as impetus, like hunger, to help people to nourish their lives or seek help.

What do you mean when you say words can kill or cure?

Wordswordswords become swordswordswords and like a scalpel can kill or cure. Doctors are not trained to talk to patients. Their words can take hope away, and when hope is taken away people are literally killed by the words. I learned to understand there is potential and people are not statistics. There is such a thing as “survivor behavior”, and I can teach them. I worked at deceiving people into health by using my words in a healing and constructive and therapeutic way.

What is the Paradox Technique and can you give us an example of how you have used it in your work?

Here’s an example of the Paradox Technique in action: A woman in panic over her surgery did not respond to my reassuring words prior to her surgery. I gave up trying and wheeled her into the operating room. She said, “Thank God all these wonderful people will be taking care of me.” Agreeing with her won't help so I said, “I know these people. I have worked with them for years and they are not wonderful people.” She burst out laughing as did everyone else and we became family.

What is a Siegel Kit and why is it important to have one when undergoing treatment?

A Siegle Kit contains a noisemaker, a water gun, and a magic marker. Noisemaker because when you push the call button you get an hour of silence, so to save your life and get attention, you bring a noisemaker. I know people who would be dead today if they didn’t have a roommate get help for them when no one answered their call button. Water gun is to express anger without hurting anyone when they do not respect your privacy as a patient — you drench them. The magic marker is for preoperative use and for writing on your body, “Cut Here” and “Not this one.”

Why do you advise patients to record their dreams?

We sleep to dream and to make the invisible visible. God, consciousness, intuition (whichever word you prefer) can speak to us through dreams when our conscious mind is asleep. I know from personal experience as well the incredible benefit I have derived from dreams.

Where do animals fit into the healing process?

Relationships keep us alive and animals can be an important part of that. Petting them elevates bonding hormones and improves all our relationships. More people with a dog survive after a heart attack than those without a dog and blood pressure is lower in people who have pets.

What is the most important thing for caregivers to remember?

To ask themselves, “What am I to learn from this journey through hell?” When love is involved there are no burdens. You are here to love and not try to cure and to empower the person you are caring for to do what they feel is right for them.

What one piece of advice would you share with those facing end of life transitions — both patients and their families?

When you get tired of your body death is your next therapy. Death is not the worst outcome because when you leave your body you become unalive and perfect again. I had a NDE (near death experience) a body again. Don't try to not die — it doesn't work. Focus on living and then you will have a longer life.


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