DR. BRIAN L. WEISS' approach to psychiatry once was as starched and colorless as a white clinician's coat.
He ran the department of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach and authored dozens of medical journal articles on such psychiatric staples as psychopharmacology, brain chemistry, sleep disorders, depression anxiety, substance abuse and Alzheimer's disease. He was, he said, "a left-brained, obsessive-compulsive type, completely skeptical of unscientific fields."
So how then did Weiss come to believe in reincarnation? And how can he claim to have helped dozens of patients by encouraging them through hypnosis to revisit past lives dating to antiquity? It begins with a woman he calls Catherine and her many dozens of lives, including Egyptian servant girl and German pilot.
But more on that later. Since Weiss' encounter with Catherine, 13 years ago, his own life has undergone a metamorphosis.
He's left Mount Sinai and no longer submits articles to professional journals. Now, he's a best-selling author, a popular talk-show guest and a lecturer. On Oct. 29, he was a subject on ABC television's "20/20." He will speak at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Jewish Book Festival, Jewish Community Centers Association, 2 Millstone Campus Drive.
Weiss, who graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University and received his medical degree from Yale University, was an established leader in mainstream psychiatry. He maintains a post as an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami. He says it took him four years to summon the courage to go public with his beliefs about reincarnation. But since then, he says he's encountered many other professionals, including some in St. Louis, who have been doing so-called past-life regressions.
But there are skeptics too. "To say this should be taken seriously is just . . . embarrassing," Herbert Spiegel, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, told a Cox News Service reporter.
Weiss says most critics haven't read his books and notes that whether or not you believe in reincarnation, the therapy works.
Maybe if they had met Catherine. . . .
Catherine was a 27-year-old hospital technician and part-time model, so wracked by phobias that she spent many nights in her closet with the light on.
After 18 months of traditional therapy, Weiss was no closer to discovering the root of Catherine's fears than the day she first walked into his office.
Weiss suggested hypnosis, which he had used successfully to help patients explore sources of torment in their childhoods.
Catherine resisted until she had a strange experience while attending the King Tut exhibit in Chicago in 1982. To her surprise, and perhaps the annoyance of others, she repeatedly corrected the guide as he talked about the artifacts.
The absolute certainty with which she blurted out the information startled her. It was as if she had actually lived in ancient Egypt. She became curious about what hypnosis might reveal.
The first session brought out that Catherine, at age 3, had been molested by her alcoholic father. But afterward, Catherine's nightmares, one of the manifestations of her phobias, only intensified.
"I felt I must have missed something," Weiss said.
So he put her under hypnosis again and told her firmly, "Go back to the time when your symptoms arise."
Weiss said he "was stunned" by what he heard next.
Catherine began describing another life in another land, in another time - 1863 B.C. Her name was Aronda then. Weiss took Catherine/Aronda up to the time of her death by drowning in a tidal wave - and …