When Dr. Brian Alman, PhD in early adulthood was wracked by relentless pain stemming from a congenital back condition, his physician gave the young man an ultimatum.
If Alman did not submit to back surgery, the doctor would dump him as a patient.
Instead, Alman went West. To see the wizard.
The late Dr. Milton Erickson was known as the “wizard of Phoenix” for his extraordinary work and success in mind-body healing and hypnotherapy.
“He was the most famous person in the world (in the field),” Alman said in a recent interview at his office in the Encinitas community of Leucadia. “Mind-body healing wasn’t a huge area back then.”
Alman, who had just earned his bachelor’s degree, was convinced he could overcome his suffering without undergoing surgery and spending months in a body cast.
From his own research, he determined Erickson, who himself suffered from polio, was the person who could guide his quest and he wrote the physician to seek his help.
“He wrote me back and said if you get an MD or PhD, I will train you,” Alman said, referring to medical and doctorate degrees. “So I moved from Boston to San Diego to get my PhD (from UCSD). I went back and forth to Phoenix for four years. I started out as (Erickson’s) student, just one of maybe 10 people ... and I was the only one without a degree.”
He also became Erickson’s patient and eventually his co-therapist.
As his other mentor and inspiration, the Encinitas resident cites Dr. Vincent Felitti, clinical professor of medicine at UCSD, with whom Alman worked in the groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.
“I really got a lot of experience working with those two great doctors and great human beings,” Alman said. “A lot of my best training came from the people I worked with. Every client is another teacher. ... You really have to tailor the treatments to fit the individual every single time.”
From those seminal experiences with Erickson and Felitti sprang Alman’s own career in which he has become a world leader in mind-body healing as a doctor, educator, trainer, speaker and founder of his own company TruSage International. He is author or co-author of seven books, including bestsellers, and working on an eighth.
His works have elicited praise from the likes of Deepak Chopra and John Assaraf, author of bestsellers, “The Answer” and “Having it All,” and hand-held cell phone inventor Marty Cooper, a client of Alman.
Alman, who also has an office in Del Mar, is now working on his eighth book. Information on his writings, services and activities is available at drbrianalman.com.
“My expertise is in the area of stress,” Alman said of his career focus. “That’s where I work the most, whether it’s with Proctor & Gamble or Kaiser or Apple or NFL teams — all kinds of people,” Alman said. “I am basically helping people understand their stress and helping them develop inner resilience.”
Alman’s expertise has been sought internationally. In Germany, he has worked with the families of both concentration camp survivors and Nazis, he said.
“I think I’m the only American doctor who was invited to India to teach meditators how to go deeper into meditation,” he said. “I’ve been to many countries teaching people how to do what I can facilitate them doing for themselves.
“I can’t fix anybody. I can help people fix themselves — like a maestro without an instrument.”
Alman developed his prowess in helping people heal through the prism of his own suffering and motivation to overcome it. He was born missing parts of two vertebrae — lumbars 4 and 5.
“I had chronic back pain as a kid, and was told things like, ‘You’ll be crippled for the rest of your life,’ ‘You’re going to have pain for the rest of your life,’ and I was supposed to get a back surgery,” Alman said.
“I didn’t want to get it because there was no guarantee I’d get rid of the pain,” he said. “I started to seek out the people who understood things like mind-body healing, meditation, hypnosis, (and) mindfulness, and that’s what started me on my own quest. ...
“I have an extra sensitivity to the person coming in to see me because I really look at this work from the patient’s eyes as much as I do from the doctor’s eyes.”
Once he became a patient with Dr. Erickson, Alman’s self-healing was not instantaneous.
“It took me about three years to really feel a lot better with the pain,” he said. “I’d had it for 20 years. I was in pain 90 percent of the time and, after three years, I was free of pain about 90 percent of the time. ...
“My pain was so bad, I thought, ‘If I can minimize my pain, I can help anybody.’ ... I was my own hardest case.”
Alman recalled the moment he came to the realization that he’d finally made a breakthrough in his effort to reach a deeper level of consciousness.
After about three years with Erickson, Alman said, he woke up from a dream before sunrise in a meditative state and realized he’d had an epiphany. He’d experienced for the first time a layer of self-consciousness that he described as being akin to a second inner observer watching the mind’s first self-observer — the observer of the observer, so to speak.
Excited about his discovery, Alman called his mentor.
“I told him what I’d figured out, and he said, ‘You got it,’ and I’ve been developing that ever since,” Alman said.
As for the future, Alman said he is developing new treatment solutions from the ACE study, including parenting, stress management, pain control, weight loss and self-confidence, which is the subject of his next book. He is also developing an online application to help people with their stress.
“I’m still on the journey of helping people help themselves,” he said. “My favorite saying is, ‘When you need a helping hand, look at the end of your wrist.’”