Norman Rosenthal – You must take your life into your own hands

Dr Norman Rosenthal



By: Mirela Sula

Dr Rosenthal is a renowned  psychiatrist, and bestselling author. Last year, several days before Christmas, he visited London and met with a large crowd who wanted to know more about his philosophy, career and the positive energy he conveys through his books.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr Rosenthal during a talk he gave about Light Therapy at Lumie, hosted by the Meditation Trust. He was invited by The School of Life to talk about his latest book The Gift of Adversity. Following that meeting, I had a chance to speak with him further about his his views on life which he so kindly agreed to share with Migrant Woman  during an interview.

You recently published a new book, The Gift of Adversity. What motivated you to write this book?

Initially, I wanted to write about the lessons I had personally learned from my own life and the lives of others. But when I looked over these lessons, I realized that I learned most when bad things happened — setbacks, disappointments, imperfections. So that became the organizing principle of my book. As they say, you cannot become a master sailor on calm seas. So, adversity brings gifts — surprisingly.

There are a lot of personal stories you used in your book – did you have a purpose when you decided to disclose yourself?

My purpose in telling stories from my own life was to illustrate that I am human, imperfect and vulnerable like everyone else. Before this, I had written mostly from the vantage point of the expert. Here, I wanted to step down from the podium and talk to people eye-to-eye.

Readers can recognize themselves very easily in this book – does it mean that everyone can take a lesson from adversity?

Yes — everyone can learn from adversity. And since we are going to encounter adversity — whether we like it or not — it would be a shame to waste the lessons it contains.

Your book Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation became very popular. Is this a sign that people need to believe a professional when talking about spirituality?

I hope that people liked my book Transcendence for reasons other than the fact that I am a professional. Yes, credentials can add credibility to a book, but ultimately it is no substitute for a book’s being well written, interesting and important. I think the most important thing about Transcendence is the technique it describes – Transcendental Meditation (TM ) — an amazing tool for personal healing and transformation. 

When you started to meditate, what kind of transformation did  meditation bring into your life?

Meditation has made me calmer and less reactive to minor stresses — and major ones. But it has also made me more creative. Can you imagine a drug that could have both of these, apparently opposite, effects? I can’t — and all of this without any side-effects — amazing!

Many studies argue that migrant women experience high levels of stress due to various factors. Do you think that meditation could be a useful tool for coping with stress?

I think meditation is a great way to deal with ALL sorts of stress, including the stress encountered by migrant women. Meditation addresses the stress at its core (which is also the only part you can really control) — your own self and how you choose to respond to your environment.

From your experience, what would you say are the main concerns that women bring into therapy? What are the main  issues facing women’s mental health?

Areas that I often encounter are:

  1. Depression: Women tend to blame themselves a lot (often too much). Besides all the other ways to treat depression, they need to learn to go easier on themselves.
  2. Anxiety is also common. Women have evolved to worry about the health of the whole family, to spend a lot of time thinking about what is needed to enable the family to survive. That continues in our modern era.
  3. Finally, women need to be supreme jugglers. Somehow they are expected (even today) to shoulder the major burden for keeping the family going, while at the same time having to work and make a living.

From your perspective, how has migration impacted women and their families?  

Migration is always difficult — leaving so much behind (people, places, things) to which you have grown so attached throughout your life; and getting used to the strange climate, people and behaviours of your new home (strange even to think of calling it home). And that is even if you are well treated, which is not always the case for migrants, who often face hostility and discrimination.

Another successful book you’ve authored is Winter Blues.  Would you be able to  share with our readers on how we can overcome the “winter blues?”

Winter Blues has recently come out in its fourth edition and each time I have sharpened and updated it. If I were to summarize its lessons, they are: More Light and Less Stress. Of course, the details matter — and these I have learned over 30 years and distilled down to their essence both in Winter Blues and its spinoff — The Winter Blues Survivors Manual.

What is the most useful lesson a woman can learn from The Winter Blues Survivors Manual?
The most important lesson is that you must take your life into your own hands. Of course, others are often needed to help, but you are with yourself ALL the time, so if you are looking for first aid (be it for the Winter Blues or any other problem in your life), look first to yourself for the solutions. That’s what I hope to teach in the Winter Blues Survival Guide.

Since this is the first edition, what it would be your message to the readers of Migrant Woman Magazine?

My message is: It’s great to have a forum of your own. Even though you probably want ultimately to blend in and become assimilated into the broader society, in the meanwhile, nobody is going to understand you as well as a fellow migrant. So I’m delighted you will have a new place where you can share your feelings, views and ideas.


Dr Rosenthal has recently released ‘The Gift of Adversity’. It’s a look back at his life – from growing up in South Africa, moving to the U.S., family and relationships, loss and depression, work and scientific discovery – and the lessons he learnt along way. In his familiar and highly readable style he uses his wealth of experience to show ‘the unexpected benefits of life’s difficulties, setbacks, and imperfections’.