Q&A With Psychologist-Musician Dr. Zwig & New Concert Music Video For ‘High Fire’ From Orpheum Theatre Show

Dr. Zwig
– Dr. Zwig

“Is there a doctor in the house?” an announcer asks the crowd. “I need a doctor!” As the audience enthusiastically responds, cheering and clapping their hands above their hands, Dr. Zwig and his band walk out from backstage, lights illuminate the front of the stage and the group triumphantly delivers the request for some musical healing by breaking into a high-energy performance of “High Fire.” 

That’s the scene from the official live concert music video released today by Dr. Zwig (and posted below).

“High Fire (Live) was recorded in concert at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles,” Dr. Zwig tells Pollstar. “The song is about those times we need a break from the rat race so we can connect with the bigger picture of life, the true story of who we really are, our ‘high fire.’”

Dr. Adam Zwig – psychologist, musician, educator, and author – recently chatted with Pollstar about his song “My Poison Is a Medicine Gun” and how the lyrics sum up his philosophy in life and his approach to working with clients as a psychologist. His podcast, “The Dr. Zwig Show,” posts new episodes every Wednesday and the release of his book, “Music in the Mayhem: Tales of Total Transformation from a Rock n Roll Psychologist,” is forthcoming. 

Pollstar: Can you talk about what inspired you to write the song “My Poison Is A Medicine Gun?” You had this really great quote where you described how the problems and poison in your life actually contain the hidden medicine to become your true self.  

Dr. Zwig: Yes, that’s the basis of how I work with people. The conventional wisdom is that having a problem, like any kind of mental distress, is wrong, it’s an illness, it’s pathological and you have to just suppress it for life. But what I’ve learned is that if you go deeply into the issue and process it, it’s actually the opposite of that. It begins as poison, but it’s actually trying to awaken you to something deeper in yourself that you’re not aware of.   

That’s what the song is about. When I got together with the video director we started talking about social issues and we applied the idea that there’s medicine in the poison on a social level, as well. Have you seen the video?  

The video is really incredible. It’s kind of a mini film.

Yeah, the protagonist sees graffiti that says “Build the wall higher” and she gets her paints out and paints over it. The painting is the Mexican traditional image of the life cycle.   

That’s neat that got the chance to to collaborate with her and adding in that art element just took it to the next level.   
Yeah, and she’s very aware of the whole process of folks trying to come in to the States from Mexico. Very knowledgable. 

Your statement about the poison in your life containing the hidden medicine kind of remind me the theory about seeing the light in the darkness. That seems like such an important message to keep in mind when times have seemed so dark the past year.   

Absolutely. You know, we’re all taught so much to seek the quick fix — distract yourself, take a pill or whatever, to get rid of discomfort. But within the discomfort lies meaningful information. The depression, anxiety, or whatever is meant to throw you off in order to catalyze growth. But of course you need tools to facilitate this.  

You recently launched your podcast, The Dr. Zwig Show. How’s the response been so far? 

It’s going great. The podcast is based on this same idea. I go into the science behind it and give practical exercises. The way I work with people is I follow their process in the moment. I don’t come with preplanned interventions, which is more standard in healing and coaching practices— you know, “For this problem, do that. For that problem, do that.” The solutions to one’s problems lie within the person and this requires me sitting with them and following their process to discover that solution.
But doing a podcast, there’s obviously [no clients] sitting with me. So, one of the creative things for me, which I’ve actually been enjoying, is how to create practical exercises for people that they can do without me sitting there with them—simple exercises to connect with the medicine in the poison. 

That’s neat that people are able to listen to the podcast and then reflect on that and apply the exercises to their lives.   

Right, I want it to be more than just talking about ideas. I want it to be practical and useful.
These are awareness exercises…because if you’re going to work on a problem the most basic skill you need is to train your awareness. If somebody practices mindfulness meditation or yoga, they’re already ahead of the game because they’re used to focusing on their inner life, at least in a basic way. But for a lot of folks, even doing that is new. So, the first exercises are just learning how to do this, learning how to close your eyes and notice what’s going on inside of you. For some people, it’s really difficult even just to sit there focusing internally for 10 seconds.  

Especially because we spend so much time on screens these days and we’re never alone with our thoughts that much.   

Yes! Our addiction to electronic media disassociates us from ourselves. We look outside ourselves so much now we lose contact with what we actually feel. And it becomes an addiction. We spend hours surfing YouTube or the news or whatever, just to not have to deal with ourselves.   
I’d love to hear about your journey to becoming a psychologist, musician, educator and author. Did your love for psychology or music come first?  
I got into music first when I was a teenager. Music was everything to me. I played in bands — blues bands, rock and roll bands… First, I was  attracted to the music, the sounds, the feeling. But after a while I got really into the words of songs, so much so that they became my main focus. I still totally love playing guitar and singing, but words have a really deep effect on me.   
I’ve always felt like whoever I listen to, the singer is talking to me and telling me about myself. This led me into poetry and literature. And that’s what led me to psychology when I got into college.  
I was trained in Switzerland as a psychologist and I continued to be a musician. I played gigs all over Europe, but these two parts of me felt separate. I couldn’t quite grok the connection. I just felt like I loved these two different things.   
I’d wake up, go to work and see clients in a private practice, gave workshops, and then in the nighttime, I would shed my psychologist skin and would go play a rock and roll gig. (laughs) I loved it, but I felt torn. I always felt pulled back and forth, back and forth, until I realized that they’re the same thing: The solutions and directions for our lives lie just below the surface in our psyches, and music and psychology are just two different ways to tap into this.
You know how a song makes you feel a certain way, right? Yeah, like happy or sad or pumped up or chilled out or whatever. Those feelings are already in you. Even if you’re not aware of them in the moment — that’s why you’re drawn to certain music. The music just magically connects you to it. It gives you this other way of perceiving yourself and life. When I work with folks we do the same thing; we connect with these hidden processes.  
The difference is that when you process your issues you can integrate the changes, whereas when you listen to music, you just have a pleasant experience.  You might not even be able to consciously formulate it. It just puts you into a certain state of mind and body. Well, that state of mind and body is actually the medicine  hiding within whatever poison is happening in your life.   

Dr. Zwig
Travis Shinn
– Dr. Zwig
Do you have tips for taking care of your mental health in general or especially during the pandemic?

It’s a really challenging time for people. The most important part is our attitude towards the whole thing—our mindset. If we’re just trying to cope, and only think this is bad and we can’t wait until life gets back to normal, it leads to suffering. The most useful attitude is to use this strange time as an opportunity for change and growth.   
If we apply the idea that the poison is the medicine, it means the pandemic is the poision — literally and psychologically — and we need to seek the medicine in this whole experience. The first thing is, don’t spend the entire time distracting yourself. A lot of folks are are just going for it with the internet and the booze and anything to numb themselves. Instead of doing that, use it for self reflection and processing things you avoid. 
The conventional approach would say that life problems, whether personal or global like the pandemic are meaningless. But this is false. They’re carry profound meaning. Use the pandemic’s feeling of oppression to open up areas of your life you usually ignore. When one door closes, another one opens, but you have to search for it. For example, if you miss socializing freely, use the lack of social connection to work on your connection with yourself. Meditate, process a problem, do things you’d normally avoid.
Do you have any tips for where to start for maybe someone who doesn’t really have a self-care or spiritual practice? 
Listen to the exercises on my podcast. (laughs) They’re pretty simple.  

For a long time, it seemed like there was a big stigma regarding mental health. Do you think that things are getting better as far as people being more comfortable with mental health and therapy and seeing it’s just as important as taking care of your physical health?  

I think it’s getting a lot better in terms of the fact that now people are able to talk about it without being immediately judged that they’re crazy or something. You know, if you go to therapy, it means you’re psychotic or something. 
On the other hand, there’s still a stigma at a deeper level— the idea that if you have a problem, it means there’s something wrong with you. The fact is, a problem is your personal growth trying to happen. We need problems! They totally mess us up in order to push us to go deeper into ourselves and grow. Unfortunately, psychology and psychiatry focus on suppressing problems, symptoms, distress instead of helping us hack into what’s really going on in ourselves. It’s like throwing away your growth. The problem is just the seed for your growth and expansion. Of course, as I said, you need tools for facilitating this, and that’s what my podcast is about.
As far as the stigma on a deeper level, do you mean as far as people labeling you saying oh, you have depression or anxiety, etc? Or just problems in general? 
Any kind of problem. Nowadays, everything is a “mental illness” and everything you like to do a lot is an “addiction.”  (laughs) Have you ever heard of the DSM? It’s the psych diagnostic manual. New additions come out every once in a while, and each time the new edition comes out, there are more supposed disorders, I mean, really crazy stuff that makes everyday life sound like a disease. Every normal human process, if it’s not happiness, becomes labeled an illness. And of course, it’s all treatable with drugs. So, this is another part of the stigma, reinforced by psychiatry and the drug companies, that makes people think they’re stuck with a disease they can’t ever transform, and all they can do is manage it with meds or behavioral techniques. 
We’ve been pursuaded to think of our problems as curses we’re stuck with but this is simply untrue. I worked at a psych clinic in Switzerland for 10 years and was able to help folks with the most severe issues totally transfrom themselves. Even the most messed up mind can be transformed if you know how to hack into its meaning and purpose.
That sounds like a very hopeful message.   

Yes, we need to approach our life problems as meaningful processes, not as meaningless curses. Everything aims at growth!