Meet the Flipsters

Conversations on the Bridge

A Conversation with Dr. O. Carl Simonton
(The complete Flip interview, with only minor edits, not found in the book)

Dr. O. Carl Simonton ( is an internationally acclaimed oncologist, author, and speaker best known for his pioneering insights and research in the field of psychological oncology. After having earned his medical degree from the University of Oregon Medical School, he completed a three-year residency in radiation oncology. It was during this time that Dr. Simonton developed a model of emotional support for the treatment of cancer patients. This approach introduced the concept that one’s state of mind could influence one’s ability to survive cancer.

As chief of radiation therapy at Travis Air Force Base, Dr. Simonton implemented this model. This was the first systematic emotional intervention used in the treatment of cancer – a program that was approved by the Surgeon General’s Office in 1973. While in private practice, Dr. Simonton utilized his unique approach for the treatment of cancer patients. A pilot study he conducted from 1974 to 1981 demonstrated an increase in survival time and improvement in the quality of life for the participants. His early research established the foundation for two widely acclaimed books, which he coauthored, Getting Well Again and The Healing Journey.

We asked Carl how he got his start on a mind-body approach to cancer therapy. “I was in my training as a radiation oncologist, dealing with people with advanced cancer and noticing how hopelessness was interfering in their treatment. I began to study this issue of hopelessness, looking for ways to shift patients to a more cooperative state of mind. I was introduced to work on expectancy and the placebo effect, and after two years of studying different aspects of these phenomena, I happened onto the work going on in the motivation psychology of business, where imagery was being used to influence the attitudes of people in training. The basic issue was about imagining desired outcomes, which fit together with the placebo effect. With my first patient in 1971, I asked him to imagine a desired outcome; that is, simply to imagine himself getting well. He was supposed to die shortly, and instead he got well pretty quickly and suffered no side effects from high-dose radiation therapy. After that, it was clear that this was going to be my path. When I completed my residency and began as chief of radiation therapy at Travis Air Force Base, I had a brand new department where I was able to do things as I wanted, so we integrated mind-body work into the oncology work at Travis Air Force Base.”

That didn’t mean that Carl’s pioneering work was immediately embraced by his peers. “As early as ’71, I was receiving strong support on one hand and very intense criticism on the other, to the point of receiving death threats. Fortunately, that was very short-lived, but that’s how intense it got. Any time you develop a concept that challenges the existing philosophical concepts of a major bureaucracy, that bureaucracy will become more polarized and take a conservative stance opposing the new idea. That is still going on to a significant degree in American medicine, and unfortunately, the American medical model has become the model for the world. In Japan and China, there was a prevailing holistic perspective until the 1960s, when they started to try to model themselves after Western medicine. And sometimes new converts are more enthusiastic than the originals.

“There are many factions in medicine and in healthcare. Some are supportive of mind/body concepts and some are intensely opposed. This debate has been going on since the time of Hippocrates. The AMA was formed around 1850, as a political organization to control American medicine and drive out homeopathy. Even today, AMA committees control the curricula of medical schools. There are great political, monetary, and power interests in keeping things the way they are. Never underestimate the power of the lobby, the influence of politics. But there are other folks committed to understanding how the body works and how the mind and spirit are integrated into that. Change virtually always comes from without, not from within the bureaucracy.

“In the case of my own work, there were four studies assessing the role of counseling in the treatment of cancer – my preliminary findings, and three independent randomized matched control studies – which produced almost identical results: doubling of expected or median survival times between the counseled versus the control group. These tests demonstrated significant improvements in patients’ long-term survival rate and quality of life! If the source of these improvements had been a drug instead of a concept, these findings would have been major news. But because the improvement doesn’t come from a pill, you can’t charge for it. You can’t control it or regulate it in the same ways as a pharmaceutical. So drug companies are inclined to fight such things, not to support them. Academia, regulators, insurance providers – virtually every bureaucracy – all are inclined to respond the same way. It’s self-preservation.

“But the important thing is the results. At first I nearly destroyed myself, trying to force the universe to shift its thinking. Then I realized my folly and refocused – not on changing the world – but on changing myself. There’s an old saying that if you teach a physician philosophy, he becomes a healer. That’s the most effective thing for me to do. The rest of the world is outside of my control.

“Of course there are two different systems at work here. One is the public appreciation and the other is the academic posture. The academic posture is the same the world over. And so Chinese medicine is not at all being integrated into academic Western medicine. But it is being integrated into public Western medicine, which is consumer-driven.”

Carl suggests that one way to understand the American health care crisis is to look at the relative well-being of our physicians. “The health of physicians has been much worse than the health of the average person in our culture for a long, long time. That’s a terrible model, when your healthcare providers have poor health themselves. So we’re absolutely in crisis, and things will have to shift. We will always move in the direction of our nature even though medicine has been moving away from our nature. But nature is infinitely patient.”


The Flip, by Jared Rosen and David Rippe, illuminates a clear path to a vibrant enlightened world where millions of people already live and thrive. It describes in vivid detail and real examples evidence of an upside down world in decay and a Right Side Up world of authentic beings bright with possibility.
The Flip is an owner’s manual for the twenty-first century full of insights, conversations with recognized experts, thought leaders, and visionaries, and actionable exercises and tips you can use to begin your own personal flip.

To read more about The Flip and additional interviews from other luminaries, experts and bestselling authors, please visit

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