On this particular evening, 700 people have paid $65 each to be hypnotized by Dr. Weiss and taken on a journey into their past - their past lives, to be precise. Dr. Weiss calls it regression therapy, and 48 Hours Correspondent Bernie Goldberg went to the New York City playhouse for a session.
"Use your imagination now and let your body feel what's happening to it," says Dr. Weiss during a session. "Now keep your arms exactly where they are now; they are heavy....Imagine that you can breathe out the tensions and stresses of your body."
Dr. Weiss says regression therapy is, in essence, about going back in time, about exploring the past to search for the origin of one's fears.
"In this beautiful state, now imagine or visualize that you're walking down a beautiful staircase. Down, down deeper as you reach the bottom of the steps in front of you is a beautiful garden, a meeting place of all the dimensions," Dr. Weiss continues.
So what changed Dr. Weiss from the traditional no-nonsense doctor into someone who believes many lived long before they were born?
Dr. Weiss' transformation dates back to a meeting he had with a patient, Catherine. He hypnotized her nearly 15 years ago to get to the root of her fear of drowning. Then, out of blue, she told him about a past life, about which Dr. Weiss was baffled. But what Catherine told him next, about his own son's death, stunned him.
"One of her experiences was to give me a message with medical details about my son's death. And this is information nobody knew," Dr. Weis explains.
"She described the cardiac malformation that was the cause of death," he said. "She knew his name; she knew lots of details. My wife knew it; I knew it; but nobody else knew it. My reaction was shock. How can she know this? It can't be. And yet it was. I just couldn't explain it away."
That experience, Dr. Weiss says, changed his life. He wrote a book Many Lives, Many Masters, which explained his experiences with Catherine. The public response was overwhelming. It was a worldwide bestseller, but it turned Dr. Weiss into the laughing stock of many colleagues and touched off a firestorm in the scientific community.
"[They said,] 'he's got one foot off the curb,' meaning he is a little loopy," Dr. Weiss recalls. "I had a lot to risk: two young children and [a] house with a large mortgage, [being] chairman of psychiatry."
Why would he risk all that? Because, he says, he found out that past-life therapy actually works to cure fears and phobias. If a patient believes the fear originated in a past life, Dr. Weiss says, he can convince her, or him, to let go.
"It gets to the emotions right away, and people feel better," says Dr. Weiss. "One thing I know for sure, it definitely works as a therapeutic technique. I've had people with lifelong fears of drowning [in] water. They go back into a past life, what may be a past life. I believe it is. Then the fear disappears."
48 Hours wanted to see what it looked like, this supposed journey into the past. So someone from the Broadway performance, a New Yorker named Terry Wachtel, is asked to meet with Dr. Weiss in Miami and let him hypnotize her.
Within minutes, Terry is hypnotized. She believes she's living 2,000 years ago as a man in prison. "I am a healer, the energy. I was a great healer; I traveled the lands," she says. "I had tremendous healing powers. They threw me in jail; they didnt want me to speak; they tortured me."
"For 20 years Ive been doing this now," says Dr. Weiss. "Ive seen so many people, thousands of people, thousands of cases. If it happens enough times, you start saying to yourself, "There really could be something here.'"
How much of this is just the hypnotic rambling of a suggestible devotee who likes the idea of past lives and the immortality it suggests?
"These people want to go back," Dr. Weiss insists. "You are more than willing to take them back; you [are] a figure of authority. They believe it. You are willing to let them believe it because it makes them feel better."
Dr. Weiss says that it really comes down to science, which involves keeping an open mind: "There is a lot more to life than meets the eye. It would be a tragedy to dismiss it just because we don't understand it."