Sept. 14, 2012— -- Iyanla Vanzant is the tough-talking, tough-loving, queen of heal-your-wounds, pick-up-the-pieces, fix-your-life, counseling.
In the late '90s, Vanzant was a rising star, one of Oprah Winfrey's protégés as a no-nonsense relationship expert. But her star quickly faded when she and Winfrey parted ways over what Vanzant called a "miscommunication." For 11 years, they didn't speak to each other, but a public reconciliation in February 2011 on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" proved to be a master class in how to heal a friendship.
"Let me start, let me put it out there, I love you. I have always loved you and had nothing but positive regard for you and I am now so sorry," Vanzant told Winfrey on "Nightline."
"I am absolutely in this moment in time grateful for the broken pieces of our relationship and our being able to mend it and it is a real sisterhood in the sense that there is ultimate mutual respect and care, admiration and love and honor for each other," Winfrey said.
Now, forgiveness and redemption are themes on Vanzant's new show, "Iyanla: Fix My Life," which premieres on Winfrey's OWN network on Saturday.
In Vanzant's show, she turns her guests' personal anguish into stories of hope, such as Evelyn Lozada, the estranged wife of former NFL receiver Chad Johnson, who asked Vanzant for help. Vanzant said she sees helping people as her sacred mission.
"When they write me and tell me what the problem is, I step into the problem as I find it and tell you what I see and hear, it's your choice to take it or leave it," she said.
But Vanzant won't let her guests off easy. She can be harsh at times, but Vanzant said it only seems that way because she is forcing her guests to face reality.
"It sounds harsh because people have been grinning in their face and being nice for the past 20 years and they're suffering," she said. "So, it sounds harsh because the truth will set you free. Now, there are labor pains in order to birth that truth."
Vanzant's show explores heavy issues with relationships, including child molestation and abuse. While she is not a mental health professional, Vanzant believes she is equipped to handle these issues because she is a minister, a spiritual life coach and a woman in her 50s who raised three kids.
"A psychiatrist looks at pathologies of the mind, I look at pathologies of behavior," she said. "I'm not teaching theory. This is not theoretical crazyment. This is, sure enough, from my soul what I know to be true that could possibly assist you in doing better."
And Vanzant has had to overcome some emotional battles of her own. Aside from losing her job, Vanzant also suffered from the death of her daughter, a divorce, lost her home to foreclosure and even filed for bankruptcy. She said about three months after her daughter Gemmia died in December 2003, she contemplated suicide.
"The mental and the emotional and the spiritual pain was just too great to bear for me," Vanzant said. "That's when I realized, I just -- I don't want to do this. I don't want to be here anymore. And-- but in the process of trying to figure out how I was going to take myself out… I just asked please take the pain away."
So when she advises her guests, Vanzant is speaking from experience. When she spoke to Evelyn Lozada, the reality TV star said her biggest fear in life was "not to be loved."
"She's a daddy-less daughter," Vanzant said of Lozada. "Daddy-less daughters have unseen wounds, unhealed scars and unimaginable sorrow in their spirit. She is a daddy-less daughter, and I knew that the moment I saw her."
Her new show takes the therapy outside of the studio. She gets into people's personal space and takes them out of their comfort zone to confront them with their own brutal truths. Winfrey said Vanzant's new show is the heart of her network.
"I think that she has a unique ability to literally be a spiritual surgeon," Winfrey said. "By spiritual, I mean to connect to the spirit of the person and to go in and exorcise or remove whatever it is that is the core of the wound."