Ep. 2: Thom Harrison Discusses The Year Psychiatry Changed Forever

Ken Krogue: Hi everybody. Ken Krogue and Thom Harrison here. We are starting on a very exciting new project called Eternal Core and exploring God-centered mental health. That’s our project going forward. We think it’s got some massive opportunity to do some good in the world. And I wanted to talk a little about how we first met Thom, what we’re going to try and do, and what the problems are that are trying to be solved here. I met you from a phone call, right? I had just been through a pretty bad car accident that pulled me completely out of my previous world, and I was experiencing some pretty difficult challenges. I received a referral that said, “There’s a guy named Thom Harrison that can help you.” I gave you a call, and you were already booked for like a week and a half I remember. It was pretty hard to work into your practice. Can you tell us a bit about your practice and what you were doing when we met?

Thom Harrison: I’d been in private practice since 1984. I was at Primary Children’s Medical Center before that and at the University of Utah. I started up at Primary Children’s way back in 1972. I was involved in that first inpatient psychiatric unit at Primary Children’s Medical Center. Dr. Paul Whitehead had recently finished his MD back east, and we found a need. I was able to start with that group and be involved in that process. So, that was my introduction to really working in the field of psychiatry, psychology, clinical social work, and marriage and family counseling way back in 1972.

Ken Krogue: Now it’s evolved. Things have changed.

Thom Harrison: Oh, greatly.

Ken Krogue: What was it like? What were some of the big milestones?

Thom Harrison: Well, I remember one of the first things that I wanted to do after graduating from graduate school. I was invited to go down to Provo, to the old psychiatric hospital on the day it closed. We, with about 25 or 30 other mental health professionals, had a walk through. We walked through and saw the straight jackets and the hydro pools. All the early things of what they used to use to help people with psychiatric problems. That was an amazing experience Ken.

Ken Krogue: All of that was pretty symbolic of a major shift.

Thom Harrison: So, in 1972, they closed that large, big white hospital down and started an inpatient program for kids up at Primary Children’s. I think it was the first one in the state, if I remember correctly. Still then, the only psychotropic or medications that were used at that time we’re like Mellaril and Thorazine, which really just kind of knocked people out and slowed everything down. I remember people that were having severe psychotic reactions, or other severe reactions. We would just medicate them so heavily. They could barely walk. They were just so sedated that they could not do much, but that was about all that was available. If people were very severely psychotic or terribly, terribly depressed, they also tried at that time electroconvulsive therapy where you would disrupt the brain function. Sometimes, if you disrupted it enough (with enough treatment) then it would, if I could use the words, stir things up so significantly they couldn’t make those old connections.

Thom Harrison: Sometimes it would really help people. We still do ECT now. The profession still does electroconvulsive therapy, but it’s done in a very humane way now. It’s not like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” where you see, you know, sticking a piece of rubber or tongue blades so a person wouldn’t have such severe convulsing they would swallow their tongue. It’s still effective, but they do it very differently than they did back then. At that time, the number one treatment was either behavioral treatment, where basically if people were doing certain behaviors, then we would reinforce other behaviors. We would give them cheerio’s or we would give them some stimulant that they liked, allowing them to do things, allowing them to have interactions when they behaviorally change their dysfunctional behavior or their inappropriate behaviors.

Thom Harrison:   So back then we did mostly behavioral therapy, some drugs, psychotropic therapy, some ECT, but a lot of relationship oriented therapy. We’d get them together, and we would have groups where we would teach them other behaviors, and what they had learned in their home or what they had learned culturally or environmentally. There was a strong relationship component of helping them learn how to function in a group or relationship.

Ken Krogue: This is psychiatry we are talking about. A much stronger focus on relationships, behavioral, other than just pharmacology.

Thom Harrison: Right. What I did at that time, I was a psychiatric technician, psychiatric specialist. I would work one-on-one with the kids in creating a behavioral program for them to try and help them remediate their inappropriate behaviors. The majority of the program was based on that behavioral model, that kind of Skinnerian rat in the maze—reinforce the positive and extinguish the negative. Basically, that’s kind of what we did. Medicine was only used for those who really needed that significant sedative process that would change that behavior.

Ken Krogue: So it really just took them out of the game and just subdued the symptoms.

Thom Harrison: Right. And also help their family to be able to move away from that. We also treated the moms and dads and kids to try and ameliorate the dysfunction we saw in the family. Then also treat the child, and then gradually move the family and the child back together so the child could reunite with the family. So that was my initial approach.

Ken Krogue: What was the next big change?

Thom Harrison: I remember clearly, it was the winter of 1983 or 84.* We, meaning the whole staff of Primary Children’s department, child psychiatry, were invited up to the University of Utah and they (meaning the pharmaceutical companies) recruited some of the finest and most respected psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. We all attended this conference, and they told us about Prozac, which was a serotonin reuptake inhibitor.

*Prozac was medically introduced in 1986*

Thom Harrison: That was my first taste of these new drugs. They touted it as it was going to be a real life changer. And yes, it’s helped millions of people throughout, but we found that, with the advent of these new psychotropic drugs, it was kind of like a shotgun approach. “We’re just going to cover the whole area with buckshot, and this is going to help.”

Thom Harrison: It did help quite a few people, but you know, there’s always a positive side and a negative side. The positive side is people could then work better. They weren’t doing the Mellaril shuffle. They weren’t having horrible side effects from the drugs. There were some side effects, which we knew about initially. With some people you see an increase of suicidal ideation or ideas of suicide. In some people you saw a real difficulty with, they felt different than they did before, and they weren’t used to the changes. Because, what a serotonin reuptake inhibitor does is it controls the process of the brain processing different things. It makes everything queue up if you would. So what happens is you have to deal with this one before the next one hits.

Thom Harrison: We find with many people with anxiety and depression, and other psychiatric illnesses, that there is an overwhelming sense of information that moves across that baryon and hooks up with the receiver sites. So you get this over flooding of information, which then overwhelms the individual. We found with Prozac and Zoloft, which came later, and the other serotonin reuptake inhibitors that it would make the brain queue it up so you wouldn’t have that rush of information going over to the receivers.

Ken Krogue: Prozac is still popular today?

Thom Harrison: It is, but they have been able to pharmaceutically create medications, which are very similar, which are not so broad spectrum. They’re exacting, and so you don’t have as many of those other symptoms that are created from just that shotgun broad-spectrum approach. We have those that work better for depression, those that work better for anxiety, and those that work better for some of the other psychiatric illnesses. One of the difficulties, Ken, of this change was that relationship therapy began to diminish significantly. What happened is the whole focus of therapy then moved to checking the medicines. We found that if this medicine didn’t work well, if we use this medicine with this anti-anxiety medicine or this anti-psychotic medicine, or this. We would test these things and figure out what cocktail, or what combination of medicines, would then best fit this individual and help their symptoms. Pretty soon, psychiatry moved much more to a pharmacological medication check.

Ken Krogue: So the relationship and the therapy side.

Thom Harrison: It really started to diminish. Instead of going and seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist and working with them regarding the associated emotional or thought problems, the majority was, “I’m talking to you for 10 to 15 minutes about how’s your medication doing and how we’re going to tweak those medications.” When I started with the Department of Psychiatry, I was put on their clinical faculty in 1977 up at the University of Utah Medical School. We still spent a tremendous amount of time trying to help psychiatrists, and other medical professionals, look at and understand the relationship components of mental illness, and trying to help them resolve and understand those. And help them in cognitive therapy of diminishing the thinking, which was problematic, and moving more to these other choices of thinking that helps people more frequently. Does that make sense?

Ken Krogue: Yeah, it does. It got me thinking. So you were there in the big launch meetings where they pulled in the influencers over the whole profession, pretty much the pharmaceutical drug industry.

Thom Harrison: Exactly.

Ken Krogue: We have this big breakthrough, and all of a sudden you saw a shift in how psychiatry was done. And they haven’t gone back in any way at all.

Thom Harrison: No. If anything, it has continued. I have good friends of mine who are in medical school now, or in their residency, and they don’t even learn how to do therapy anymore. All they learn is about medications, hospitalization, and how to manage meds. So psychiatry has moved much more into a pharmaceutical process of understanding all the different pharmaceutical products that are out there, and how you can appropriately mix those or put those in an appropriate cocktail to treat symptoms. The difficulty with that is that whole relationship component, which was so important, which psychiatry, psychology, and mental health treatments were based upon, took a real back seat. It moved to the back burner of the stove if you will.

Thom Harrison: Many of those individuals relied heavily on those of us who did the treatment, who understood the treatment. But, even in that treatment, a lot of the non-medical professions, those who did not have a medical degree, were spending a lot of time talking to the patient about how their drug treatment was going, what medicines they’re now on. Then, the communication between us in the medical community was, we need to adjust this anti-depressant or we need to adjust this benzodiazepine for the anxiety or we need to adjust this. So, the focus became so far greater in the area of pharmaceuticals then it did on the individual and the treatment. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this Eternal Core process. It’s trying to help people realize there is a community, which we are creating, which is called God-centric Eternal Core mental health providing—to understand more about the relationship component and have a community help these individuals realize that there are other ways of dealing with this problem than just taking psychotropic meds.

Ken Krogue: Just to catch you up if you’re tuning in a bit late, we’ve been talking about the history of the psychiatric profession. We’ve been talking about a new project Thom and I have decided to make available called Eternal Core. And it’s a combination of those who are looking for a community of relationships with people, patients perhaps, or those recovering from challenges with mental, emotional, spiritual health as well as practitioners, care providers. Our goal is to bring them together. When we talk about community, how important is that in the healing process for these people who are having challenges?

Thom Harrison: It’s huge because, there has always been that doctor-patient relationship, and it’s a very important relationship. It’s very significant, but it’s a very private, secure, confidential relationship. There was such a stigma for such a long time about seeking mental health help. Now, with all these commercials all being bombarded on us, on daytime TV and some nighttime, “If you’re having these problems, if you’ll just take this pill, you’ll be fine.” Within the last 20 years of my practice (I just retired from my practice just a year ago), but the last 20 years of my practice people would come in and they would say, “Just give me some meds and I will be fine. That’s all I need is some medicine.” They thought that that’s all that mental health treatment was.

Ken Krogue: That’s a massive shift.

Thom Harrison: Instead of moving people, and helping them realize that some of the things you learned in your family of origin or some of the things you learn from your trauma, from your brain trauma or from the difficult situation that you… Wherever it is that you’ve learned, some things that might work very well in business, but they’re destroying your mental health and they’re damaging you. What we’re trying to do here is create an environment, create a community where people can come and they can read articles from individuals who have a similar belief structure as they do.

Ken Krogue: We’re even trying to collect video stories of people in similar situations. We call them Core store.

Thom Harrison: To get a Core group of individuals who suffer from social anxiety, and they’d come and they tell their story, not breaking any confidences. Confidentiality is very important in the profession, but they’re choosing to share and say, “I want to share with you, and I want to join a community where we can share these difficulties.” And, through that, realize we’re not so isolated and alone. Realize that there is a community out there that can help me and also the professionals can come too and we can show them the latest research.

Thom Harrison: We can help them go, and they can listen to four or five different professionals who understand depression really well, or individuals who understand manic depression very well (which are two very different structures), or individuals who understand post traumatic stress syndrome. They can come to that community, and they can read or they can listen to podcasts where we’re interacting with people who have the expertise in this area. They can feel like the professionals are no longer just in this academic ivory tower, but they’re real people. We show them in a real setting, and they can relate to them. We are coming together as a community to help these individuals resolve these problems in a new and different way.

Ken Krogue: Everybody, Ken, and Thom, we’ve been talking about the history of the psychiatric profession. We just talked about some of our ideas to help address what we feel like is a big need. I’m going to ask you a hard question. Are people getting better? Are they healing? Is this pharmacological approach causing healing or not?

Thom Harrison: One of my daughter in laws has a PhD in sociology. We’ve been having a fascinating conversation about how isolated people feel in this world, and what they’re doing from that isolation. People, who have social anxiety, which right now we’re finding more and more individuals… It’s becoming a greater problem because we live in a very divisive society. There are so many aspects of our society, which can really just destroy people overnight. We were talking about, you know, the different ways of dating. She was talking about, some people, they will meet over social media, and they will talk and maybe meet personally one or two times. They might become even intimate with one another, and then they just disappear.

Thom Harrison:   That creates that amazing sense of “What did I do wrong?” We’re seeing a profound diminishment in intimacy in this millennial population and those underneath that millennial, the Gen X’s, because you know, they can go home and they can look at social media for an hour and a half. They can order Uber and get food coming to their house, and now three hours has gone by. And now it’s 9:00, and they think “I have to be at work tomorrow at eight. I don’t want to have a relationship with someone else. I don’t want to interact with someone else.” Now, what does that have to do with the question you asked me? Are they getting better?

Thom Harrison:   We’re having new social anxiety and depression that is coming out of this isolation, which is new. That’s why in our communication, and in our work for the last six months to a year about this, what can we create that’s going to help this profound isolation? How can we help these people so that we’re not creating more psychiatric diagnostic criteria?

Ken Krogue: So, we’re talking about Eternal Core—a brand new community that we are launching March 29th and 30th with an event, a two-day event. We’d love you to come and be a part of it. This is our first episode of many podcasts and vidcasts to come. We want to just give you a bit of background on how Thom and I got together, and what the main problem is. So let’s just tie it up with a bow a little bit here.

Ken Krogue: The problem that we’re facing, and you know, you were involved since 1972 with the psychiatric profession. You saw a major landmark shift in 1984, but you also saw something pretty important. I remember you gave me a little bit of a background of talking to some of your colleagues about, you know, where’s God in the mix? Tell us about that.

Thom Harrison: I remember back in the late eighties and the early nineties, I was teaching at the university and I had a doctoral student that asked me a question in class. She said, “Okay, you’re preparing us to go out and be a clinician.” And they were frightened to death, you know, cause all they knew was good academics and they might have had 30 to maybe 130 hours of face to face, and they were scared to death. How are we going to put this into practice? But they said, “How do you get clients? How do you get people to come into your office?” So it started a process going for me, Ken. I knew how I did it. I am a believer in Christ and in God. I call myself a Christian.

Ken Krogue: This is a very faith-based community. A lot of your colleagues had those same belief systems.

Thom Harrison: Right. So, initially, I would advertise in the yellow pages. We put our names in there and people would go through, and here were just all these names, no faces, nothing about them, just these names. Also, we would put ourselves in professional magazines or things of that nature. We would do advertising, you know, old-fashioned advertising. The bottom line is then we would have to wade through the clients that would come in. Sometimes 30 percent of them were non-compatible with our skill level or who we were, or our insurance providers, or things of that nature.

Thom Harrison: I found, after many years of practice, that if I turned it over to God and said, “You know what, I do. Well, you know me and you know these people who are seeking my help. Could you arrange for people to come in? Could you help me here?” Because, in my religious bent, we’re supposed to pray over everything. We’re supposed to pray about our work, our business, our fields, and our children. I thought, “Well, I’m going to start praying about my business.” I found every time I had openings, every time I needed new clientele, if I did it within seven to 10 days, they would fill up. And they would fill up with individuals that I could help. It was much more effective, and it was much more cost effective. I had a website later on, but still nothing worked as well as patient referrals, people that I had had success with and praying and saying, “Please,” you know, “Who needs help? If you could find some people that I could help, please send them in.”

Ken Krogue:   Now there’s a perception in the psychiatric industry, psychology, that this is a very science based. It’s not God based, and you don’t bring it up. You can’t talk about it supposedly with patients. But, is that the case? Is it legislated where God’s not part of this relationship, and do your colleagues stay clear of that?

Thom Harrison:   Well, I know colleagues who have gotten into a great deal of problems by mixing religion with their professional process.

Ken Krogue:   What does that look like? They use their religious background or their calling.

Thom Harrison: Right. Or, “I’m a pastor.” I mean there are faith-based or Christian counselors that you know you’re going to see someone that’s going to use the Bible. But if I would say to a patient, “Could we start with a prayer?” I was in danger of losing my license. So, really couldn’t do that.

Ken Krogue:   So there were some boundaries.

Thom Harrison: But, if someone brought up a religious process, or I served as a bishop in my religious belief structure. During that time, I didn’t sit there and advertise, “I’m a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints.” But, if they referred, and they started talking about how religion was part of their depression or anxiety or breakup or difficulty, then of course I could talk to them about that. They would have to be the one to initiate that conversation.

Ken Krogue: So there were some pretty clear boundaries and guidelines then.

Thom Harrison: Correct.

Ken Krogue: So, back to your earlier stories, I was just so intrigued. You found that when you needed patients, you’ve turned it to God.

Thom Harrison: Right. So what I did is I taught at the Department of Psychiatry. I taught in the Graduate School of Social Work. I taught in the Graduate School of Nursing. I was on quite a few different faculties. So I found a group of individuals throughout the Wasatch Front that I thought I knew very well as colleagues. Some of them were Jewish, some of them are Catholic, some of them were Mormon and some of them were Seventh day Adventists. Some of them were just strong, faith-based people. So I took it upon myself, I wanted to find out in kind of an interesting way. I don’t think it was very subversive, but interesting.

Thom Harrison: So I made lunch appointments with these colleagues that I really respected. During the lunch I would ask them questions. And then I asked them, “Well, what do you do when you need new clientele?” I found that the majority of them said, “Well, I turned it over to the universe. I asked God. I pray about it. I let my religious referral basis know that I have some openings.” So many of them had this connection with this religious process, but their clients never knew that. So a lot of clients want to come to someone who has a shared religious belief. That’s another reason why I thought this would be so helpful is that at least we could have a community where then professionals could come. If you were in therapy in Salt Lake City, and you were moving to Wichita, Kansas, you could find someone who also had a faith-based understanding and you would know that.

Thom Harrison:   It was interesting. I didn’t tell my graduate student, who was not a religious person. Who, if I remember correctly, was an atheist or at least she claimed to be one. She wanted to do this research on this, and she wanted to use that as her dissertation. So she wrote up her information and initially she came back and she said, “it’s interesting. It’s so interesting, because I would never suspect it, but you know, this psychiatrist said, ‘I asked God’, this person said, ‘I pray about it.’ This person said, ‘I turned it over to the universe.’”

Ken Krogue: There was a real effect. It was a real method.

Thom Harrison: She found at that time, that the majority of individuals who she talked to, talked about a faith-oriented structure in how professionals in the mental health profession sought for new clientele.

Ken Krogue: Wow, so it’s there.

Thom Harrison: I found that fascinating. Her research ended up proving much more than my small little research did, but the great majority of individuals who I knew… Now I, being a faith-based person are going to relate to a lot of faith-based people. So I knew that there was that difficulty in the research, but hers was just random, and it proved that many people also used a similar approach to get new clients.

Ken Krogue: So we’re talking about Eternal Core. This is an event that we’re launching March 29th and 30th at the Little America hotel to start a community of both patients and care providers who want to have relationships and interactions with a faith-based foundation, in other words, God. Now they might not use God. They might call him their higher power. That’s okay. It’s not a religious based, meaning we’re not talking about members of the predominant religion here. Now, we are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints, but many of our speakers, many of our people who will be working in this process, are coming from all over the country. Our first event is here in Salt Lake City. Our next one potentially will be outside of Salt Lake City. We want to invite you to be part of it. This is our first episode of the podcast and vidcast we call Eternal Core.

Ken Krogue: Now, the words ‘Eternal Core’ it’s pretty exciting. We’re not going to give it away right now, but in our next episode we’re going to tell you how we came up with Eternal Core. Thom has some really powerful principles we’re going to start walking you through. Thanks for joining us today. Again, the main challenge was a transition away from relationships and not really recognizing openly God’s hand. We’re trying to pull that back together. Anything else you’d like to add Thom?

Thom Harrison: Come! We would love to see you at the conference March 29th, March 30th at the Little America, Salt Lake City. Come and join us!

Ken Krogue: Thanks everybody!

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