(25 mins) In this episode, Dr. Hackie Reitman speaks with Chris Stout, PsyD.. PhD. Dr. Stout is a clinical psychologist, a philanthropist, entrepreneur, author, podcast host, a founding member of the Center for Global Initiatives, and the vice president of research and data analytics for ATI. He discusses the importance of mental health as the foundation for the success of all cultures, humanitarian work throughout the world, and what it was like working for the United Nations.
For more on Dr. Stout, visit: http://www.drchrisstout.com/
For information about the Center for Global Initiatives, visit: http://centerforglobalinitiatives.org/
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HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. And this guy today I want you to meet, I was so excited when I started reading about him and I contacted him and I said “Wow, a modern-day Renaissance man,” so I’m going to have to read this because Dr. Chris Stout was deemed an “international rock star” by the American Psychological Association. I can’t wait to ask him what the hell that means, that’s great. He’s a clinical psychologist, he’s a philanthropist, he’s the founder of the Center for Global Initiatives, he’s the vice president of research and data analytics for ATI. Dr. Chris Stout has done everything from helping organizations succeed, to being a best-selling author, speaker, to founding a kindergarten for orphaned children in Tanzania. Well what am I going to do today, I think I’m going to open an orphanage in Tanzania. Chris welcome to Exploring Different Brains.
CHRIS STOUT (CS): Thank you very much Dr. Hackie it’s great to be here.
HR: Let me tell you, this is a big honor for me. It’s not often I even hear of people like you, it’s like amazing, all this stuff.
CS: Well you’re very kind, I mean it takes one to know one my friend.
HR: You’re too kind. Now why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience the way you would?
CS: Well thank you, it’s good to be on your show. I’m clinical psychologist by training 30 some odd years ago. Prior to that also have an undergrad degree in architecture and kind of came from very humble upbringing, divorced folks, lived with my mom first part of my childhood in urban Dallas and lived with my dad second half of my childhood and adolescence on a rural farm. And I think sort of all those things maybe kind of came together to teach me a lot of different kinds of things but certainly gave me an interesting winding up in psychology and then to see how I can apply psychology from the clinical side, the humanitarian side, and the research side to various and sundry kinds of problems.
HR: So at what point did you realize that it’s all about the brain?
CS: Oh gosh, probably in undergrad. The classes that I took had a, you know, like the traditional kinds of things. You’d learn Freudian, you’d learn Union, you learned behavioral, you’d learn this and that Skinner and what not but I took a comparative psychology course where we actually ablated different parts of rats’ brains and saw what kinds of impacts that that had. And then I really sort of had this appreciation of the mind-body interconnection and looking at how– I remember this wonderful cartoon that said nature, nurture or anybody’s guess. I always felt it was sort of a combination of those kinds of things because regardless of upbringing and regardless of conditioning, there’s still always going to be the impact of systems in the brain, obviously in that instance upon how people process information, upon how people emotionally experience things, and how they develop their relationships.
HR: Tell me your impression based on what you just said of the gut-brain connection.
CS: Well I am feeling like I’m kind of on a trajectory of getting education about that a lot more than I used to. I was at a conference last year and learned for the first time, I am embarrassed to say I never heard this in graduate school, that like something like I’m the neighborhood of 80% of serotonin is produced in the gut. You know, I always sort of presumed it was not in the gut of in if anywhere. And I’ve been reading a variety of things just as recently as yesterday about the impact of the micro biome and impact of diet and impact of probiotics and things like that on managing not just things that people would think like IBD or something but also psychological kinds of issues anxiety.
HR: Yeah, I was amazed when I started learning. I interviewed Derrick MacFabe from up in Canada who’s one of the world’s pioneers in gut brain. And it was an amazing journey to start learning about how the–a New York Times article, they quoted my old classmate Tom Insel, he used to be director of the National Institute of Mental Health, as saying “the flora in your gut says more about the wiring of your brain than your genes.” There’s fecal transplants, it was a whole amazing thing, and then a light went on in my brain that “you know what, all of these factors that many of which you can control really affect the neuroplasticity and your ability to rewire. And it’s become my opinion which is why I started Differentbrains.org that all of these different entities whether you call mental health issues or neurological issues or developmental issues from Alzheimer’s to autism and everything in between. all the same tools seem to have a profound effect whether it’s, exercise, a good plant-based kind of diet, socialization the most underrated thing. You know good relationships and diet, nutrition, activity, socialization, it’s not brain surgery but it does affect your brain.
CS: Yeah I think you raise an interesting point because I think often times in graduate programs or medical school that people become very reductionistic and we like to have real simple you know black/white, A/B kinds of relationships and it’s sort of like the proverbial cliché of the more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. But I feel more hopeful to the points that you just made in terms of a more in tight interdisciplinary cross collaborative kind of perspective of looking at all these kinds of body systems. Before there used to be sort of this dichotomy with psychology was the non-medical version of psychiatry and vice-versa. And now I think you know when you look at Pediatrics, we look at oncology, you look at gastroenterology, all these kinds of things we see the combined effect and impact that it has on behavior and mood.
HR: Right and as an MD I can tell you I got zero training in that and I hope the worm is turning now. Now I’m going to segue here a little bit because on the site for the Center for Global Initiatives I just want to read this. This caught my eye because the last guy I heard talk like this was a way back. I took a two-week course in Washington DC in orthopedic pathology when I was still in medical school, by a guy named Lint Johnson who was an iconoclast. And he was head of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. And he saw the whole prism of the world like this. I’m quoting from on the site for the center a quote, quote, “Health is perhaps the most common denominator in a region’s potential for success as it is so intertwined with economic sustainability, eradicating poverty, preventing war, mitigating violence, and fostering social prosperity.” Can you expound upon that in terms of acceptance of mental health and everything we’re talking about here?
CS: There is a fellow Jordan Kaslow, who is an ophthalmologist and he was really sort of the inspiration of that perspective on my part. And one of the things that he talked about, was looking at this–this is sort of really again being holistic in a different way. We talked about just now being holistic and looking at a person as a system but when you look at cultures and you look at regions and you look at places in the world that are hotspots, their systems as well too. And oftentimes the socially disenfranchised, the marginalized, the abused, the stigmatized, are those that have mental health kinds of issues. Often times there’s very little empathy and this isn’t just developing places, this is here in North America. You know unfortunately it’s a global issue. Some places are more accepting and more open than others, some people are more accepting and open than others. But I had worked at the United Nations 1998-1999 and one of the things that I worked on was the aspect of looking at mental health and substance abuse visa vie sustainable development. And sort of the argument or the thesis that I had in that which relates back to the quote, that you very generously used, was that if without mental health there is no health so to speak. That issues of you can be the needing this kind of assistance regardless of whatever kind of circumstance it’s going to be hard to be a good parent, it’s going to be hard to be a good worker, it’s going to be hard to be a good contributor to your community, or to your tribe, or whatever. And it makes it really ironically I think a fundamental aspect of being successful in every other aspect of one’s life, even if you’re you know biologically so to speak or physically fit or healthy. If you are suffering with debilitating chronic clinical depression, you’re not going to be able to go work, you’re not going to be able to support a family things like that. So that’s the kind of aspect of you know what that point was trying to get to.
HR: What was your inspiration in getting into this whole arena of psychology and brain? And also I don’t know if it’s related to this but I suspect it is in your case. How did you expand your circles of concern to include the whole world?
CS: Oh gosh you have good questions. I guess for me back to grad and undergrad, it was just intellectual curiosity, wondering how things tick. If you look at the positive psychology kind of thing, what helps people to be happy and productive and energetic and good partners and good parents etc. And the pathology side of it. But what goes haywire? What are the kinds of things that could be avoided, and prevented? What are the kinds of things that could be mitigated, what are the kinds of things that have opportunity to have clinical impact, and improvement on? So in my line of thought I really can’t separate you know the behavioral from the biological, the emotional from the brain, so to speak. So again I just saw that as being very synthetic very interwoven very part and parcel of one another. For the global part of it I I’ve written in places that I kind of refer to myself as being an accidental humanitarian, kind of a Mr. Magoo if you will. You know sort of walking off of one eye beam and fortunately landing on another one because I would love to sit here and tell you know I had this great plan, this great trajectory, it was very linear, I was going to do A and then B and then C and then D and it wasn’t that way at all. When I started off as a first-year graduate student, I imagined myself is working with adults as outpatients and by the time I finished I was working with children as inpatients, so it was a totally different kind of thing because along the line it was good to have a plan in a trajectory but I found other things that I found more satisfying and enjoyable and good work. The same with humanitarian sphere, through the World Economic Forum and through flying doctors going on a mission and doing other kinds of things with other people who became friends it just sort of pulled me into that area. I mean, honestly, the genesis of starting the center was based upon a climb that I had done 15 years earlier in in Tanzania with a fellow that I met that was working his way through seminary as porter and he and I kept in touch and one thing led to another, he was a friend, I wanted to help him out and one of the results of helping him out was helping to form the kindergarten that you mentioned in the intro. So I didn’t plan that, I didn’t you know it wasn’t on my goals and bucket list, it just organically evolved by virtue of having friend in need and me having some other friends on this state side that were able to be of help.
HR: So you have Global ADHD and you’re a dot connector.
CS: Some OCD probably too.
HR: Yeah, but you’re a dot connector. You connect all the dots and when you meet somebody new you connect that dot to your already existing universe. That’s tremendous. Hearing what you said there used to be this dichotomy between the medical field and the psychological field, that the psychologists don’t have to know the anatomy and everything. My daughter Rebecca who’s my hero, who inspired the movies and books and everything whose 35. She, to go along with that discrete math degree from Georgia Tech, she’s about halfway or 2/3s of the way through her master’s in Applied Psychology. And one of her favorite courses, I don’t think existed way back then which was bio psychology, where you correlate every one of these behaviors to the anatomical centers. A now with the modern scans you can see them light up in everything so that gulf has been crossed now. And now I think there’s better communication between a psychologist such as yourself and the organizations and what I hope is going on between them and the MD community and psychiatrists and neuroscience.
CS: Yeah I think you’re right, you’re spot-on. I mean there’s I think much more appreciation with programs and things that are looking at the impact of neuroscience. I’m not conversant in it at all I’m just aware of it, that looking at neuroscience support for psychoanalytic theory. Which I think was you know sort of revolutionary and I think your point about kind of make building bridges you know if you think about the biopsychosocial aspects. I think it gets to your earlier point of the whole you know that role of culture and social aspect to it as well. And we see psychologists working in medical settings you know elbow to elbow with different kinds of specialists and nurses and what nots around treating oncology patients etc. I just saw a headline in Medscape yesterday talked about brain imaging and determining who’s going to be a good surgeon. I thought “wow, that’s an amazing application of that.” So I think again, just the more that we start to learn the more we see maybe creative applications of diagnostic tools and things the more we’re going to make better decisions and be more informed about how to create change.
HR: Well Dr. Chris Stout you’re pretty amazing now. You’re one of the few people I’ve met who actually worked in UN. What’s the biggest thing somebody like me has no clue about the UN?
CS: I have an ambivalent love/hate relationship with the UN. I work with a colleague Harvey Lang Holtz, who’s a social psychologist at the College of William &Mary and he had a very in-depth relationship with the United Nations. This was back when Madeleine Albright was Secretary of State and she was kind of his boss while he was there. I did not know this to my surprise, there is a perpetual position at the United Nations for someone in the military. Which almost seems a little oxymoronic but he was from what I think is sort of like the kinder and gentler military, which was the Coast Guard. So it seemed very fitting for that. So he and I got together, he had written a book called the Psychology of Peacekeeping. we got together and wrote a book called the Psychology of Diplomacy. And again the work that I had done was looking at if in the diplomatic scenario of looking at sustainability and now if this was late 90s so there weren’t Millennium Goals yet but now what we see in the Millennium Goals of the kinds of things where psychology and behavioral kinds of issues and mental health kinds of issues can have a seat at the table and have an impact. So those are the positive kinds of things that’s my love side of that equation. Hate’s too strong word but the frustrations is that the United Nations like a lot of other large bureaucratic complex systems are very slow to move, there’s a lot of politics there as you can imagine as there is in any other kind of large institutional circumstance…and it makes it very frustrating for people like myself and the colleagues I was working with to feel like you’re you know getting you felt like you’re making very incremental change. It was going in the right direction but it was you know you become very impatient after a while to try and see the kinds of things that seems so obvious and have great agreement but the application in terms of being able to make significant change was a like a sisyphusian, if that’s a word, kind of challenge it. Just you know two steps forward three steps back.
HR: Sissifies. Sisyphus. Good analogy. You know, the analogies to the aircraft carrier taking three months to turn ten degrees– I used to make that analogy when–you know I was an orthopedic surgeon and then started recruiting the best people I could find from around the country and we ultimately ended up with like five offices in three counties and we were acquired by a publicly traded company and I stayed on a CEO for couple of years. But it was amazing that the stuff you’d get done as like a PT boat, you know throw it in reverse, shoot a torpedo, but man when you get in those big bureaucratic things it’s just going to have to turn and drive you crazy and meanwhile people are suffering and injustices go on and things of that nature.
CS: Well that’s one of the things I talk about on our website, is one of my most inspirational books by an economist William Easterly and he’s kind of one of my heroes. And he wrote a book kind of playing off the title of Whiteman’s burden. And in that book he talks about the problems of large bureaucratic systems, whatever they might be to affect change in a quick kind of way. And really supported and fostered the idea of smaller, more agile, more guerrilla if you will kinds of–whatever–NGOs, nonprofit, people working as individuals, people working together in groups to be able to create change. and the proverbial saving that starfish on the beach as opposed to maybe you can’t save all of them but it you made difference in the impacting the one that you did save.
HR: You care to tell us more about your family and children.
CS: Sure I’d love to. My wife Karen and I just celebrated our 32nd anniversary so that that’s wonderful and great fun. She’s also a clinical psychologist. We met in graduate school. I have two children my son is 22 years old and finishing up his undergrad in statistics at University of Illinois, and my daughter is 19 and finishing up her sophomore year at the Business Honors Program at University of Illinois.
HR: How great, that’s great. Well congratulations on your family.
CS: Thank you.
HR: Chris I know a lot of our Different Brain’s audience is going to want to learn more about you and maybe get in touch with you and I’m sure Joseph and our staff here are going to put up different logos and websites and things, but why don’t you tell our audience how they learn more about you? How do you get in touch with you, what are some of the places they can go?
CS: I would be happy to be of help. Probably the easiest portal to a variety of other kinds of links is my website which is simply drchrisstout.com no punctuation. So just Dr. ChrisStout.com, and there’s a way to put in a thing in there to be able to email me. I blog on LinkedIn, so there’ll be links to LinkedIn and people can read about some of the things I do there. I curate a lot of information on LinkedIn so the kinds of things I was just now talking about; I mean you know I did a piece probably about a month and a half ago on bio hacking and I talked a lot about the biome and what not. So that would probably be the easiest but once you get in there then it’s kind of a person’s choice. I’ve got a channel on YouTube, I’m on Twitter, I’m on Instagram, our Center is CenterforGlobalinitiatives.org. We have a lot of free tools and resources and downloadable books and chapters there and I just launched about two months ago a podcast myself. So it’s called Living a Life in Full and it’s on iTunes…and we have a website for that too that you can link in through the drchrisstout.com site.
HR: What is that podcast about?
CS: It’s about everything, I kind of refer to its a kind of like a podcast magazine. So it’s things that right now because I guess some number of podcasts start off with it, I’m interviewing colleagues of mine, friends of mine, that I think have done some amazing kinds of things. So I’m runner so the very first show is on two physical therapists who one’s a marathoner, the others an ultra-marathoner and talking about avoiding injury and coming back from injury and how do you even start a mild run if you’ve never run before etc. Most recently this shows not up yet, it’s in post-production but it’s a wonderful young man in Colin O’Brady. And Colin is known for doing something called project 7/2. And that means that he has climbed the seven summits the tallest mountain on every Continent. I’ve done three he’s done seven I did the easy ones and he’s done all of them of the major ones. And then he went because that wasn’t enough to the North and South Pole. he was the youngest person to do that and he did them all in a hundred and thirty-nine days. so I encourage people to listen. Not every episode might not be someone’s cup of tea but I guarantee you that there’s going to be something interesting and definitely inspirational in every episode.
HR: Is there anything, Chris, that we did not cover that you’d like cover or talk about or get information out about to our audience?
CS: I think you’ve done a good covering of the waterfront. The only thing I would add is just, I would encourage people that you know if you have that that itch that you want to scratch or being helpful, or contributing, or doing something in the world there’s a lot of need out there. And I would encourage people to not put that off. I used to talk about what I called the pox of the until, oftentimes people will wait until they lose five pounds, or until they graduate school, or until they get divorced, or until they get married, or until they retire and, then all of a sudden they’ve squandered what could be a wonderful enriched life by virtue of just putting things off. So I would just encourage people to get out there take a first step try something out, if it works terrific, congratulations. If it doesn’t try something different, and look to resources that are out there to be able to help do it. Part of our reason for our Center is to say it shouldn’t be so hard to do good work in the world. So part of what we do is to try to take some of that pain in the neck stuff out of it and provide a lot of free resources and tools for people to be able to use.
HR: Well Dr. Chris Stout, humanitarian, psychologist, rock star of international psychology, global leader, we thank you so much for spending time here at Different Brains with us.
CS: It has been a distinct pleasure and my honor. Thanks so much for having me.