Dr. Fritz Hershey: “Before you fly, check the gas tank”

Establish Trust — This is learned through gradual repetitive experience. Mean what you say. Say what you mean AND DO IT. Not something else. Don’t try to manipulate people which is completely demoralizing and undermining. As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure […]

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Establish Trust — This is learned through gradual repetitive experience. Mean what you say. Say what you mean AND DO IT. Not something else. Don’t try to manipulate people which is completely demoralizing and undermining.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Fritz Hershey, LMFT

For over twenty years, Dr. Fritz Hershey has helped patients overcome anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. After struggling to overcome his own anxiety, Dr. Fritz knew that what we were doing was not working so he set out to find a different and more effective way to address mental health issues. Succeeding on his mission, he’s perfected the art of therapy combined with the latest in neuroscientific research so that patients can see results in days not years.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I got into this career so I could be for others what I didn’t have for myself growing up. I struggled with anxiety as a child. I went to a lot of therapists. All they did was nod at me. They never offered any skills, any techniques. They had no science. They just wanted to sit on the couch in their corduroys, drink chamomile tea and “visit.” So I went to school to find a better way to deal with anxiety. I knew there had to be more than just sitting on a couch talking to someone for years. I studied psychology in school, with a heavy science — neurobiology emphasis. I found real physiological substrates to conditions that could be addressed in the therapy room. I got into psychology to help people get better, more directly, and more quickly. I’m doing just that. We focus on less talk and more action so you can feel better faster.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

My boss brought me someone who had anxiety…would I talk to him in my boss’s office? As the patient walked down the hall to the office, I noticed he had an Oxygen tank on a cart. He had anxiety since he recently got a diagnosis for lung cancer which is not uncommon. I asked him if he had a history of anxiety. He said no.

As I had noticed the O2 earlier, and noted his skin was an odd tone. I told him I wanted to teach him some breathing exercises, and asked if he would be ok removing the oxygen. He then learned the breathing exercises and quickly his skin color changed back to a more normal, less flushed tone.

I asked how long he’d been anxious. He said never before. I asked if it came on with diagnosis, or later when he got the oxygen. He said later, close to the time he got the oxygen. I told him to go right back to his doc, or to the ER, and tell them what he told me, and have them check his oxygen, and to call later if he needed an appt. He left.

I called him a few hours later to ask him how he was doing, and if he still needed to make an appointment. He said he was feeling much better, and in fact was no longer acutely anxious. He had gone back to his doctor, where they found his O2 was mixed too high at 120%.

My NeuroBio background allowed me to know about blood gas ratios. My education in treatment had given me skills in clinical observation — asking the right questions — onset of symptoms, noticing what might be off — skin tone, oxygen.

The lesson here is that psychology IS PHYSIOLOGY as much as it is just visiting on the couch, no matter what kind of tea you drink. If you’re considering a career in psychology, in your training you need to get a good science background and develop good clinical skills including noticing, asking good questions, and learn to look beyond what might be suggested to see what’s right in front of you.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Early in practice, I was telling my supervisor about a patient. They had PTSD from a flying accident. I said, “The patient was in a state of general good health until the plane he was flying ran out of gas and crashed.” That, of course, is what caused the PTSD.

To which my supervisor answered, quite composed, “Uhm, yes. Being in a plane crash will tend to impair one’s health.”

The lesson learned: Before you fly, check the gas tank.

Just kidding… The real lesson is that in treatment, clear communication and the thought put into it are key.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Someone who helped me was my therapist, who I refer to presently as my mentor. He gave me support. He believed in me, when I didn’t. He let me know I could always go to him for advice. I would get informal “Supervision” from him, during and after school.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Burnout is a form of despair. It’s a depressive low. It occurs when there is low “reward’ or higher ‘punishment’ (behaviorist terms) in your regular work experience. To avoid these, you must approach what Positive Psychology calls Subjective Well Being, or HAPPY!!!

This occurs at multiple levels. You must have good routine wellness and activity structure in your day. This means good sleep, nutrition, plans and activities such as work or school, regulating your body through targeted relaxation and meditation, having strong social connections in relationships with family and friends. Have a mentor, or a peer you can talk to, if needed.

Applying these behaviors daily results in long-term goal pursuit, growth, as well as personal and professional development. This is the ongoing evolution of the clinician.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

To create a great work culture you need to apply Organizational Psychology. With that in mind, here are six things you should do.

  1. Establish Trust — This is learned through gradual repetitive experience. Mean what you say. Say what you mean AND DO IT. Not something else. Don’t try to manipulate people which is completely demoralizing and undermining.
  2. Determine Your Culture and show it. Talk with employees. Ask them questions about their perceptions. Make adjustments according to what you hear.
  3. Engage — Including your employees in the above discussions and getting their takes on decision-making is crucial.
  4. Goal Setting — if appropriate. Are there large group changes or small individual changes to be made? Describe them in clear, specific, performance, or result-defined parameters.
  5. S.M.A.R.T. GOALS

Specific — Spell it out.

Measurable — Use criteria that can be observed and measured.

Achievable — It HAS to be attainable. If it’s NOT REALISTIC, it’s NOT A GOAL.

Realistic — The goal is valid for your group’s or individual’s values, purpose and mission.

Timely — Define a specific time frame or deadline to achieve the goal.

  1. Develop Employees. Notice, and provide opportunities and incentives for those who want to go faster, do more, rise above and stand out.
  2. Reward. I’m a behaviorist. This is a biggie! Provide recognition and rewards by privileges, tangible bonuses, and more opportunities.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

Step One: Have A Bulletproof Routine That Supports Your Health, Mental Well Being & Goals.

This is what I like to call “walking through the forest.”

To increase your mental wellness, it’s important to have structure in your days, at least most days. Having a sense of going to and from projects, peoples, and activities will give you purpose and meaning.

First, a good day starts after 7–8 hours’ sleep so make sure you have a nighttime routine that allows you enough sleep. Then make sure to include good healthy nutrition including a breakfast that restores sugar balance throughout your day. Also, even if you’re staying home, get dressed and ready to go somewhere, meet someone, or do something. You’re much more likely to feel like going out if you already look the part.

Next, make time for three important factors related to your mental wellness: relaxation and meditation, people, and get in regular progress toward long term goals. This is what we call daily striving. We were made to engage in regular forms of activity. All these forms are related to old survival programs built into the brain that are still with us.

Your daily routine IS your daily story of yourself’, your day and your life — make it a good one with a happy ending because you like the good ROUTINE day you had.

Step Two: Make Relaxation A Priority.

This is what I like to call “cave nap.”

Making time to initially relax is huge when looking at your brain health. Relaxation refreshes your mind. It even boosts your immune system.

Acute focused forms of targeted breathing and/or muscle relaxation reset the body and the mind. Meditation — most days — increases stability and wellbeing, and lowers reactivity and impulsivity. It makes us more patient, serene, calm and relaxed in a both short and long-term way. It makes you safer from things like suicide. It creates physiological, system, and morphologic changes in brain chemistry, nerve communication, and brain volume. These changes help inoculate and buffer humans who are at risk of suicide.

Step Three: Focus On The Right Relationships.

This is what I like to call “the tribe.”

Connection, social connection, family connection, nurturing and bonding are vastly important to your mental wellbeing. Be with your “Git”, your kin, and your friends improves everything from your mood to your ability to deal with stress.

Being in a tribe back in early cave days drastically increased one’s life expectancy and probability of survival. That’s why we’re naturally drawn to others. We all want to be a part of a tribe. We want to find and know our people. We want them to know us. It’s part of our DNA.

Surrounding ourselves with people we like isn’t all that’s important about tribes. When wedo good things in a giving, non-transactional way for others in the community, it increases our mental wellbeing. We feel a sense of purpose and belonging.

Engaging in these kinds of “kindness” activities will increase the activity in reward centers of the brain which will make you happy. Because it was important to get humans to do a lot of these things to increase the survival chances of the human race, being kind and nice — focusing on community — is something we’re wired to do. So, it makes you HAPPY!!! Happy to be alive, successful, and having fun doing it.

Step Four: Focus On Results.

This is what I like to call “getting down the road.”

Want to feel good and increase your mental wellbeing? Set a long term goal pursuit and acknowledge your wins along the way.

This is long term growth and change in chapters starting and ending, and new ones starting. Doing all the above things in a ROUTINE DAY, day after day, week after week, and months grow into years and decades will change your life.

It’s in the small, daily actions that we’re consistent with that is where and how human stories unfold. This is how people and their stories evolve from starting careers, job opportunities, adventures, and families. This is the story of those things, as chapters close, new ones around new interests, opportunities, and strengths and capabilities emerge on the horizon in front of us.

All that daily striving and Walking Through the Forest in time gets us to whole new exciting, rewarding and fulfilling places! This provides to humans what the cutting-edge brain science guys call Meaning and Purpose. Having this in our lives makes us HAPPY!!!

Step Five: Rinse & Repeat.

Do these things over and over, faithfully, regularly. Neurological change, which is learning, works by repetition. These behaviors make up a galaxy of survival promoting activities. The human that had the traits to practice them tended to be more successful and more likely to pass on the genes with these desirable traits. These traits are based on and driven by genes we’ve had for 100,00 years and are still with us. They not only create success; their program functions require activity in areas where reward centers are located to make us likely to do them. And it’s this that makes us HAPPY!!!

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

Retirement is what we call long-term striving. We have gotten here after all our life before. It’s then that we start asking ourselves important questions.

What do we want to do now? We are older, wiser, and probably have more time and more money to spend. Essentially, we are more powerful. What have we always wanted to do, but put off? What have we never thought of? Write a book. Do comedy. Start acting.

I went from an Assistant Cameraman and Stand Up Comic to a Clinical Psychologist and a Commercial Actor. And I’ve written two books; Camera Assisting: The Art, The Science, The Zen, and Happiness is For Cavemen.

Let’s take some time and DREAM!!! Now is the time to go beyond self or other imposed limitations on our capabilities. “Oh, you’ll never… Oh, you shouldn’t ever…” Why not??? If we don’t try, we ensure failure. Let’s reinvent, rewrite new and different versions of ourselves.

Above all DO NOT STOP! (Those are the guys that die!)

We’re made to walk through the forest every day. If we continue new versions of our ROUTINE DAY, we have daily striving which is good for us and it boosts immunity. Even better, we get to create new versions of ourselves! We have daily relaxation and social connection — sooooo good for the HAPPY AND immunity. Bodies work harder to maintain themselves if they need to because we are putting demands on them. Days turn into longtime goal realization. All these give MEANING AND PURPOSE — sooooo good for the HAPPY!!!

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS. Hah! Good luck with that with teens. I know that’s much easier said than done. As a teen, you are changing fast, so comparing to others is a way of getting feedback on yourself.

While it’s natural, it’s not often helpful.

The best advice I can give you is to be MINDFUL about focusing on yourself.

If you are doing well, there will be less negative comparison. Find things that interest you. Go with your strengths. Share them with others. Helping others is good for the HAPPY! ENGAGEMENT!!!

Also have friends — a few or a lot, whichever is you. Have structure in your day — activities, school, family gatherings, projects, sports.

Also, sports gets us exercise and builds a value of health, like nutrition, and good sleep — 8 to 10 hours for preteens and teens.

Have RELAXATION — down time counts, but LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA. This creates undue comparison with people sharing only their best moments. Be realistic about it. Know that they have all the same ups and downs everybody else has, just like you.

Last, take your strengths and interest and make them into a long-term growth as in a goal — getting better at something. This builds positive self-esteem and also, all these things just make ANY human, adult or young person happy.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Tales of Power by Carlos Castenada.

At the end of the book, Don Juan, a Brujo (sorcerer), who is passing on his mantle in the ways of power to his student (Castenada), brings Carlos to the top of a cliff and tells him to jump.

Another sorcerer, Don Juan’s friend; Don Genaro has brought his apprentice, Pablito, here. Genaro always would howl with laughter at Carlos’s seriousness and bewilderment at the things Genaro and Don Juan were showing Carlos.

Carlos and Pablito are both told to jump. Carlos is terrified and says, “What???!!! That’s crazy!” Don Genaro is rolling on the ground, holding his belly in a spasm of guffawing laughter.

This is about commitment, and doing, and trying. One, why would Don Juan tell you to do something that would destroy you, if he had spent all this time and effort into growing you into a powerful warrior, able to take on, and carry on with Don Juan’s knowledge?

To Don Juan, warriors do not give in, they act, (´A warrior doesn’t just let his death take him. Instead he goes down in a blaze of glory; fighting all the way”).

So here, at the top of the cliff (challenge metaphor) — ‘If you jump, you will not die!”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Establish a culture if increased HAPPY! Please see above to the 5 Steps to Do to increase your mental health. In my practice I call it the 4 R’S — Routine, Relaxation, Relationships, and Results. This is a valuing of Whole Wellness. It is both physical and psychological. Positive Psychology is the newest emerging field in psychology.

The newest neuroscientific research coming from it points to Happiness, or Subjective Wellbeing as the optimization of mammalian species for greatest successful function and creature and species success. This is the gift I want to give to all of mankind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite came from my first mentor, David Shore, when I was an apprentice cameraman in a long past life. David was a distinguished cinematographer, and considered an outlaw by the Madison Avenue execs, but they put up with David for his brilliance. He said, “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing shitty.” He loved to call this out across the set with a grin and the execs would cringe.

He meant, don’t hang back from trying and starting new things. Don’t wait till you’re perfect. It’s not realistic. You likely WON’T be any good at first, but if you don’t start in, you’ll never get any better. At the top of the cliff JUMP! After some falling, you will begin to SOAR!!!

God bless him. I’m still in love with him. His spirit charms my soul even now…

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

The best way to reach me is on Facebook @DrFritzHershey or you can always find me on my website at

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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