Dr Kjell Tore Hovik on Youth Mental Health, When Crisis Strikes and more

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik is a psychologist specializing in clinical neuropsychology. We chat about youth mental health when crisis strikes and so much more.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik on Youth Mental Health, When Crisis Strikes and more Introduction

The New Year 2021 promises hopefully to be a much better one than last year. But we need to equip ourselves with all sorts of elements to build resilience. That’s ultimately the key. The best way of dealing with stress is to build resilience into your life. 

So my guest today is a contributor to that picture. His name is Dr. Kjell Tore Hovik, and he has co-authored a book called When Crisis Strikes Five Steps to Heal Your Brain, Body, and Life from Chronic Stress. You can understand the appeal. When I saw I had the opportunity to speak to him about this. 

Kjell is an award-winning psychologist specializing in clinical neuropsychology. Now, that’s a term that is new to me, but we explore that. And he took his doctorate, his Ph.D., on emotional thought and behavioral problems in youth with developmental disorders. He is also worked with elite sportspeople. And we touch on both these issues and many others in this episode. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Dr. Kjell Tore Hovik.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:05] I’d like to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of our land, Australia, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation are the traditional custodians of this place. We now call Sydney, where I record this podcast. 

The Unstress podcast is proud to be an ongoing supporter of the Healing Foundation, a national Aboriginal organization that partners with communities to address ongoing trauma caused by actions like the Stolen Generation. We have so much to learn from our First Nations people. This land always was and always will be Aboriginal.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:47] Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well, the New Year 2021 promises hopefully to be a much better one than last year. But we need to equip ourselves with all sorts of elements to build resilience. That’s ultimately the key. The best way of dealing with stress is to build resilience into your life. 

So my guest today is a contributor to that picture. His name is Dr. Kjell Tore Hovik, and he has co-authored a book called When Crisis Strikes Five Steps to Heal Your Brain, Body and Life from Chronic Stress. You can understand the appeal. When I saw I had the opportunity to speak to him about this. 

Kjell is an award-winning psychologist specializing in clinical neuropsychology. Now, that’s a term that is new to me, but we explore that. And he took his doctorate, his Ph.D., on emotional thought and behavioral problems in youth with developmental disorders. He is he’s also worked with elite sportspeople. And we touch on both these issues and many others in this episode. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Dr. Kjell Tore Hovik.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:02:05] Welcome to the show Kjell.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:02:08] Well, thank you for having me. I’m excited about this. You’re a long way away.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:02:12] We are. You are currently speaking to me from where are you? Tell us where you are, because it’s quite a famous site.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:02:20] Well, some of your listeners and viewers might recognize or remember the Winter Olympics in 1994, that was a little humid in Norway. It’s in the southern part of Norway, but it’s in England, Norway. And it’s the ideal climate for a nice dry snow conditions in the wintertime. 

So at the start of the season now, so we’ve been out skiing just this last weekend. So it’s pretty exciting time. But as I was also saying, it’s quite the days are quite short here, just six hours now in the wintertime. So we have to kind of make use of that time and then we have to then we spend time behind the fireplace in the evenings. That’s kind of cozy as well.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:03:04] Now, you’ve written this fabulous book, When Crisis Strikes, which is just about to come out. Well, it’s coming out. And in the end of December 2020, December 2020 Five Steps to Heal your Brain. And we’re going to talk about some of the aspects of that. But I wondered if you might share with our listener a little bit about your own professional journey that’s brought you to this point and brought you to writing this book.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik’s Journey

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:03:28] Well, interesting. My kind of my personal background is I’ve I was active in sports, actually. I was an active golfer for many, many years, way back when. And I had and I had an injury. And so I was not able to kind of just take that full sports experience fully out. And I also kind of understood I was a better teacher than a player. 

So I started actually starting with some junior programs and really teaching young people to play golf. And as I knew, as a golfer or as an athlete myself, I knew that the difference between the best and the next best was always the mental. The X Factor was the mental aspect. So what could we do to improve that? And I started working with young children or the young sports golfers in the program with all kinds of mental training like visualization, training, pre-shot training, all these mental things that are just so key for golfers.

 It turns out that I was doing this and where there was also lots of ski jumpers that were actually training with us in the same hall, the Olympic Hall, and they were like, hey, what are you guys doing here? We want to do that. So it kind of expanded into different areas, some alpine skiers and also the ski jumpers, which are in many ways the same type of psychological process where nothing really gets going until you start it. Right. 

So you have to have a very good preparation before you then perform or hit the ball or make the ski jump. It’s really very, very critical that the mental aspects are in place. Right. So so you had experience with that. And then just this is maybe turning out a little bit long. But that’s how I found out that I didn’t really know about this, about it as much. And I said, well, how do I figure out how do I learn about this? 

Well, I go to school and learn about it, right. So I went back and then I studied the clinical psychology. It actually became a clinical neuropsychologist and continued using and then understood a little more. And I said, hey, I’m on the right track. This is the this is the important thing for sports athletes. And I kind of then expanded into different areas. 

As I was saying, my day job is really working at the hospital with young adults and young teenagers that are suffering from early signs of psychosis, which is a serious thought disorder. Right. They’re seeing things or hearing things, thinking things that are just very bizarre, very unusual. And then our jobs are in a team with the big team of professionals. 

It’s trying to find out how we can help them get back to school if they’ve dropped out of school, get back into work, get back into functioning properly, you know, in their everyday lives, not isolating and hiding in a basement and, you know, doing escape strategies, often with either on the computer or with drugs or other kinds of dangerous things. 

So we try to help them get integrated back into their lives and help them as much as we can. So that’s part of that day job, which I use a lot. And now we get to the book. Right. I can say about that because I’m a coauthor in this book and I’ve written it together the with an American psychiatrist. So a little different perspective, right. Well, you’re a doctor, right? And she is also a doctor. And I’m really from the psychology or the psychology side of it. So coming as a doctor as having a PhD coming from that side. But we kind of understood that when talking about these modern problems that everybody in the modern world is experiencing. 

I know you write a lot about this Dr Ron Ehrlich right about problems with, let’s say, chronic illnesses, family crises, sudden loss traumas, these things that that are often part of the everyday experience as we get older, tremendous stress factors. How do we then deal with it? What’s a way of getting away from that? Or how do we get how do we heal from these problems? And we understood that while working with very extreme cases of people under stress, we kind of learn. 

We know some tricks and some techniques and some we have something in our toolbox that we can use. So we thought, well, can we put this into a product that will help it as a self-help guide for people that maybe are not that that far into a mental health crisis, but more in a life crisis. Right. We wrote the book in 2019, delivered it or submitted it then and then wham this whole thing with covid came up right in 2020 in March. 

We were doing the edits so we were able to kind of add some, add some chapters about how we dealt or we’re dealing with the covid crisis in our own lives using the steps as well. So it’s a personal book describing some of our experience with it. And then we have probably like twenty-four different vignettes or cases of people suffering in different life crises and how they use the five steps to get more balance in their lives. So that’s a little of that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:09:06] Yeah. Yeah. And you mentioned the word clinical neuropsychologist because I’ve heard the term clinical psychologists that you’ve added this extra important would tell us how the distinction is, what’s the distinction and what does that add to how.

What is a Clinical Neuropsychologist?

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:09:22] Well, a clinical neuropsychologist is maybe a little more aware of the brain-behavior interface. Right. So what’s going on in our brains and how is that affecting our behavior? I guess you could say the psychologists are in the same way, but maybe a neuropsychologist is a little more biology-based, a little more brain that based. The way that we go about our assessments is not just asking thousands of questions, which just psychologists would do, but we also do a lot of cognitive testing. 

So I want to know how the person learns, how they learn if they learn in verbal stimuli, is that better or there may be more visual? Do they learn that way? How is their memory? Is a memory good? Is it not so good? How do they hold their focus and concentration? Do they have good focus and concentration over a short period of time, over a longer period of time? How is their decision-making skills? Do they are they good at planning? Are they very impulsive? Are they flexible? Mentally, they can switch from one task to another task, or do they prefer to then work on one task over a long period of time? 

So a lot of these that one might associate with some people might say personality characteristics, but I would maybe call them also some of these traits, cognitive characteristics, right. Way of people since I took my Ph.D. with children that have developmental disorders. So children with ADHD. Right. Problems with concentrating and focus, very agitated. Children with autism or autism spectrum disorders like Asperger’s. Right. 

They have their social difficulties and social problems and also with Tourette’s so that people maybe are non with people who have tics. Right. Which is is an impulse disorder. So I have that perspective wanting to know really everything about the person, not just their background, their history, all the difficulties, and the problems, but also who they are as a person, their personality, the way they react, the way they think, the way they learn, maybe in a way thinking that’s a good way to try to understand how we can change their behavior if they need me to change their behavior or they need to work to heal. Right. If if they’re in a crisis situation.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:11:53] Huh. Wow. I feel like I should book in a session with you. I’d love to explore a lot of those aspects. But, you know, youth, youth mental health, well, mental health, in general, is a huge and growing problem. We certainly hear about that in Australia. And I know it’s a big problem in the states, too. Is this what you’re also seeing in your practices in Norway? And in Europe in general.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:12:22] It is I mean, it’s a growing problem, it’s a challenge. I mean, I think we have to be open about that. That there’s a wide variety, a wide variation of difficulties. Right. A lot of the very serious patients that I usually work with at my hospital, they are actually people that they like to be isolated. 

They don’t want to have contact because they’re they have social anxiety difficulties. Right. So we spend maybe a year trying to teach them to get out into the open, get out into the public, take the bus, do things like that. And then suddenly everything’s locked down. And in many ways, maybe they’re happy about that because then they don’t have to push themselves.

Right. But in general, a lot of our patients become much more uneasy because of this uncertain future. They don’t know what’s going to happen. They don’t know when things are going to happen and they don’t know their place in that future. Right. It’s becoming more difficult for everybody. And families are affected. And people that normally were functioning quite well are also struggling. So we do find it. It’s an increasing problem and it’s concerning for sure.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:13:32] Mm hmm. Yes. The trends in Australia are definitely and it’s concerning. And there’s always this balance between nature and nurture and the genetic the environmental aspect. And I mean, with the growing problem, it’s hard to justify it as just a purely genetic issue, isn’t it? What are some of those factors that are, you know, that you see causing this increase in stress and in this kind of disorders, mental health disorders?

Mental Health disorders

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:14:02] Well, I think that we see a lot of the people that are really struggling is this increasing anxiety issues and also depression, which often has to do with just essentially being more in isolation.

And we can see it maybe particularly in people that maybe have personality characteristics where they were very extrovert, they were very social. They’re very dependent on social interaction for kind of reinforcement and for these issues of self-esteem. And then when they don’t have that contact, they don’t get that feedback by being together with other people and having fun times with other people, then they’re a little more vulnerable. So we do see that there’s this difference in certain types of maybe personality characteristics are more vulnerable in the situation and less resilient.

I know this is a topic that you talked a lot about resiliency. Right, than other people that are more maybe independent, maybe more individualistic. And they have maybe they maybe have better strategies for coping with being alone in a difficult period of time. Right. So there’s that. And then and then there’s this. 

How do they react to also being alone and maybe struggling with things? If there’s work situations that are problematic, if there’s family situations, of course, being alone or being together with your family in an unusual way all the time also poses quite a bit of stress in family situations. Right. And then and then stresses then if they’re not dealt with in a positive and a good way, then they can then compound other difficulties. And then you have this we talk about this in the book about unhealthy or not good coping strategies. Right. 

Choosing to, you know, maybe work more or to be on the computer more or if you’re watching porn all the time or if you’re starting to drink more often or if you’re in these kinds of things are really can be very complicating coping mechanisms or short term coping mechanisms that that really can become a compound, difficult situations. So there’s something about finding back to that balance, that good balance in your life. And maybe if you haven’t had that balance before, then trying to find it right to try to discover a good balance that gives you and makes you a little more resilient to whatever stressors and difficulties that might come about. Right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:16:36] The incredible period we’re going through at the moment. I mean, that’s an understatement if ever there was one. But, you know, this almost global period of reflection for us all as individuals and as a society, I mean, how do you this pandemic, you’ve raised some issues there, but when we have changes to our brain, when chronic stress can damage our brain, how does that work? What kind of effect can this chronic stress have on our brain health?

Effect of chronic stress on our brain health

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:17:09] Well, this is part of what we start off with and my coauthor, Dr. Jennifer Love, she’s she’s a medical doctor and describes this really well, which is you think if you think of the stress response, you know, I can describe it is one of the examples I give in the book is that you can imagine, for example, if you’ve had a I don’t know if you have an older brother, for example, and you’re young and you’re going out to take the trash out at night and he’s hidden behind some someplace and jumps out and really scares the bejesus out of you right in when you’re out there, that that reaction is a stress response.

Right. Which is setting your body in motion to either fight or flee as far as the traditional way of describing it. And you have the person you have two systems in your body, one that’s activating. Right. Your focus and energy and everything to try to deal with this crisis.

And then you have another system that it’s a little slower, which is relaxing it. But this activating system, the parasympathetic system is is just pumping adrenaline and adrenaline out in your into your system. And you’re all the energy is really going to your inner organs, the survival organs, and it’s going out of these brain areas. So you’re not able to make the same good decisions as you usually would. 

And of course, in that in the example with that young boy, he usually once he discovers that’s his brother, then that the stress is over. But if you’re thinking of very, very many of these modern kinds of crises that we can discover that we experience like a family conflict or a breakup or really conflict full of breakup or trauma with serious emotional abuse or things of that nature or even a cancer diagnosis and things like that, or even a cancer diagnosis of a loved one or dementia of a parent.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:19:13] These kinds of things, they’re these are really what you also talk about, like modern type of crises that aren’t just sudden and over, like the tiger that was going to eat you, like from millennia ago. It’s something that’s out there all the time. And if your system is just activated all the time worrying and stressed about this, then you’re going to kind of you’re going to be worn down.

You’re going to kind of break down and your whole body, your energy and your focus and your cognitive faculties, everything is going to be worn down in that process. So the question is, how can we deal with these things? Because we know that we’re all going to experience them in some way or another. 

You know, if you’re some people experience them quite early. But if you’re living into your 40s and 50s and 60s, which is more commonly in the modern societies. Right. Everybody will experience these types of modern crises that are very, very stressful. And how can we survive them without letting them just kind of overtake us and overwhelm us? And then just again, going into escape strategies and doing negative things that are just going to break this down. So trying to help us find that balance. And that was a little of the background of.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:20:33] Dr. Love and my idea behind the book is that can we find steps and techniques that you can use for many types of crises, right. Not just this one or this other one, but general in general, different types of crises that these modern crises that typically last over a long period of time, many, many years or tens of years, even if you have a chronic illness or a chronic pain situation, that’s going to last maybe a long time. So how can you stop, you know, stop the process of getting addicted to opioids?

That’s a quite a common problem in the US. And I mean, it happens everywhere. It happens here in Norway as well. So how can we deal with these types of crises in a healthy way that’s going to get ourselves back on balance. That’s kind of a little bit of the background.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:21:26] Yeah, it’s so interesting because I have been in my own clinical practice for almost 40 years, actually more. But that’s another story. And I’ve become very interested in musculoskeletal pain, chronic musculoskeletal pain, and realized that muscles have memory and an accident or a trauma that occurred when you were five, six, seven, 10, 20.

That memory in the muscle can continue through a lifetime. And it’s so interesting to hear you speak about this from a mental perspective because when we’re dealing with chronic stress, people often get tremendous breakthroughs by reflecting on past traumas as well, because not only do muscles have memory. So does our brain I mean, to state the obvious, and that impact is huge. Tell me you’ve written this book When Crisis Strikes and my goodness, you know, I guess we can definitely say for all of us, crisis has struck. There are five steps to heal your brain. And obviously, our listener is going to be reading this book. Let’s take that as a given. But I wondered if you can just give us a little bit of a hint as to what these five steps are.

Five steps to heal your brain

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:22:36] Right. Well, I can say part of the interesting from what we were talking about before about stress, one of the starting points is this understanding what stress is, what, what, and for a person to kind of map out the stressors in their lives. What are the and of course, for every individual is going to be unique. Right.

So the way that we’ve made these steps is not there’s not one size fits all. It’s a general way of addressing the individual person’s situation. Context matters. So if you have, you know, five people who have all had a terrible breakup, they’re all going to have different stressors. And there’s like maybe some have a chronic illness maybe to somehow have lost their job or some are have problems with a child who is a developmental disorder that’s raging every day.

I mean, there’s all kinds of. So part of that starting point is really to get an idea of what are the important stressors in your life, understanding how you also react to those stressors. Right. Because we’re all different in the way that we react to them. Some are very sensitive and will overreact will react very quickly and very sensitive and others are more resilient and maybe not as quick to react. So that’s part of the understanding. And then there’s kind of a step-by-step approach where we’re then taking kind of taking a grip of the situation, getting an overview, understanding our own situation and our own stressors and what we want to prioritize. So it’s very kind of individual-oriented, very goal-oriented, very kind of concrete specific. Let’s work on this.

How can we then reduce this difficulty of this problem if it’s maybe grief after a loss or if it’s a family crisis because of some raging children that are out of control or maybe they’re doing drugs and that’s causing all kinds of chaos, these kinds of things putting really concrete description on that problem and then starting the process of trying to figure out, well, what can we do about it? What do we have control over? What don’t we have control over? What steps can we take that to change the things that we don’t have control over? There’s a step that has to do with taking care of oneself in the whole process. Right.

We often forget about that because you’re in a crisis, you’re in crisis mode. You’re just reacting to chaos around you. Right like that. We often use the example of some kind of like a bomb landing in some sandy desert and just blowing up all kinds of dust. And you just you can’t really see correctly or properly. So part of that the process is just getting a good perspective on your situation, getting a handle on it, getting a grip on it, and then taking the steps to heal and then at the same time also take care of yourself and that that same process and also then get a better understanding of who you are back to this thing of understanding your personality traits, which traits do you want to kind of cultivate and maybe nurture and are there traits that maybe aren’t helpful in that process? And you want to maybe, you know, kind of tone down a bit.

But again, it’s part of that process of really looking and reflecting over all these aspects that are causing difficulties and then making a strategy and working out a program to work yourself out of it. So just we’re not allowed to go detailed into the steps just to tell you that. But I just tell you a little general, and I’m using lots of sports psychology things, there’s a lot of cognitive traits, techniques that we’re using, a lot of even positive psychology, a lot of holistic things.

It’s we have it kind of feel it’s like we have a it’s like a way of organizing a toolbox, a therapist toolbox. Right. But for the person themselves, if they’re able to then work through it themselves, if they have the awareness and the self inside of their difficulties, if they we have a part that also is it’s very important that if a person is not able to see and reflect over their own situation, it’s important for them to get external help. Right. To get maybe a therapist or somebody that can work with them through that process to help them be a sounding board and help them put their finger on the important steps that need to be taken. But the book is written kind of as a just as a self-help guide for everyone really just to kind of use it. And like I was saying, both Jennifer and I were using it in our own lives.

You know, it just kind of discovered, hey, let’s use that systematically when the whole covid experience because we both ended up being isolated. She’s in Southern California and I’m here in Norway. And how could we use the steps to help us kind of gain control of this crisis situation that we’re in and maybe even turn it into something that can be positive for ourselves and our own development? So we took that challenge. And I think that’s been really a learning experience, too.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:27:54] I mean, it’s music to our ears, because this program is very much about personal empowerment. And I’ve often said that while we can’t control events or necessarily people in our lives, we can definitely control the way we think about it. And that is an easy thing to say in many ways. But then it comes back to this question of resilience in order to be able to control the way you think about something, you need to have the resilience to do it.

And that opens up a whole can of worms, too, doesn’t it? I mean, for example, I’ve got a gut feeling about something, you know? Well, the connection between gut and brain has been very well established. Do you see this as an important part of your dealings when you’re looking at youth mental health, for example? I mean, you’re talking we’re talking about mental health as a spectrum. And when we’re starting to go down the path of ADHD and autism, we are down quite a way in that spectrum. What role do you think these kinds of things, like, for example, diet might have on mental health? What do you see?

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:29:05] Well, I mean, I think that very many young people, in my experience, I mean, they’re more concerned about what their peers are doing. Right. Than what their parents are telling them to do. That’s a pretty typical issue. And they don’t want to stick out. They don’t want to be any different. So they’re usually doing the same things as their peer group. And but when they kind of encounter these very, very serious difficulties, they maybe often have a chance to maybe think about how they’re living their life and what you’re bringing up, which is so important.

What are they eating? And is that on a regular basis? And of course, some people are more sensitive to that than others. Some people cannot you know, their mood is totally dependent on how much they’re eating and when they’re eating and what they’re eating and becoming aware of that and knowing how that affects your mood and how it affects your way of interacting with people and also how it affects your cognitive facilities, cognitive functioning, about memory, about concentration, about which again, in turn affects how you’re doing with planning and organizing.

I mean, all these things are kind of connected. So we try to and as a neuropsychologist, I always end the line on the reports that that, you know, the good routines, eating, sleeping, all of these kinds of really common sense practices is what is going to be important to kind of have a focus on the how can we get back to that help that. And that’s what we do with these people that come in that are that are admitted to the hospital completely, you know, in a terrible, terrible state.

Part of that process is really just trying to balance their rhythm and their practices and their habits. And hopefully, that is the start of a healing process. And then, of course, if there’s more serious things that we need to bring in, maybe the medical doctors, maybe with if it’s an extreme case with medication if that’s necessary. I mean, we as a psychologist, I’m kind of against it right away.

We don’t want to be doing it unless it has to. But I mean, you do experience we have young people who come in that are that are so in such a bad state with terrible difficulties and hallucinations and so many difficulties that just to kind of get them calmed down, it’s necessary to use a certain help from the doctors and their medic medications just to get that start for that balance. And then hopefully we can get them off very quickly and then into a better working rhythm going forward.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:31:56] Hmm. I mean, taking a step back from what you’re dealing with in your book here, but looking at the general field of mental health, one of the criticisms and it’s interesting that your coauthor is a psychiatrist, one of the criticisms of psychiatry nowadays is that its pathologist, everybody, like when the DSM, the diagnostic, what is a statistics manual? When the DSM came out 20 or 30 years ago, DSM one, it was 100 pages long and it had 50 conditions. And now DSM five is nine hundred pages long. And I think there are hundreds of or conditions. And for today, you mentioned social anxiety.

I mean, I used to think I know this may surprise people. I used to think of myself as shy, but now I actually have a name I can put to that social anxiety disorder. You live in Norway and presumably, you mentioned you’re only getting sun at three o’clock, up to three o’clock. And a lot of people go, gee, I feel so much better in the summer than I do in the winter. Well, guess what? That’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, and there are medications to support each of those. What’s your view of how these trends have occurred?

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:33:15] But, you know, it’s kind of it’s tough it’s an interesting, interesting kind of topic because we’re often struggling in the hospital system, even in Norway, which is, I feel very well organized in many ways. I’m interested in it’s not for profit. It’s really just focused on the best interest of the individual. And yet you have these systems put in place that for anybody to get any help or treatment, they need to have a diagnosis. Right. They need to have a label. And I hate that. Right.

Because I’m thinking that people are so much more complex than that. A label. And of course, as having taken a Ph.D. and having done some research, I understand how important it is to be able to have, let’s say, grouping so that, you know, how are you going to help, let’s say, a group that that maybe is struggling with concentration problems.

You know, then to do research on it, you need to be able to define, well, what is that? And who is that group? So there that’s a positive thing, right? To be able to have groups so that you can understand how to help those groups better. And I think in many ways, you know, modern medicine and or at least modern psychology and modern techniques have improved the the the treatment of many people that are struggling with very serious disorders. But back to your situation. Your suggestion is like. But does everybody have to have a label? Right.

Does everybody have to have a diagnosis? And I think that’s a really a danger because I mean, we have to accept that we’re all different and there’s these variations and there’s differences on a scale and we need to try to learn how to be able to really just get up, get that in balance and not always pathologies that as you’re saying, that there’s a tendency and I do a kind of experience this and now my co-author isn’t here to kind of defend the system in the US, took it to put it that way. But my mother lives there, so I know her situation. And, you know, it’s just amazing how many pills she’s taking for everything. And I’m just desperately trying to say, well, you know, it’s like. 15, 20 different pills for each little thing, you get a pill, right, but who’s doing research on what all these pills are doing and all these mixtures are doing. Right.

And have you had somebody who can you can tell you exactly what to do instead of taking that, like changing your diet. Right. Or changing your habits or changing your sleep hygiene practices or changing. These are the kinds of things that I’m really concerned are really thinking about with these young kids and not trying to get to these quick fixes that something’s going to fix it by that pill or that pill or that drink or that whatever. It’s a bigger issue that we need to kind of teach people about. And I think you’re doing that in your way in your books, too.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:36:19] Yeah. Well, it’s so interesting. You should draw on your experience of your mother in the States because, I mean, I think the statistic is something like five percent of the world’s population in America are taking 50 percent of the world’s psychotropic drugs. And I think on the top of the OECD countries, America comes in pretty low down on the list. And I guess the question is, is the primary goal of the health care system, the health of the population, or is it to sell medications? And we could argue about that. But in Norway. Just tell us a little bit, because I’m often surprised when I speak to people in America that they somehow feel a universal health care system that looks after every citizen is somehow a communist plot. How are things in Norway? How is your health care system set up? Is it a universal health care system?

How is your health care system set up in Norway?

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:37:16] We have a universal health care system as the basis there’s also a parallel private system. So for people that but that are, let’s say, and maybe some businesses where they have personnel who need to have really urgent treatment or urgent care quickly to get them back into work, then they can they will maybe take advantage of the private system. But we all kind of very, very proud and very kind of, you know, kind of surround that we want to have this universal system so that everybody who needs help gets help. Right. Based on their need and not how much they can pay. That’s an important prerequisite.

And of course, that also has it also, you know, I actually live many years in the US, so I know a bit about that system and coming to Norway as well, that I kind of see the difference. And you can see that there’s not the same conflict level, because if there are things that happen that are accidents or things that that you’re getting all the care that you need. Right. So that the health system is helping you and healing you without you having to sue everybody who didn’t do this thing or didn’t do that thing or didn’t put the label on the microwave oven for this thing or whatever.

I mean, it’s a little more peaceful in that way. Right. Because we all want to take care of each other. We’re all concerned about each other. So there’s that attitude, to begin with. We’re doing everything we can, not only for each other, but also for the environment, and trying to pay attention to those aspects. But then we want to then not just really raise up the conflict level. If there are problems or difficulties, we want to try to resolve it in the best way possible. And one way of doing that is with the health care system.

I think that we have so very much kind of concerned about that and loyal to keeping that going. I mean, of course, there’s this issue of, you know, there’s certain specific expertise where we’re a small country so we can’t have the top experts in every area. And, you know, you do have that in other places and other countries where they have larger university systems. So there’s not everything that can be resolved in our system in a small country. But we do feel that that’s the way we’d like to have it. And we kind of feel that we want to try to preserve that and keep that as good as it can be.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:39:54] And I have to tell you to just to give you another example of the way I see it, the type of children, young people that we’re working, that I’m working with, how much more I would say better care. I feel that many of them get having a system where they don’t pay anything, their families don’t pay anything. If they have a problem, they call us.

We go out and we help them early before things are really, you know, before things have really exploded into some really serious thing. We try to help them, get them back into shape, try to get them on the right track. And I experience the same type of young people that I have in my experience and in Southern California that have similar types of things. They end up in the emergency room. They get some pills in their hands, they’re sent out and there’s no follow-up. Right, unless they have a family that can follow them or help them. They’re just it’s just so many, so many tragic, tragic cases in that way. And and and I mean, there’s a lot of great treatment there, too. So I don’t want get so I mean, probably awareness treatment in the world can be found there.

But the question is, is it for everybody? Is it for us? We’re a whole community and we’re in this together. Right? We’re in this boat together and let’s take care of each other. Otherwise, we’re all going to tip over and fall out.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:41:17] Well, I’ve got to tell you, I mean, that doesn’t surprise me coming from the mouth of a Norwegian, because Norway is often listed as one of the top, if not the top country, you know, in life in the quality of life. And you are rightly proud of that. Australia has a universal system which looks after every individual, and we could pick holes in every one of our health systems. But that’s a minimum. And you’ve added such a neurophysiological basis to this would conflict, which I think we’ve covered as well. Listen, we’ve covered a lot of great territories here. I want to take a step back now even further because we’re all on a health journey together through life. And I wondered, putting aside your role as a researcher neurophysiologist, just as an individual on that health journey, what do you think the biggest challenge is for an individual? On that journey in our modern world.

The Biggest Health Challenge

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:42:19] Well, I mean, one of the things I’ve kind of personally been, you know, gotten very interested in actually, really since the covid situation started, is this idea of, you know, understanding that in the modern world, there’s so many distractions, there’s so much going on.

There’s the news. There’s the, you know, things happening in town. There are all kinds of there’s just always, you know, things that are stealing our attention here and there. And and and I’ve kind of tried to try to think about this idea of it’s really this idea of mindfulness being present in the moment. How much are we? Are we always like looking to the future that’s going to help us? That’s going to solve the problem. That’s going to be the kind of panacea that’s going to help us or save us in some way. Whereas what can we do right now in the present just to enjoy the fact that we’re, you know, alive and that we’re have all our senses that we can just appreciate, let’s say nature, for example, or appreciate our family members or appreciate a good dinner or appreciate whatever we’re experiencing.

How can we multiply that experience? We see that in memory. We have a lot of young people who, you know, spent many years. They don’t they can’t remember anything from their childhood. And, you know, why is that where they actually present in the moment during certain periods so that that memory could be reinforced? It could be actually strengthened because as you bring in more senses to every experience, you have a stronger memory trace. So bringing in, you know, looking at something, experience something, bringing in the smell, bringing in the what the sounds are, what are what is the feel of it. What is the sensation around it?

That’s one thing I’ve just been working on, trying to bring that, you know, more to the fore in my own life, because I’ve also been a person who has been working, working, working and just being really too busy and, you know, reflecting also through the steps is like, hey, you know, I need to take this into my own life and do something, do a change there as well. And can I really put more value in each moment and get more out of each moment? And so one of the things I’m doing is I’m taking I’m a little more into I’m into taking photographs and nature.

I mean, here in Norway, you know, I’m living in such a beautiful area. There’s quite a lot of nature. And like I was saying, there’s a very short day in the wintertime. So it’s valuable. Right. So you kind of appreciate it a little more. I mean, I spend many years in Southern California. It’s sunny all the time. It’s beautiful all the time. But here it’s like, well, what what are those important moments that I can of those images that I can get of the sun rising or the sun setting or the clouds and the formations that are forming over the lake, for example, or what’s happening and of course, the seasons here. So we experience the you know, the Four Seasons pretty extreme, extreme. And I’m trying to really, you know, just understand that and get that and experience that in an intense way. So.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:45:49] We’ll Kjell, thank you for being so present here with us in this last period of time. And thank you for sharing with us today.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:45:59] Well, thank you. Thank you so much for having me, and I’m just really interested in and learning a little more about what you’ve been writing about because you’re really contributing quite a bit to this whole idea of improving and healing and seeing the balance in the whole whole whole aspect of one’s life.

Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:46:18] Thank you.

Dr Kjell Tore Hovik [00:46:20] Thank you.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:46:22] So interesting to hear from a neuropsychologist, a clinical neuropsychologist in that part of the world that we hear so much about Norway. It’s always up there is no one or two, certainly in the top two or three of places to live in terms of life experience, life, good quality of life. And that is and a Kjell touched on the idea of the one thing we have is the ability to control the way we think about things. And that that, as I said, is easy to say.

But in order to be able to do that, you need to build resilience. And we’re talking about building resilience in this program all the time. And I  think worth remembering here that, you know, life I see is a balancing act. He talks about identifying and minimizing stresses and he’s talking about the cycle, some of those psychological impact, some of those life experiences that have passed. And that is still a very important part of your life, whether you remember them or reflect on them or not.

The fact is that there is memory, just as there’s muscle memory in chronic pain, there is trauma, memory in psychological pain. And that is important. And he also touched on the fact that getting therapy sometimes is an important thing. And I’ve had the opportunity to do that on three or four occasions in my life. And I found them to be incredibly positive.

I know a lot of my friends, some of my friends have said, oh, I don’t need that, I’ve got friends. But the thing about talking to a qualified practitioner, psychologist or psychiatrist, I guess I mean, I always associate psychiatry with medication and psychologists with talking therapy. But whatever the ability to talk to a professional is, in and of itself, a very cathartic experience.

To organize your thoughts and express them to a total stranger who is just focused on you is a very cathartic experience, irrespective of whatever else follows. And what should follow is their professional expertize in prompting you in in certain questions which bring a revelation to yourself through their help. I found it to be incredibly powerful. And also in my life I’ve been I’ve actually used some psychotherapy sessions to overcome really bad hay fever and allergies, which were a total surprise to me. And I think I’ve mentioned that in the past. But the point being about controlling one’s thoughts is controlling how we deal with stress is a really important tool we have. But you need to build resilience and often you need professional help. And occasionally and I believe in the short term, you know, medication has its place as well.

So I thought that was a great opportunity to connect there and to hear the insights about the difference between an American health care system, which is built on financial ends, and a universal health care system, which is in the US, in Norway and in Australia, too which we can be proud of, is something I am incredibly proud of as well. But to see how conflict sets up a neurophysiological effect, which in itself is very stressful, is an experience in itself. So I hope you’ve enjoyed that.

This year is going to be a very exciting year. We’ve got so many great things planned. Don’t forget to leave us to review on iTunes. Want to push the ratings up? We’ve got some great online courses. Keep in touch with that. Visit the website or download the app Unstress with Dr Ron Ehrlich and stay in touch with all the latest episodes and all the latest events, many coming up this year. So I hope this finds you well. Until then. Until next time be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.