The Natural Evolution Podcast

Season 2

Episode 15

S2E15 – Psychoneuroimmunology and the Effects Childhood Trauma Has On Long Term Wellbeing with Sean Merrick

“Educated by mavericks in the field of Integrative Psychology, Sean focuses on healing by utilizing depth psychotherapy and functional medicine along with psychedelic integration and ketamine assisted psychotherapy.”

Sean Merrick’s uncensored, honest, authentic personality reinforces his rapport. Being client centered, everyone is an individual and therapy works best in a collaborative approach that focuses on your personal needs. 

Today we focus on one of Sean’s specialties within Psychotherapy: childhood and adult trauma and how they can have lasting impacts on our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  

If you are ready to take the next step, check out Sean’s SoulsQuest™ Package here – A progressive healing plan that includes 14 (55 min) one on one sessions.  Also included is a specific, lab directed diet plan and an individualized supplement protocol.  All to address both emotional and physical wellbeing.

Visit his website to learn more and follow him on Instagram for inspiration and education.

Check out SoulsQuest™ with Sean Merrick. This revolutionary program is centered around self-exploration & self-care, that invokes personal changes specifically designed for the discovery and nourish your life-force.

It’s the 3-month comprehensive guidance you deserve.

  • (1) 55 minute initial assessment
  • (12) 55 minute telehealth sessions; psychotherapy & holistic coaching
  • Intensive coaching for those who reside outside of California
  • Personalized, lab directed diet plan; valued at $515.00
  • Includes (1) 55 minute, lab result consultation
  • 30 day, personally targeted, supplement protocol
  • Progressive psychoeducation and holistic mentoring

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Head over to https://rebelhealthtribe.com/kit to get a free download of our loaded quick start guide to help you along your healing journey.  If you like us, subscribe, review, and share us with your friends, and come join our Rebel Health Tribe group on Facebook.

Listen to Episode #15

In the episode, Sean Merrick tackles one of his may specialties: psychoneuroimmunology. This podcast focuses deeply on the psychotherapy aspects of childhood and adult trauma and how they can have lasting impacts on our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
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Sean Merrick

Sean Merrick

About our Guest

“Having a guide who has lived and understands life’s uncertainty, challenges and hardships builds a trusting relationship that nurtures self-discoveries and confidence while emphasizing internal wisdoms. It is this type of therapeutic relationship where personal courage is discovered, healing is allowed and authentic living is inspired.”

Sean Merrick’s uncensored, honest, authentic personality reinforces his rapport. Being client centered, everyone is an individual and therapy works best in a collaborative approach that focuses on your personal needs. Sean is educated in the fields of integrative psychology and functional medicine – focusing on total wellbeing; mentally, physically, and spiritually.

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Podcast Transcript

Michael Roesslein: And we’re live. We finally hit the record button after sitting here and chatting for 45 minutes. I am joined on this episode with my friend, Sean Merrick. Sean, thanks for being here.

Sean Merrick:

Well, it’s an honor to be called your friend. I respect the hell out of you and watching what you post, and the knowledge base that you have and who you have on has been inspirational. So for you to call me friend, and I’m honored and I’m honored to be here.

Michael Roesslein:

Absolutely, man, thank you. I’m excited. Out of all the episodes I’m recording for this season, this is probably the one that overlaps the most with my own background and interest in things. So I get excited to chat about stuff that I’m into quite a bit as well. So before we get started, though, I know I should probably introduce you a little bit. So Sean was educated by Mavericks in the field of integrative psychology and holistic health and shamanic practices. He focuses on healing by utilizing depth, psychotherapy, functional medicine, and psychedelic ketamine-assisted psychotherapy to spark life force. This total being approach fosters balance within your psyche, your physiology, and your spirit. In short, Sean’s focus on the interconnections between mind… Sean’s focus is on the interconnections between mind, body, and spirit.

I believe your career, it kind of went a similar trajectory to how I went through. I don’t know the order though. So between the health and functional medicine, nutrition, wellness side, and the psychology, spiritual, mental side, which was your chicken or egg, or which came first?

Sean Merrick:

Wow, that’s a really convoluted answer. So it really started with an inner passion. I tell this story just about on every podcast or presentation of summit that I’m on, that it really started with a conversation with my father. I think I was about 22. My brother was present. So one day I needed to ask him how old was I, but I was about 22 and we’re discussing tattoos. My dad didn’t like them. He said, “Well, what tattoo would you get?” And I said, “I want the Vitruvian man.” So you being in Italy, Leonardo da Vinci and the Vitruvian man. For those that don’t know, it’s the man in the square in the circle. He asked why, and I said, “Well, it’s associated with what my feelings would be about mind, body, and spirit or mind, body, and soul.” So that’s where it started.

But the functional medicine component came after my awakening with psychotherapy. We can get into it if you want, but I went in a dark hole. It was an existential, come to find out, that I was living up to societal expectations. Get a six-figure job, get married, buy a house with a white picket fence. I was miserable. Not only was I psychically miserable, I was physiologically handicapped. I was sleeping four hours a night, on medications, trying to manage this, and all the answers that came forth were, “Well, take this for that. Take this pill for that. Take this sleeping aid. Take this Valium. Now let’s give you Adderall to help you from the fatigue.”

Luckily, that discussion from my dad lead to an undergraduate degree in clinical exercise physiology. So I had lifestyle first. I’d been trying to do-

Michael Roesslein:

You have a degree in exercise physiology?

Sean Merrick:

Yeah.

Michael Roesslein:

Did I know that?

Sean Merrick:

Undergrad.

Michael Roesslein:

That’s what my master’s is in.

Sean Merrick:

I know.

Michael Roesslein:

That’s crazy. Okay. Cool. Yeah. High five to not being a personal trainer like we were going to do.

Sean Merrick:

Oh, that’s another personal story. My dad’s like, “Why don’t you just become a personal trainer?” I’m like, “Dad, I’m way more than that.”

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah, I tried it.

Sean Merrick:

Not to degrade.

Michael Roesslein:

No, there’s awesome trainers out there. I’m sorry. That was not meant to be offensive. I have friends who are trainers. It’s just not for me.

Sean Merrick:

And it wasn’t for me either for the reason why I went to psychotherapy is people don’t like being compliant, and they really like somebody doing something for them. That really comes in what we’ll discuss, which is in the psyche. Well, I was suffering physiologically, not knowing it was because I was living up to my central responsibility to be everything I can be, and wasn’t getting the answers. Thank God I had a holistic lifestyle first and hired a naturopath.

At that point, I began to read functional medicine, and I kind of had an idea. I went to her, I said, “Hey, please just run this test on me.” She ran a test and it proved everything she was doing was contraindicated. I was like, “Well, you’re fired.” So I fired her, went home really depressed, was like, “Okay, I’m going to have to invest in a functional medicine physician.” Searched for a functional medicine physician. Lo and behold, functional diagnostic nutrition came up. I go, “Okay, what’s this?” I graduated from that. It’s our ability as a non-licensed provider to have access to functional medicine tests and a holistic profile. So I took that course first back when it was cheaper, and I was pissed, because they didn’t teach me organic acids, they didn’t teach me guts, they didn’t teach me blood chemistry, they didn’t teach me methylation and all these fancy test.

So I went off and with you, Michael MacAvoy and Metabolic Healing. He’s a genius, but I also did Kalish Institute, Pomeroy Institute, Institute of Functional Medicine, Functional Medicine University. So that was about in 2016.

Michael Roesslein:

So you like learning stuff.

Sean Merrick:

So I like learning stuff. It’s 2014, 2016. Then I made the jump to pull the trigger on stopping everything and changing my career and lifestyle in 2018, and enrolled in grad school, and now a marriage and family therapist, psychotherapist.

Michael Roesslein:

Okay, so yeah, you kind of went physiology to functional medicine to psychotherapy, but just in a little bit different of a roundabout way. Did you say Pomeroy Institute, Lisa?

Sean Merrick:

Lisa.

Michael Roesslein:

You studied with Lisa? Yeah, she’s super cool. I like her.

Sean Merrick:

She’s smart.

Michael Roesslein:

I’ve never taken her courses, but I’ve reached out to her to consult with her a few times when I ran into some situations that were above my pay grade. So she’s a smart cookie. So then 2018, you dropped everything, switched careers, went into school, back to school again to go master’s program, right? What is the-

Sean Merrick:

It’s a master’s in psychology, emphasis on marriage and family therapy here in California.

Michael Roesslein:

Gotcha. But you noticed, and I noticed this too, and I felt totally inadequate to address it pretty much at any point during my career either, because I was a trainer for a little bit. Then I kind of mixed it with nutrition. Then I found FDN like you. Then I started doing labs. I went to the CHEK Institute programs, which are more like holistic health with fitness with, I don’t know, Paul’s a weirdo, and smart, and all that, and I learned great stuff over there. I use weird in an endearing way any time I ever say it, for the record. It’s not meant as an insult.

So I noticed too that I would give people these programs, like exercise programs, nutrition programs, supplement protocols, whatever. Then I’d have a checkup appointment with them a few weeks later, be like, “How’s everything going?” Be like, “It was going great for a week. I felt awesome. I was doing all this stuff, and then I kind of fell off the wagon, and this happened. I can’t do this and that.” I’m like, “It was going good. Why didn’t you just keep doing it?” Meanwhile, my own life was a mess and a disaster, and I wasn’t doing any of the things I was supposed to be doing either, but I wasn’t willing to turn the mirror around at that point. It was other people had a problem being compliant with programs.

I noticed I’d occasionally have clients who hit it out of the park, and they did all the things, and they felt awesome. It was great. It was a huge win. Then most of them really, really struggled with doing the things. It wasn’t that they didn’t know what they were “supposed” to be doing or eating or not eating, or whatever, they just couldn’t do it. I felt judgemental at times, and then totally inadequate as a coach. I don’t know how to get them to do it. So then that’s when I started to dip my own toes in mental, emotional side of things, but it was a very hesitant dip, because I didn’t want to go there myself.

So you went back. You went into school, and that’s no easy task. We were talking before we went on air that I thought about doing that and was scared away by all the hours and the clinical hours and another graduate program and all of that. I loved your response to that was that time’s going to pass anyway, and it did. So now you have your therapy practice, and we’re here to kind of today talk about where these things overlap, because like you, I kind of bounce between two different worlds of healing. I’ve heard people use the term sides healing. Like there’s the nutrition, functional medicine side, and then there’s the mental, emotional, spiritual side. Can you comment a little bit on why that may not be the best way to look at things? How does your experience see that?

Sean Merrick:

So it’s the experiences that we go through life in a compartmentalized approach. Well, we’ll go to work so then we can come home and have a living, and same thing with our health when we go to a doctor, it’s compartmentalized. We go to an endocrinologist, we go to a cardiologist. We’re not compartmentalized beings. All I have to do is just say, “Well, okay, our brain is a linear, cognitive processor, and our body is a meat sack that gets us everywhere, but it’s really interesting that it’s our thoughts and emotions and feelings that drive both. So tell me where that is. It’s somewhere. It’s either around me. When we feel stress or depression, it feels heavy. Well, it’s not in your head, and it’s not in your gut, so where is it?

So we’ve taken on a compartmentalized approach when really what we need to go is go back to the basics that we’re taught as far back as 15th century, by the way, in Italy where it’s mind, body, soul, and we have to look at all of those together and not take a compartmentalized approach and go think that some specialist in a field is going to help us with that. So that’s where the psycho-neural immunology comes up academically, which is the connection between our mind and our body, its bidirectional pathway and how both affect each other, and our mental emotional state can affect disease states now. We know that peripheral inflammation created from let’s say gut inflammation actually can trigger aspects in the brain that exhibit as anxiety and depression, when really it’s our whole being is off.

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah. I love that you brought it back to what they would now call alternative medicine.

Sean Merrick:

Right.

Michael Roesslein:

But I love how they use the terminology that conventional is the thing that’s been around for 100 years, and alternative are the practices that have been around for longer than we’ve kept track of history, because that goes back way beyond renaissance era medicine too. You look at the traditional healers of traditional cultures, like you mentioned you were trained by some shamanic practitioners that the shaman was the medicine man, but he was also the therapist, he was also the priest and the spiritual counselor. He was all of these things, because he was the healer, or she was the healer. There’s no isolated thing. They didn’t have someone to teach the people this and teach them this and do this. It was all one person or a group of people, but it was all the same practice. There’s no separation. Separation has come recently.

I’m glad you defined psycho-neural immunology, because we were throwing around that term as if people understand it or know what it means. So I apologize. That’s like a 10,000-point word in Scrabble, I think. You mentioned how gut inflammation can trigger systemic inflammation, which could lead to symptoms of depression or anxiety, because the inflammatory things are going on in the brain. Can that work the other way? Can something you think or thoughts or emotions, things like that, can that work backwards? Can that trigger the inflammation?

Sean Merrick:

Yeah, and that’s where, jeez, I’ll try to keep it short, but that’s where mental health is going right now is focusing in on the fact that developmental trauma and shock trauma, they used to call it trauma in general was severe neglect or sexual abuse or physical abuse. What we’re finding out in the literature is that developmental trauma, a caregiver who isn’t responsive, being a latchkey kid, being bullied, coming from a divorced home, habitually, that response is far more virulent than a one-time sexual molestation in the fact that when we are a child and we experience things that are either confusing or overwhelm, neurologically, we don’t have the adult aptitude yet to really understand it. That creates a fireball in our brain, and it’s got to go somewhere, because we don’t have the prefrontal cortex yet. We don’t have the insular cortex. We don’t have anterior singular gyrus. It gets hit, and it pushes, and it creates a burned-in inflammatory response where now where all of the adverse childhood experience studies are going is right to the guy and right to peripheral inflammation.

The fact that if anybody does present with certain markers, likely there’s a mental-emotional issue that they haven’t addressed. You don’t have to go too far from further than maybe Marcus’s TED Talk on the fact that if a pediatrician sees a child with asthma, he better start assessing for developmental trauma. Then an elder individual in the ICU who has COPD, which is the highest risk factor for childhood trauma. So childhood trauma and unprocessed stored emotions, that’s why I got into mental health, actually in the literature is creating chronic disease.

Michael Roesslein:

I was blown away when I first started learning about those statistics, about adverse childhood events. There’s a by-the-book definition of those, and some of them are what you would think, the more severe things, and then some of them, like you mentioned, are parental neglect and those types of more developmental things. But shout out to Nikki Gratrix, the first person I ever saw present that information. It was in person too. Remember when there used to be in-person conferences? It was in person, and I remember everybody just got up and walked out of the room afterwards, and I sat there and was like, “Why isn’t everyone talking about this?” Because it was like exponential increases in autoimmunity, exponential increases in addiction, exponential increases in suicide, exponential increases in depression and anxiety, exponential increases in cancer rates.

I was like, “What the hell? Did I see a different thing than everybody else? Why isn’t anyone else here asking questions? Why isn’t this the focus? Why aren’t we looking at this?” It’s because there’s no pill for that. There’s no supplement for that. It’s outside the scope of a lot of people, I think. I was just blown away. We don’t need to get into statistics. Look up Kaiser Permanente in California did the first ACES study that’s a huge study. Look it up. Look up ACES and health issues, and you will find a million things, and it’ll blow your mind.

So you mentioned the difference there. I want to stop a second. You mentioned shock trauma and you mentioned developmental trauma. I think people listening are probably familiar with the term PTSD, as far as trauma goes. Like you mentioned, I think most people would probably equate it with, “I was beaten as a child.” Or, “I had a sexual assault.” Or, “I witnessed a murder.” Something that everybody would identify as trauma. But what you’re talking about are more subtle things that aren’t a one-off event, right? And that actually, you said, has been show to kind of influence our physiology potentially even more than the one-off trauma.

Sean Merrick:

Yeah. The client that comes in and addresses some mental health symptom, and all he says, “But I had a good childhood.” That’s the best famous words I love. Well, when we look at developmental psychology, and each stage of life, if we look at it as a staircase, each developmental stage in life, be it zero to three, or four to five, or five to seven, there is a developmental skill or need that we have to help graduate healthily to the next stage. But unfortunately, we live in a culture where our primary caregivers, one, it wasn’t modeled, and two, don’t know how to show proper responses of attachment.

When our needs aren’t being met at various different developmental stages, because there is no book on how to be a parent, well, that is a stored trauma, because a child becomes overwhelmed and confused. They don’t know why mom and dad are breaking up. They don’t know why mom and dad are yelling. They don’t know why they’re being bullied. They don’t know why they’re coming home and alone, and it creates confusion and overwhelm and a defense mechanism then shows up that’s behind that. The more developmental trauma or needs that aren’t being met has a cumulative effect down the road, and you bring up PTSD. When we look at the data among soldiers, it’s a direct correlated link of those that have a high risk for developmental trauma are affected and diagnosed with PTSD, but those did not have the same exposure to developmental trauma yet are in the exact same experience, don’t develop PTSD. So what we’re really understanding in the medical-mental model, which we can argue is horrible, but what we’re recognizing is that everything is associated to unprocessed trauma.

Michael Roesslein:

Thank you for that really clear explanation. I didn’t know the differentiation until I recently went through Gabor Maté’s training program, Compassionate Inquiry. He talks a lot about the correlations between developmental trauma and chronic disease and chronic issues, and also the ability… Not the ability. The susceptibility to being what we would consider traumatized, like you mentioned. Like you could track which soldiers were more in line to wind up with PTSD from the same event because they didn’t receive the care in any sort of situation like that as a child, and the attunement and everything that would teach them this is okay or this is going to be okay, so it’s not okay. So they’re have an overloaded reaction to something that someone who did receive that as a child would be able to… I don’t want to say move forward or move on past this, something a little easier, but it doesn’t have the same shell shock to the nervous system.

I was like, “Why are we studying child development? This is supposed to be about this,” and it was all… Yeah, Gabor, he’s great with the mix between mental and physical health too. I read his book 10 years ago, and it was too much for me then. I was like, “This is interesting, but I can’t handle being this responsible for my clients.” So you would say the way trauma is understood in our culture is probably a little misunderstood, that these type of things, because you mentioned in our culture, they’re so commonplace. We’re not trying to throw parents under the bus. Everybody does the best job that they can. There’s factors in our culture that make it very difficult to proper… You mentioned parents don’t have the education, they don’t know the right things.

Sean Merrick:

Right, right.

Michael Roesslein:

Also, the stress levels that everybody lives under, and the way that our culture is designed to pull the parents out of the house, and the things women have to deal with with if you have a career, you’re out of the house, and you have somebody watching your kid, you’re a bad mother. But if you stay home and be a mother at home and you don’t do the career, you’re wasting your life, and you’re not doing all these things.

Sean Merrick:

And you’re reinforcing the patriarchal aspect of our culture. No matter what, you’re criticized.

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah, so you lose. They lose every which way, which then trickles down to the kid too, I’m sure. So what do you think is most misunderstood in the culture about trauma? What would you like everybody to understand about it that maybe they don’t?

Sean Merrick:

That Gabor Maté is right, that we have a culture and a world walking around that was not nurtured in a way to create individuation and true authenticity, as well as the caregivers in the last 100 to 200 years aren’t present enough to show the responsiveness of what healthy attachment looks like. So he’s completely correct, and we live in a society of a lot of folks struggling from a demoralized mind thinking that they’re living up to expectations, yet the mental health industry is completely overwhelmed or all on a wait, so what’s giving?

What’s giving is we think that we’re living in a healthy society. We think that we had a great childhood when all actually we were suppressed authentically, and we didn’t get the responsiveness that we needed at each developmental stage. You say we can’t blame parents, and it’s funny, because I’m known as the guy that really is hard on parents when they bring children to me and want me to change that behavior. I’m like, “Yeah, no, no. No. You did not get the book on how to raise the kid, because there is no book. So he’s just a symptom of the family and usually what the diad is, the parental diad. So what we need to do is start looking at how are you responding to this child? How are you attaching to this child? Where are you suppressing authenticity because it’s a little overwhelming for you?” I don’t mean to be too wordy, but it’s Gabor Maté. It’s we weren’t raised in a responsive way that created a healthy attachment to our caregiver, and our authenticity is most likely suppressed.

Then you throw on top of that the having to live up to the capitalistic society where in the 1970s, because of our economic system, two parents had to go to work. I don’t mean to bring up, “Well, it takes a tribe to raise a child,” but there were elders that would come in and take over. There were uncles that would come and take over. Men would have a right to passage that doesn’t happen. So it goes back to how we were raised.

Michael Roesslein:

Yes. It’s been an eye-opening experience to me to learn a lot of that, and then realize that, yeah, children are the products of their environment. So being an adoptee, the nature versus nurture question has been one that I’ve always found interesting and leaned heavily into the nurture end of it. I’m sure there’s some things that are tendencies and things that are picked up, but how do the parents respond when you tell them, “Your kid’s behavior is not the thing that I need to help fix.”?

Sean Merrick:

I was fired once, and I’ve learned over the course of my career change on how to soften that. I was known as the shock and awe. I would really love confronting narcissistic injuries. I really like confronting maladaptive defense mechanisms and cognitive fallacies. Then I took on more of the compassionate inquiry approach, which is, “Wait a minute, parents are doing all that they can in the society that we’re in. As my dad said one time, there isn’t a parent that wants to create damage on their child, but we live in a society.” So I began to dampen it down.

I use a lot of metaphors, a lot of symbolism. What I really try to do is engage with the kid with these stories that are really for the parent. Then you see the parent kind of look over, and they’re shaking their head. For instance, used one last night.

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah, that’s clever.

Sean Merrick:

Who has higher anxiety? The parent or the child? The parent does. Yeah. You’re right. Then where’s yours? Oh, it’s somewhere here. So when you’re going through something, your anxiety level goes up, what happens? My parent’s anxiety goes up. Oh right. Then what happens? Short story. Well, they try to fix it, or I get dismissed, or I get gaslighted. Right. Why? Because they want to feel better.

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah.

Sean Merrick:

So once I can express to parents that their reaction to helicopter and get too involved and fix what their child is going through is, one, resolve their own angst, but two, it does not encourage the child to learn healthy coping mechanisms on their own. So sometimes we just need to back off and let them go through what they’re going through. So it all depends on the approach. It all depends on the parent. As we may or may not get into it, what I do is look up who’s showing up. If it’s a lower developmental defense mechanism, I tread carefully. If it’s a more developed, bolder defense mechanism, then I can be a little bit harder.

Michael Roesslein:

Gotcha. Thanks for the thorough explanation. Yeah, I’ve learned to be a lot more gentle with people after going through compassionate inquiry as well. That includes with myself, because I’m not going to speak for anybody else. I don’t want to say we, but I tend to be a pretty harsh critic of myself. Learning these things about how these patterns are formed and the role of developmental trauma in behaviors and in the ways that we adapt in life really help me have a lot more compassion for the younger version of myself that was told that I was poorly behaved or I was this or I was that or whatever. So it’s helped me have a lot more compassion in general to people that are doing their best.

So I want to talk a little bit about functional medicine and where that comes into the mix here. I’m curious. We’ve talked a lot about how trauma and developmental trauma and unprocessed emotions and things like that can affect our physiology. Everybody that’s listening to this probably knows how nutrition affects the physiology or exercise affects the physiology and sleep and things like that. But what I’ve noticed in shifting myself over more towards the mental health side and away from the functional medicine side, is that just as many in the functional medicine world are kind of naïve when it comes to the impact of these things that we’re talking about, the trauma and the emotions and the energy, if we want to get really out there or any of that.

Sean Merrick:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Roesslein:

I’ve found that a lot of professionals on the mental-emotional side are just as naïve when it comes to the impact of nutrition and healthy lifestyle and exercise and things like that. They want to therapy everything. Therapy is great, and there’s practices over here that are great, and life-changing, and I’ve had awesome experiences, but can you speak to the impact on one’s mental and emotional health if they swap out real food for processed food, or if one we talked about before we went on air is if they go to bed at 10:00 instead of 2:00 AM, or those type of changes that our audience here would know a lot about, how does that stuff affect one’s mental and emotional health?

Sean Merrick:

So I want to validate what you just said, that the mental health industry really doesn’t validate that peripheral inflammation can exist and the impact. The way I want to validate it is when you become a therapist in the state of California, there’s various stages. You have to go through a clinical practicum. Then you have to sit with 3,000 of these before you can sit for the board exam. So you have a clinical supervisor, and the first clinical supervisor I had said, “Yeah, that psycho-neural immunology stuff?” I go, “Yeah?” She goes, “Don’t do that.” When there’s an avalanche of evidence that is moving the mental health industry in that functional medicine model where what you’re bringing up, which are two basic things, what time are you going to sleep and what the F are you eating?

Well, it’s easier to talk about what time you go to sleep, and here’s why. Simpler. So the way we wake in the morning is we get what’s called a cortisol surge. That is a pro-inflammatory hormone that is good to have. It helps wake us up, because it’s recognizing that glucose is dropped and we need to wake up so we can reestablish that glucose level, so it begins to secrete, and it has the same circadian rhythm as a human body. It likes getting up and going to bed at the same time the human body does, which is roughly around 10:00.

Well, if you’re up late past 10:00, then there’s an exponential impact on the amount of cortisol that’s being secreted in the body, and then it becomes from an okay pro-inflammatory responder to a chronic inflammatory responder that creates havoc on the body. So what the study suggests is that when cortisol levels are raised past 10:00 and each hour is exponential on the secretion, well, what it does is inhibit a thing called GABA. GABA also likes to wake up in the morning, and the GABA is an anti-anxiety neurotransmitter. It’s mainly processed in the guy, it goes up the vagal nerve, and then attaches in the brain. But when cortisol is up all night and pissed off, it suppressed GABA.

So now we wake up with this weird cyclic effect wondering why we have anxiety going to work. Well, because you kept cortisol up. Cortisol is nothing but a child who needs to be in bed at a certain time. That’s usually how sleep is. Then there’s a DSM diagnosis for people that work swing shift. We know that people that work swing shift actually have lower life expectancy. It’s a direct correlation, and mental-emotional [crosstalk 00:32:05]-

Michael Roesslein:

And higher cancer rates.

Sean Merrick:

Yes.

Michael Roesslein:

And probably every disease if they actually studied it, but yeah.

Sean Merrick:

Uh-huh. I want to go down the bracket on cancer [inaudible 00:32:17]. So thank you for bringing cancer up.

Michael Roesslein:

We can do another cancer podcast if you want. That’s a big can to open.

Sean Merrick:

Huge one. So just to give people a resource, Dr. Kelly Brogan’s husband Sayer Ji wrote a book and talks about the link between the BRCA gene and unresolved mental-emotional aspects. So if anybody wants that, just look up his book. Now when we get to eating way different, so a philosopher in 15th century, [Marsella 00:32:46] Francino in Italy said that our wellbeing is attached astrologically, and that people that had angst likely were carrying Jupiter with them, and Jupiter would eat the intestine. So he began kind of the first realm of looking at mental-emotional angst is… Well, I shouldn’t call him the first one, can correlate to digestive issues. Then Hippocrates said, “All diseases start in the gut,” which is true. Mentally-emotionally speaking, 80% of your serotonin is derived in the gut. 40 and 60% of your dopamine. We already talked about GABAs.

When you’re eating high inflammatory food, your gut needs to digest whatever you eat, so it already has a subclinical inflammatory response. There’s already some inflammation in the bucket. Then when we add processed foods or even foods that you’re sensitive to, and the bucket begins to overflow, then we get an overproduction of these cytokines, three specific ones for mental health are called interleukin 1, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha. When those raise, then they specifically decrease, especially interleukin 1 decreases serotonin. When we decrease the amount of serotonin and that interleukin is trying to push that serotonin up through the vagal nerve, past the central nervous system, it’s suppressed, we don’t get enough of it, and then it actually passes the blood-brain barrier and inhibits the receptor from receiving it. That causes depression.

Same with interleukin 6, but that’s more of anxiety. Then there’s tumor necrosis factor alpha, which really comes from gut dysbiosis and then these things called lipopolysaccharieds. It’s just poo. It’s bacterial poo. Well, when I have a client that shows up either with depression, then I’m assuming interleukin 1 is up, anxiety, interleukin 6 is up, and then tumor necrosis factor alpha is really in reacting to hostility. What I do is begin to think, okay, well, the irritability and the reactivity, we really need to look at some subclinical infection or a large amount of homopolysaccharide. So what we eat matters, and that’s where I bring the functional medicine into the mental health realm is you and I talked about how we ran all over looking for the best functional medicine curriculum. Then you and I are criticizing openly the current functional medicine model, because everybody has their own best way, and it’s convoluted. As you and I said, we just need to make it simple.

So of all the tests that I’ve learned in functional medicine, I start with just one, and it has to do precisely with the gut and what people eat. I don’t mean to over-talk, but there’s a reason why I run the test. Immediately what I look for when somebody is exhibiting mental health is how high are they sensitive to salicylic acid? If they’re usually resistant to salicylic acid and it’s elevated, it’s because they don’t have enough [inaudible 00:36:08] within their body to break that down. That’s where even some fruits and vegetables come in that can cause depression and anxiety. That’s likely due to non-alcoholic fatty liver and cyclooxygenase 2 is elevated, which suppressed the enzymes that enable us to digest food, proper food.

So it isn’t just processed foods. It’s even food sensitivities that can create that. I know that was long-winded, but what we eat matters, and if we’re suffering anxiety, if we’re suffering depression, if we’re suffering reactivity, and if you’re suffering from fatigue, likely you have an inflamed gut.

Michael Roesslein:

Thanks. No, that was perfect, and that’s one… Well, you actually gave a few examples, but some pretty clear examples, and we could talk about this for 12 hours. You could go connection to connection to connection to connection, and it’s pretty endless. What you’d eventually realize is there’s not a series of connections. It’s just all a related, interwoven web of things that can’t be separated from each other, which brings us back to the first thing we talked about is that this can’t be compartmentalized, that what you eat is not unrelated to how you think. It is not unrelated to how you feel, and it’s not unrelated to what your skin looks like. Your mental health is not unrelated to your sleep patterns and this.

Literally, if you made a dot for every single thing like that, you could link every one of them to every one of them in some way or another, which some people don’t want it to be that way, because that’s not a simple model that they can sell a protocol for that this is the way to fix everything. But it is the fortunate or unfortunate truth of the matter is it’s all interwoven together. I think it’s really interesting.

I’m fascinated with the people who are doing the work that merges the fields together. I know how complex it is, but there’s also simple things, like we talked about before. It was before we went on air that starting with just the foundations, you said you only run one test. Some people are out there… Well, you can run more, but you start with one. I know some people out there are thinking the more complex the protocol, the better. The more tests, the better. The more this, the better. We were talking before we came on air about let’s start with the foundational basics of what you’re eating, and how you’re sleeping, and what air you’re breathing, and what water you’re drinking.

I know for me personally, shifting those things in my life had a profound impact on my mental health, before I found any of the healing work I’ve done since then. So kudos to you for taking such a deep dive in both areas. I think that I’m excited when there’s a practitioner that even has a rudimentary understanding of the “other” side that isn’t their specialty. I get really excited when there’s somebody that’s gone pretty deep down the rabbit hole of both. So do you do functional with your… I guess you’re pretty much just… Yeah, I don’t know. Do you do functional medicine stuff with each client, or is that something they opt into, or is it, “I’m not going to work with people unless they’re willing to address both sides of this equation.” Or how does that work?

Sean Merrick:

I’m client-centered, so I meet whoever is in front of me. I want to go back to what you said and just kind of let people know that if you’ve got some digestive issues or you’re in an existential-type stress, your being is off. It isn’t your digestive system is off or you’re not in the right job. You are imbalanced as a being. So these signs are just letting you know that there’s imbalance in your life, and focusing on just one is not the direction to go. It’s taking care of the being as a whole, mind, body, and spirit.

So to answer your question directly is I used to, “It’s my way or the highway. You have to run these three tests. You have to pay me this amount of money. You have to take these supplements. You have to do these mental health exercises,” and what I began to realize is that we are all in various stages of life. There is no cookie-cutter approach. So I’m more client-centered. If somebody just comes in and wants just the mental-emotional psychotherapy component, I’ll meet them there. If somebody reaches out on my website and is like, “Hey, I just want to run one of these tests,” I’ll meet them wherever they are.

Where I try to pull people to is within if it is a being imbalanced. Then we have to focus in on the being, and that gets the words of primary self-care, which we don’t do. It wasn’t modeled for us. All you have to do is look at your parents and find out how did they self-care? What was their sleep hygiene like? What was their diet like? What was their stress like? Likely, they were off too, so how the hell were you supposed to learn it? So just teaching minor self-care is really where I like to head, but no, I’m not going to just tell somebody they have to do a psychoneural immunology approach. I’m going to meet them wherever they are.

Michael Roesslein:

Gotcha.

Sean Merrick:

Reestablish and heal that defense mechanism. Then the more appropriate one is going to show up. Then the more appropriate one, and then their horizons are going to open up, and then they’ll be open to different modalities, and I can refer them to a plant shaman. I can refer them to other areas that are outside of my scope of practice and get them to heal.

Michael Roesslein:

Thank you. you mentioned something there. Well, you mentioned the plant shaman. I want to just touch in your bio, and I know this because we know each other. You got certified for ketamine-assisted therapy.

Sean Merrick:

Yeah.

Michael Roesslein:

Ketamine, it’s classified as a psychedelic therapy by a lot of people. It’s kind of on the fence, like what I would personally… I think that’s a subjective definition for a lot of people, and for me, ketamine, I don’t know if I would put it in or out with the term psychedelic, but it’s definitely a consciousness-altering substance. I have experienced ketamine therapy myself. I didn’t really plan on talking about that today, but I think it’s good, so I kind of want to.

Ketamine is a tranquilizer, I believe, class of drug.

Sean Merrick:

It’s a dissociative.

Michael Roesslein:

Dissociative. Okay. Yeah. Dissociative. Instead of me trying to explain it, I should just stop fumbling around and get out of the way and let you explain it. What drew you to learning how to work with ketamine, and who might want to consider it and why?

Sean Merrick:

Oh boy. Unfortunately, ketamine is the only legal substance that we can use in the realm of psychotherapy related to psychedelic psychotherapy, so that was the only choice I had. But what got me there, it’s the reverence I have for plant medicine. Ayahuasca and [inaudible 00:43:44] changed my life, but unfortunately, I can’t do that legally under a license in the state of California or just about anywhere in the United States. So that was the only option. Oh boy, I can get way deep, so we’ll just keep it simple.

What I like about ketamine, and my experience with ketamine is it’s a very mild experience. When you have experienced things like high-dose psilocybin or you’ve experience iboga or anyone that has really been knee-deep in ayahuasca and done it more than a few times, those are very difficult experiences, both physically and emotionally. They can tailspin you. First experience tailspinned me and I was suicidal afterwards. With ketamine, it’s such a mild dissociative, and there’s three different ways that you can administer it, which really helps with whoever is showing up. You can do it intermuscular, and that will blast you off pretty quick, but you come down very quick. Sublingual, depending on if you have intestinal permeability or not, but it’s just a very gentle way for you to push outside of your body and outside of the realm of experience and just understand what you’re going through mentally-emotionally.

Although it’s a conscious altering and sort of a psychedelic experience, I’m finding it is a really good fit in the mental health area while we’re working on MDMA and psilocybin [inaudible 00:45:16]. I went towards it, because it’s the only thing I can legally utilize, but then my experiential experiences with it is it brought the same lessons that ayahuasca was bringing, but way more gentle where I could see this distrusting part and how that plays a role, and what I thought was fear coming in, which is a dark cloud. When I was not caught up in these really difficult experiences, able to investigate it and realize it’s not fear. It’s freaking sadness. So I really got in touch with those parts. That’s why I like ketamine.

The experience that I’ve had clinically have been positive. I have yet to have a negative experience, knock on wood. Those people that come out of it can integrate a lot easier, and it’s much easier to set an intention than it is with a plant spirit that’s arcane to our culture.

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah. That’s an interesting… Thank you for sharing that. I keep hearing something and be like, “Oh, I’m going to ask him about that,” and then you say another thing and another thing and another thing. So the last thing that you hit there was the difference between ketamine and the plant medicines. My experience with it too is that with things I would consider more psychedelic than ketamine, like the mushrooms or the plants, the ayahuasca, you mentioned iboga, if people really want to push the boat out, those plants and those medicines, they’re conscious like you are. That can be debated, I guess, but the experience of those is an experience that is not being guided by you. You’re not in charge. There’s something there with you, someone there with you. It’s that.

Ketamine, in my experience, I’ve never… I don’t have a ton of experience with it, but I’ve never had that same experience of this substance has a consciousness, or this is trying to show me something or teach me something or whatever. It’s just a tool that allowed me to separate from some of my loops and stories and patterns and see them for loops and stories and patterns and not see them as myself. Like to dissociate, it’s a dissociative, to dissociate from I am not that thing that I keep doing. I am not that thing that I keep thinking. You can kind of be like oop and Zoom back out a little bit, see the thing. I would guess from a therapist perspective, that’s valuable, because then you can discuss that with the client, and it gives them a different perspective and a different experience of themselves and of their loops and of their things, because I know we take it for granted.

We’ve been through a lot of training. We’ve probably done a lot of therapy and a lot of medicine things and whatever, but we take it for granted that we understand. I even forget this many times a day, you’re not the story that’s running through your head. You’re not the narration. You’re not the loops. That’s not what you actually are. I know you call your package here that you work with clients SoulsQuest, and you do a lot of talking about being. You’re a being that’s out of balance. That pattern that somebody comes and they want to try to break like, “Oh, I have this negative pattern that I do all the time.” That is not what you are. I think we tend to identify ourselves completely with these patterns and these behaviors and these things, and I’ve found ketamine to be like a… It makes it impossible to do that for a moment.

Sean Merrick:

Well, I’ve got your books up here, [inaudible 00:49:04] book and Kessler’s book and Johnson’s book that you sent me to prepare me to write for the platform on [inaudible 00:49:11] that you asked me to do.

Michael Roesslein:

Oh yeah, those are personality patterns and behavior patterns, right, character patterns, yeah.

Sean Merrick:

So I read them, so thank you for those, but what you’re getting at is that what I wish people would realize is that we all have dissociative identity disorder. The true core is not the one that’s going in the pattern behavior and those negative feedback loops. It’s the defense mechanisms trying to protect the system. We go back to how we are not compartmentalized earlier. Well, our psyche is not compartmentalized either. We think that we have a personality. We don’t. We have compartmentalized psyches and defense mechanisms that show up at various different times that help us manage. The back is the true core us.

It’s not the true core us that is habitually falling into these issues that clients come to me with. What it is, in my viewpoint, is developmental trauma patterns and areas in life that we had to behave to survive. Gabor Maté talks a lot about a story of a boy wanting a cookie, and his mom really yelling at him like, “Leave me alone. You already had a cookie. It’s time for dinner.” Then he quickly realizes that he’s to suppress his needs and to behave in the world is to not assert his need, not assert what he wants, and behave in a way that is way less assertive, I guess is the right word. Then you go around life in a more of a codependent lifestyle and less assertive, no boundaries, and we’re not that.

Plant medicine, I revere plant medicine, because it does have a spirit. I know it’s difficult for people in our culture to understand that, but plants do have a spirit. You and the shaman are ingesting that spirit, calling in spirits, and allowing it to navigate and do the work through your awarenesses, to help you see how you’re actually showing up. I’ll just give you a for instance that be careful with your intention. I want to know how it’s getting in my own way. Well, mother ayahuasca showed how I was getting in my own way. It was painful, but with ketamine, as Michael is suggesting, you get to dissociate away from that and become more of a viewer of the symbolism of the patterns in your life.

That’s why I lean towards psychoanalytic approaches in depth psychotherapy is pulling the person out of their experience and getting them to symbolize it. They’re way more apt to see how, “Oh jeez, I put myself in a position to feel unseen.” Right? Right. So what has to happen for you to be seen? “I got to put myself in a position to be seen.” So allowing yourself to get out of yourself and see it. Plant medicine does it. Ketamine does it, and various psychotherapy interventions can help with that.

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah. I share your chuckles when you mentioned about how plants may show you something. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for psychedelics.

Sean Merrick:

Me either.

Michael Roesslein:

They saved my life. I’m pretty open about that, and it feels good to say that, because I didn’t share that for a long time, because I was worried about stigmas and taboos and judgements. It’s also not a ringing endorsement for everybody listening to this podcast to run out, find some mushrooms, and eat as many of them as you can. So do not go wild west in that arena. I’m not endorsing that. I’m just saying that those experiences changed and saved my life more than once. I’m going to forever be grateful for that. So it’s something that means a lot to me too.

Sean Merrick:

I appreciate that, especially given the… Oh, what word am I going to look for? The mainstream commercialism of psychedelics and the movement of that. You really have to be ready-

Michael Roesslein:

It’s something I never thought I would see. I honestly never thought I would see it.

Sean Merrick:

You really have to be ready for these. This is why I was critical for MAPS for quite some time and Rick Doblin, because I really thought that they were going to take the pureness out of it. What we’re finding in the research that they’re doing, and I think they’re doing a good job now, is the efficacy within these psychedelics was not good. One study would say it works, one study would say it didn’t. It was when they began to bring in the indigenous practices of how much work it takes to set the right intention before you drink the medicine. In our culture, we have to have integrative care. The more that they brought in the indigenous aspects of these plant medicines and these other medicines, the more efficacious it became.

I know we’re going to get somewhere sensitive now, but yeah, psychedelics don’t work for everyone, just like somatic work doesn’t work for everyone. If trauma happened to the body, that’s the last place I want to get somebody, because it’s going to cause them to depersonalize and disassociate and maybe become psychotic. So we have to really assess ourselves as well as find those within a lineage who know what they’re doing. If anybody really wants some good referrals on plant medicine, please reach out. There’s one person in particular that I refer everybody to. She follows the [inaudible 00:54:51] tradition. She does not bring the commercialized western culture into it. The way that they practice is pure to the source of the spirit, as well as somatic work is careful.

Michael Roesslein:

You’re probably going to get some emails. No, I’m glad. I want to give it a platform. I kept quite about it for way too long. It didn’t feel authentic.

Sean Merrick:

That’s the keyword. So you and I have that in common. We talked about this before we started the recording that what’s it feel like, you and I creating a lifestyle where we can be authentic? I too couldn’t talk about ayahuasca. I too couldn’t talk about psychedelics in the industry I was in. I’m like, “F this. I don’t care what anybody thinks.”

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah. I don’t either.

Sean Merrick:

This is me this is who I am.

Michael Roesslein:

It’s like if that’s a problem, then cool, that’s your problem. You don’t have to listen, and you don’t have to be here. You’re welcome to be here, but I didn’t do anything wrong. That changing the story around that for a long time was challenging for me. So it feels good to openly talk about it. So we’re kind of out of time. We could talk forever. So I’m going to direct people, if they’re interested in checking out you and what you do, we’ll have the links below. We’ll have a link to your site down below, but if they go there, what… Your website is seanmerrickmft.com, right?

Sean Merrick:

Yeah. Website is seanmerrickmft.com. Social media platforms are Instagram and Facebook. It’s Sean the Holistic Therapist. So that’s there.

Michael Roesslein:

We’ll make it easy for them to find down below in the show notes, but if they go there, where should they start, or what should they do, or who’s the ideal person who reaches out to you? What would you like to see come your way?

Sean Merrick:

Where I am in my career right now, I’m booked out. I just want to let everybody know that it’s difficult for me to apply services. I’m booked out. SoulsQuest package is booked out. I do want to let folks know that I’m working really diligently hard on coming up with coursework related to how to address unprocessed emotions and bringing in self-care and functional medicine for either life coaches. I just partnered with a large lab that’s going to allow me to have unlicensed providers access to functional medicine, and sort of what the Gabor Maté approach is, which is how to address unprocessed emotions without overstepping in the mental health realm. So that coursework will come.

I’m trying to develop a self-developed SoulsQuest, because I’m overbooked, and I can’t. I’m only one person. So you’re welcome to reach out, but if you want services, I’ll have to refer you out. What I’m really looking forward to is anybody who needs some extra speaking engagements, would love to help push other people’s platforms forward, get the word out if somebody wants a talk and needs a little bit more information, reach out. I’ll do my best and see if I can set up a schedule. I know that was convoluted, but-

Michael Roesslein:

No, no. That’s good. That’s fine. If anybody… Or reach out to me. I’ll connect you. I’d be happy to connect you with Sean, and I’d love to see you on more stuff. You bring really great information and realness to the conversations. I think that that’s absent a lot of the time, and that things don’t land the same when somebody’s not being real about it.

Sean Merrick:

Wow. Now we went down a rabbit hole. Life is about-

Michael Roesslein:

Because they don’t. People can detect that.

Sean Merrick:

Life is about authenticity, and we have gray boundaries or gray ethics within the field of mental health. We’re told not to share our personal stories. I call bullshit on that. The more that I tell people what I’m going through, two weeks ago, I went dark. I shared that even with clients. They appreciated that. Our whole goal is to live up to our existential responsibility to being everything that we can be. It isn’t until that we become authentic to who we really are does the world open up. So if your being is in angst, it’s likely because you’re not being authentic.

Michael Roesslein:

Yeah. It drives-

Sean Merrick:

Thank you for your authenticity, brother.

Michael Roesslein:

It drives a lot. Yeah. Thank you for acknowledging it. For those out there who hear that and they’re like, “I could never do that,” or, “I could never be like that,” you can. Baby steps. You don’t have to go guns blazing out the door day one and show the world every single thing about yourself or whatever. It’s each little thing feels good that you do. There’s no need to be ashamed of who you are. Thanks, Sean. We’ll definitely do more things here and over at [inaudible 00:59:52]. I’m interested in talking to you about what you’re putting together for the class. I think that would be really cool to have over there too. I look forward to connecting. You’re going to have to come over to Europe.

Sean Merrick:

I heard about the guest room.

Michael Roesslein:

And take you on a tour. I’m in it right now. So you might have to deal with me recording a podcast or something in between naps, but yeah.

Sean Merrick:

I know we’re running over. I’m going to take a couple more seconds. First off, I’m honored that you called me a friend, and I’m very honored that you’re inviting. That means a lot, but something that you may not be aware of, and I know I’ve hit on it, Michael, worked really hard on developing a profession and lifestyle where I can be purely authentic to who I am. You are the first one that has seen it. Very first. It has moved me. It’s overwhelming, and it’s humble. To be a 54-year-old male finally coming into his own is difficult. I’m often not seen valued and important. I just want to let you know that I respect you and I really appreciate this more than you know.

Michael Roesslein:

Thank you. I’m glad to hear that. I hope that you keep stepping into being seen, because you’ve got a lot to show. Thanks, Sean. Means a lot.

Sean Merrick:

You’re going to make me cry after this.

Michael Roesslein:

All right. Good. We’ll both do it. If I don’t cry on a podcast, it wasn’t a good podcast, so nice work. We’ll talk again soon. We’ll have you back on. We’ll do some more things together. I look forward to it.

Sean Merrick:

My pleasure. I’m glad Italy is treating you well.

Michael Roesslein:

Thanks.