Henry Harsch was studying to become an engineer when he had an epiphany one day while riding a college elevator.
He looked at the people on board and realized he was more interested in the mind, not machinery. He earned a master's degree in psychology from the University of Southern California. He started coursework for his Ph.D at Kansas University, but moved to Decatur instead.
In 1957, he started work at the Atlanta area Child Guidance Clinic. He earned his psychology doctoral degree from the University of Georgia. The counselor worked at the Milledgeville State Hospital and the state juvenile prison system prior to starting a private practice.
Years later, he and his wife Jean, a clinical social worker, teamed up to launch An Open Space Ltd., a practice located on North Decatur Road. The couple was of like mind when it came to the treatment of depression and other issues, said a son, Douglas Harsch of Brooklyn, N.Y.
"He didn't think therapy should be anything hidden or ashamed of," his son said. "They thought it should be part of a community, like a neighborhood doctor. They both saw themselves in that vein."
Dr. Harsch, a Nebraska native who grew up on a farm, made such thinking a life philosophy, said his daughter, Cecily Harsch of Virginia Highland.
"As a father, friend and as a therapist, he was the most nonjudgmental person," she said. "He thought nothing couldn't be solved, no matter what you were going through. Therapy was nothing other than an acknowledgment of where things stood and what you needed to do to get through it."
A memorial service will be held for Dr. Henry Harsch of Decatur at 4 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. He died Oct. 31 at his home from complications of dementia and related illnesses. He was 88.
In 1942, Dr. Harsch volunteered for the Navy. He was tapped for the naval aviation officer's training program to study engineering at the University of Oklahoma. After the war, the psychologist got a job at an aircraft factory in Santa Monica, . He enrolled at USC, where he switched to a psychology major.
In Atlanta, Dr. Harsch was a pioneer of sorts when it came to psychotherapy. He taught at Georgia State University. He testified at legislative hearings that insurance companies should cover treatment by psychologists.
"He had a capacity for unconditional love and acceptance," his wife said. "And he believed in the capacity of any human being to be whatever they wanted to be on this earth."
Dr. Harsch saw clients at An Open Space until 2006; the business dissolved two years later.
In 1987, he ran as a Democrat for the 4th Congressional District seat. He dropped out of the race, though, with an announcement at a DeKalb Democratic Breakfast Club meeting that "my family is more important to me than being in Washington."
Additional survivors include another daughter, Donna Harsch of Pittsburg; three other sons, Alan Harsch of Concord, N.C.; John Harsch of Hampton; and Richard Harsch of Asheville, N.C.; and 14 grandchildren.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.