I grew up in an environment where consulting with a psychologist or other mental health professional was a last resort. You would shh shh your way to the therapist’s office otherwise you’d have to deal with assumptions, judgement and unsolicited advice. Mental health was for the crazies. The world I live in today is different but we still don’t talk mental health much, do we?
I asked around where to go when in need of psychological support in Amsterdam. I asked, not “for a friend”, but for all my friends out there that could use the help. And I’m sharing my story, too.
Illustrations by Poui T.
ANA (Me, aka the only one who’s not under a pseudonym here)
Recommends: Adagio Amsterdam
Why I recommend the clinic: Adagio works with therapists of different nationalities. Because the issue was delicate, and although I speak English and Dutch fluently, I thought that expressing myself in Portuguese could perhaps help. I was right, I did find comfort in speaking my native language. Besides Dutch and English, you can find therapists at Adagio who speak the following languages: Spanish, Catalan, French, Portuguese, German, Papiaments, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, & Italian.
Why I decided to search for professional help: As some of you may know, I have had to deal with chronic illness recently and that came with considerable challenge on a psychological level. Plus I suffered from anxiety for most of my life. So I went to my GP, explained the situation and asked them to refer me to Adagio, a clinic that had been recommended by a friend.
Why I thinks it was worth it: Honestly, I don’t know how I could have processed everything I went through if it weren’t for this space where I could pour my heart out in the presence of someone who helped bring perspective. Talking to friends is not a substitute for a therapeutic relationship. A psychologist is someone unbiased and trained in guiding people through difficult emotions, helping them recognize patterns of behavior, teaching them new cognitive and emotional skills. This being said, it is sometimes necessary to see a few therapists before you find one you click with.
Recommends: Inner Piece Psychologie Praktijk
Why she recommends the clinic: Everyone needs to find a therapist with who they have a click and with whom they can build trust. For me, a good intake conversation, clear communication, being on-time or letting me know otherwise, and deciding clearly on our goals, was key. I also like that my therapist takes notes during the session and she shows them to me and uses them to explain concepts and gets me to add things etc. This is very transparent.
Why she decided to search for professional help: I was feeling very down and constantly exhausted. I felt like I was on autopilot and wasn’t living my life to the full but felt like I had no idea where to start to fix it.
Why she thinks it was worth it: It has been a long process (and I am still in it) but it is worth it. It has helped me overcome burn-out and move to a job that was better for me. It has helped me to observe old patterns and review if I still need them. I have learned to be kinder to myself and less judgemental of others. I am learning to hear my authentic voice, the one who wants me to be ME regardless of what society, family or gender norms think. I am more balanced now and generally feel more joy and worry less. I still have ups and downs but handle them better because I have more trust in life and myself.
Recommends: Toos Overdijk
Why she recommends the therapist: At the time I was just looking for someone who could help me and specifically with hypnotherapy as I tried ‘talking therapy’ two times and I hated it. I recommend her because she is a very nice, honest person who makes you feel at ease. You can feel she is really there for you. Also she’s working from home so you won’t feel like you’re in a sterile place.
Why she decided to search for professional help: I was abused and abandoned by my stepfather before I was 12. After that I looked for relief in the wrong places and the wrong people. It wasn’t clear to me that I was living in a loophole. I always felt I was taking 2 steps forward and then 100 backwards. When I met my current boyfriend he showed me I was sabotaging my own life by not looking for help and that asking for help wasn’t something to be ashamed of.
Why she thinks it was worth it: To be honest: the process is still going on. Especially during this covid crisis I came to the realisation that I still have some unfinished business to tackle. But the main benefits have been so far: an understanding of who I am, why I was doing all these things to myself. Why my parents did the things they did. And most importantly: forgiveness. Towards yourself and others. And that is the most difficult part of healing, as forgiving someone who has hurt you feels almost unnatural.
Why he recommends the clinic: NPI specialises in personality disorders. They have a team of therapists and psychiatrists and can offer different types of therapy based on your diagnosis and assessment.
Getting there took a while: when I got the courage to seek help, I didn’t know where to begin, so I just went to my GP. The Dutch mental health care system has several tiers. To get referred there, I had to go through an unsuccessful round of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where the therapist concluded that I needed something more in-depth. NPI assessed me, and I was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder and avoidant personality disorder while scoring high for OCD! The therapy I did is called affect-phobia therapy. The main idea, from my perspective as a patient, is that if you’re reacting to everything with anxiety and panic, you’re probably using them to avoid dealing with your true feelings. It worked wonders.
Why he decided to search for professional help: Upon moving to the Netherlands, I realized that my poor mental health (which I had been struggling with for more than a decade prior) was severely impacting my life. Meeting new people was hard, panic attacks during phone calls with my freelance clients, and months without leaving my bed were not how I wanted to live.
Why he thinks it was worth it: I didn’t turn into a shiny happy person I was low-key hoping to become because the movies told me so, but I did work through a lot of very stressful situations and topics throughout my therapy. My anxiety disorder is gone, and now I should be more equipped to deal with different challenges on my own. I do expect to go back to therapy at some point in my life – after all, people prone to mental health issues can always relapse, and it has happened to me already. However, now I feel like I’m actually living my life for a change.
Why she recommends the clinic: Everyone I contacted with at the clinic was calm and friendly, from the receptionist to the psychologist. In particular, I felt that my psychologist was patient, understanding, and reassuring but didn’t shy away from being direct when required, which I appreciated.
Why she decided to search for professional help: I contacted my huisarts (GP) and asked to speak to a psychologist who could help me in English. That is how I started my therapy sessions at Prezens in Amsterdam West. At the time I had been secretly struggling with suicidal thoughts for over a year, triggered by the sudden passing away of two people I knew and intensified by my isolation from friends and family (I had recently moved to Amsterdam).
Why she thinks it was worth it: The greatest benefit from this process was becoming a functional person again, with a better understanding of myself, thankful for the special people in my life, and looking forward to whatever is ahead for me. Additionally, because this was my first contact with the Dutch healthcare system, I was surprised to see how smoothly everything worked and ended the process with an increased trust in the system and its professionals.
Recommends: Femke Kok
Why she recommends the therapist: She was very professional, never intrusive nor pushy at all. She never gave unsolicited advice or made me feel guilty. Also she didn’t focus on my label but rather the sources of my worries and pains. It felt like she was collaborating with me as an individual rather than putting a label on me. She works in a private clinic but I was refunded as the therapy was within the frame of my diagnose.
Why she decided to search for professional help: I was feeling depressed and started by seeing the mental health support at my GP’s clinic. After a few sessions they recommended I sought specialized help, which I did.
Why she thinks it was worth it: It changed my life, I feel much more free and liberated. For long, I used to be very resentful and stuck as I had a lot of traumas and couldn’t move forward due to it. I am now able to understand why I react in certain ways and as a consequence I feel less pain and feel much more in control. My therapist was also helpful in validating my feelings and was really supportive. She made me feel heard.
Recommends: Laura Gallagher
She also recommended Talk Space, virtual therapy which she has done before finding Laura.
Why she recommends the therapist: There is a lot about Dutch culture that doesn’t fit my needs and expectations so, I preferred to speak to someone that was more aligned culturally and I didn’t want to have a language barrier when expressing such emotional topics. So, that’s why I needed to have a native English speaking, female therapist. After researching many in the area, Laura was a good fit. It’s really important that you feel trust and a connection to your therapist. It’s ok to ‘try on a few’ different therapists until you find a good fit. Otherwise, you won’t feel safe to share honestly and openly.
Why she decided to search for professional help: I’ve been in therapy on and off since around age 8, to help manage my anxiety and depression and deal with my very complicated family issues. As a young adult, I fell out of synch with routine therapy when I moved to Amsterdam and looking back, that was a detrimental decision for me. So, after trying a few different therapists and psychologists in Amsterdam, I have also tried different programs like mindfulness, yoga and exercise to help stay balanced.
Why she thinks it was worth it: Looking back, I can see clear differences in the (negative) decisions I’ve made when my anxiety and depression was not in balance, working with someone helps me to claim that balance and stay in charge of my life. At some point or another, all humans experience different levels of complicated emotions while living in an even more complex social ecosystem. We have to actually process and move on from the shit that life throws at us before we become detrimental to ourselves or each other. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t get help but I’m happy to see that mental health is becoming an openly discussed topic now. There is no shame in going to a doctor when you have a physical problem, so there should not be any shame or stigma attached when visiting a doctor who helps with mental, emotional problems too.
Recommends: Centrum 45
Why she recommends the clinic: I did traumatic grief therapy at Centrum 45. I can surely recommend this place because of their experienced team, but this is a centre for very specific disorders. As far as I know, they focus on the treatment of psychological traumas so if that’s what you’re looking for, this is the right place. The intake felt heavy but that was actually a good thing. They really know what they’re doing. I spoke to three different professionals. The first lady did the intake with me. Then they gathered to discuss if there was a therapy that could be right for my case. Then I saw a second lady. She became my therapist. And there was a psychiatrist too, but I barely spoke to him. The fact that they discussed my case with each other made me feel reassured that we were taking the right steps.
Why she decided to search for professional help: I decided to get help because it had been already 3 years that my mom had died but it suddenly kicked in. I had finished my studies (on auto pilot I guess), had gone away for a while to travel and after that everything hit me. My mom was murdered so that’s why I went for this specific mental treatment because it was a very complex situation.
Why she thinks it was worth it: It was actually a super intense process. It was really heavy. When I was in it I thought: what have I put myself into. But, honestly, I HAD TO go. I had hit rock bottom and I could not bring myself to do much. I was very depressed and a lot of things and people made me very anxious too. I was scared on the streets for instance, or that something bad could happen again. And I had nightmares. I didn’t want to start taking medicine like anti-depressants because I found them terrible. The biggest benefit of therapy was that everything started quickly getting better. I went through a hard process but it helped really fast and I felt much better after it. My treatment lasted for 2 – 3 months.
Recommends: I honestly don’t know if I’d recommend the clinic I went to. I’d recommend therapy in general and the therapist DID help me, but due to the clinic’s policies, I could only get 30-minute sessions every two weeks.
Why he decided to search for professional help: I’ve been in and out of therapy for about a decade now. Each time I went back, it really was because I felt lost and needed someone to help process what I was going through. I couldn’t get out of my head and there would be days when I couldn’t get out of bed. All day, I’d be lethargic and despite my constant exhaustion, sleep would elude me as well. I’d also gotten good at keeping my distance and putting up walls. I rarely talked to friends about how awful I felt, and if anything, I made sure they wouldn’t even assume as I’d hide my pain through my humor. Eventually though, I realized my depression was taking away too much and I needed help.
Why he thinks it was worth it: Therapy helped me separate reality from the stories I’ve formed in my head. It’s also brought to light the root of my depression and the patterns I’ve repeated all my life. As painful as it is, honing in on the childhood trauma that’s left me with an emotional limp has paved the way towards healing or at the very least, healthier ways of coping.
Illustrations: Poui T / Check out more here
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