Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Interview with Jan Willem Poot, Founder of Yes We Can Youth Clinics

Interview with Jan Willem Poot, Founder of Yes We Can Youth Clinics

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Yes We Can Youth Clinics is a renowned treatment centre for young people suffering from complex behavioural disorders and/or addictions located on 17 acres of secluded grounds on the outskirts of Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands. This summer they start with an international treatment programme in a new 24-bed facility catering the growing demand from families outside of the Netherlands. Yes We Can Youth Clinics is an international clinic in Europe which specialises only in young people (13–25 years old) with complex behavioural disorders, addictions and related behavioural problems. 

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to speak with CEO and founder of Yes We Can Youth Clinics, Jan Willem Poot. 

When and why did you set up the clinic?

I set up the clinic in 2010 to help adolescents and young people with complex behavioural disorders, problems and addictions. Yes We Can Youth Clinics is an international rehabilitation clinic specialising in 13–25 year olds, which makes us unique in the whole of Europe. From my own experience, children with problems like these should not be treated with adults because they simply cannot relate to them and they need a completely different approach.

What made you want to help?

I struggled with a lot of big problems myself and know exactly what the kids that are coming to our clinic are going through. My parents divorced when I was four years old and I went to live with my mother. I had a good life until aged 12 when my mother’s boyfriend moved in; fighting and violence pushed me to search for solutions not to think all the time and get rid of the negative feelings, I found drugs and alcohol which helped me with that. Quickly, this abuse turned into an addiction. I became a liar and manipulator and began smoking marijuana and gambling. This soon progressed to drinking a lot vodka and using cocaine, every day. Between the ages of 18 and 27, I spent almost eight and a half years in and out of treatment programmes but I knew just what the psychologists wanted to hear and that was what I told them. In many rehabs I felt unsafe, there was fighting, drugs and sex and the counsellors did not succeed in helping me escape my situation and failed to win my trust. I would tell my counsellors what they wanted to hear but as soon as I left the clinic I would be back to the drugs and alcohol.

At 27, someone handed me a card with a number on it that would change my life forever. I arrived at a place where virtually no questions were asked. Someone just began telling me ‘his’ story instead of me needing to repeat my personal story yet again. I listened for a full hour, completely absorbed; there was so much I recognised. So many thoughts were similar to mine, it felt so familiar and I finally felt something clicked. I completed a 12-step programme in their clinic in the UK and since then, I have never felt the need again to use, drink, manipulate or tell lies. Today, I have a choice and my life is fantastic. And if I want to keep the things that I have today, I have to give it away, every day. This is why I devote my time to helping teenagers and young adults get a new chance of life, just like I did.

The clinic is in Netherlands, do you get people coming to the clinic from all over the world?

Previously the clinic has only been open for Dutch fellows (we call our patients fellows, never patients) and we now have the facilities to house 120 youths from Netherlands that we split into two groups of 60.

For several years, more and more families from outside of the Netherlands who have heard of us and have been calling and emailing us to see if we can help them with the problems they’re facing with their kids. So I am very happy to tell you that we opened a new international clinic which will house 24 teenagers and young adults from anywhere in the world. The treatment programme is in English.

How much does it cost to attend the clinic?

For Dutch fellows, the treatment is paid for by local authorities or by insurance companies. International families will be self-funding and the 10-week residential programme costs €64,000 (£55,000), with €16,000 (£14,000) for the four-week residential aftercare programme.

What is an average day like for a fellow?

Every day the fellows are woken up at 6.30am and have a structured schedule until they go to sleep at 10.30pm. There is a therapist for every four fellows, compared to the more common one therapist for 10–20 patients in other clinics. The programme consists of one-to-one counselling, group therapy, three hours of sports activities per day (high rope courses, mountain biking, hiking, fitness etc.) and psycho-education (lectures, talks, documentaries, etc.).

Fellows are not allowed to have mobile phones, laptops or tablets. In the first five weeks of the stay, there is absolutely no contact with fellows’ families, but after this we invite parents to a bonding week where both sides tell each other everything from their past so there are no more secrets and a fresh start can be made.

What’s the most common addiction that you see?

Use of illicit drugs is probably still the most common addiction we see, particularly marijuana. But new addictive behaviours like gaming are becoming more prominent in the clinic. I predict that internet addiction will be the number one addiction in five years’ time because social media and gaming give the same dopamine rush as alcohol or drugs; all these addictions bring further issues like mental health and behavioural problems and all are as dangerous as each other. What we see is kids who are trying to escape from their lives, to get out of them and feel differently, so they turn to alcohol, drugs, self-harming, locking themselves in gaming – they can all seem like the perfect escape.

A new concern for us is sexting (sending someone sexually explicit texts or photographs) where a youth, usually a young girl, gets obsessed to the feeling they get from sending the text. From sending a sexually explicit photograph and getting a response they are being told they look good and they feel wanted and this can have disastrous consequences.

What is the success rate of the clinic?

We measure the effectiveness of the treatment with independent questionnaires which clients fill out when they arrive, when they finish the programme, and after six months of completing the programme. We have a 70% success rate and we measure the success on the fellow staying abstinent, staying healthy, and being reconciled with their family. We find that even if a client is still dealing with issues, clients, parents and caregivers often rate positively.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He writes for the American Psychological Association and has a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today. 

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