“One of our key success factors is that we work with universal principles, like the unconditional acceptance of human beings. We don’t judge, don’t punish, yet we don’t shun confrontation either. To make kids self-reliant again, we offer safety, warmth, love and the best therapeutic approach. And this really makes the difference. We have to give them a reason why they should change.” Jan Willem Poot, founder of the Yes We Can Clinics in the Netherlands.
“For the first time in our lives, we felt heard.” Feedback from several clients at Yes We Can Clinics.
In his time, says Jan Willem, he has been a liar and a manipulator. But that was then.
This is now, and Jan Willem has a story to tell of how he turned things around. A story of how he came to launch and run the only private treatment facility for teenagers in Europe – the Yes We Can Clinics in Holland.
Jan Willem suffered emotional and physical abuse during his childhood, and began his downward slide at the age of 12. He smoked marijuana and gambled; at 18 he was using cocaine and realised his life was out of control when he was consuming vodka and cocaine to get through every day. Between the ages of 19 and 27, Jan Willem spent more than eight years in and out of treatment programmes. He saw twenty different psychologists and therapists. He was feeling suicidal by the age of 27, but in 2004, quite by chance, someone gave him the number of a treatment centre in the UK. He rang them and booked in for rehab. He was received with kindness, and his primary counsellor shared her own experience of addiction. Jan Willem was then able to open up to her about the abuse he had suffered as a child and the real truth of his life that day.
Jan Willem successfully completed rehab at the clinic. Back in Holland, he saw a counsellor who told him: “If you want to keep everything you have, you must give it away every day.”
Jan Willem had found his mission. He started by offering short holidays to teenagers, the goal being to give them an experience of fun – something he hadn’t experienced himself as a child or teenager. He saw thousands of teens and concluded that there were many kids with the same problems that he had experienced. There were hundreds of young Jan Willems and he decided that he wanted to help them. After running a pilot scheme in 2010, Jan Willem then set up the Yes We Can Clinics in 2011, with 35 beds. The beds were filled immediately and within two months, there was an eight-month waiting list.
Jan Willem tells how his personal experience of addiction and the treatment he received, led him to conceive of a better way of helping troubled young people:
“I had seen many day treatment programmes, clinics and treatment centres. I knew just what the psychologists wanted to hear and that was what I told them. I experienced enormous pain, fear and feelings of powerlessness. They were unable to help me escape that situation and failed to win my trust. I believe that many young people will not be able to experience change in these types of settings and organisations. They need something else, something more, a different kind of healthcare professional who can get through to them.”
How has Jan Willem achieved this different approach? When a teenager arrives at the clinic, the staff start by making him or her feel loved and accepted. The newcomer is called a ‘fellow’, like all the other young people at YWCC. In the second week, the staff begin to confront the teenager’s behaviour, but this is done with love and compassion. The programme includes group sessions, one-on-one sessions, psycho-education and plenty of sports and exercise. The staff are on site 24/7. Jan Willem tells how most of the teenagers say they have more than one diagnosis; a typical teen will describe their ‘condition’ as: “I’ve got ADHD, dyspraxia, depression and anxiety”. Many of the kids arrive heavily medicated; the goal is that by the time they leave YWCC, they are on zero medication, or at the minimum they need. Parents are required to attend a mandatory family programme, and the teenagers are asked to share with their family all the secrets they have so far kept hidden from them.
One element of the programme that really stands out is the tailor-made aftercare. First, each teenager moves into residential aftercare; then when they leave, if they want and need it, a recovery coach goes to live with them at home for a few weeks, to help them adjust back to everyday life. YWCC has a 70% success rate.
YWCC clinic has recently increased the number of beds from 85 to 120. Their excellent reputation has resulted in demand for an International clinic, which is due to open in August this year, with 24 beds.
Facts about YWCC:
- YWCC (http://www.yeswecanclinics.com) is recognised by the Dutch Government.
- The Dutch government funds teenagers’ treatment at the clinic (as well as insurance companies).
- YWCC has contracts and arrangements with all 388 City Councils in the Netherlands to treat youngsters under 18 (the majority of insurance companies cater only for the 18+ age group).
- YWCC co-operates with other care institutions for young people.
- Treating teens at YWCC results in huge savings for the government through avoiding long-term psychiatric care.
- YWCC is a facility specifically for teenagers in the Netherlands. Together with the International Yes We Can Clinic, it is set in 18 acres of secluded grounds on the outskirts of Hilvarenbeek in the south of the Netherlands.
- 175 professionals work in the 120-bed clinic. They run an intensive 10-week English-speaking treatment programme. The clients (known as ‘fellows’) receive 40 hours of one-on-one therapy, 200 hours of group therapy, 270 hours of sports activities and 100 hours of education.
- There is no access to internet, phones, tablets or TV – or any other device that could distract the youngsters from their recovery.
- Half-way through the programme, at 5 weeks, family members attend a compulsory 4-day family programme. This is designed to motivate parents and carers to take responsibility for their changed role and to commit to a permanent recovery programme both for themselves and for their ‘fellow’.
- YWCC offers comprehensive residential secondary and tertiary aftercare.
And there is a lovely coda to this story.
Jan Willem’s mother had suffered for many years with a lot of troubles. Despite his attempts to encourage her to seek the sort of help he had found, she remained stuck in her problems. Jan Willem had resigned himself to her inevitable death from her problems. But one day there was a knock at Jan Willem’s front door. There stood his mother. An old lady now, she looked terrible. She said: “I’m dying, Jan Willem. I want to live again.” Jan Willem’s mother went into the same clinic he had attended, and she achieved recovery. She has now had her life back for seven years.