Rob Stuart – integrative therapist / counselor in Utrecht
It wasn’t until I was 50 that I discovered my vocation to become a therapist. It makes sense: I’m sensitive, empathic and positive, while not shying away from the negative. People generally feel safe to share their problems with me. Why? Because I take them seriously, take them as they are. I open my heart to my clients and speak my mind about what I see and sense in them. I don’t mince words: I dare to confront, but I don’t judge. There’s no value in judgement, only in self-discovery.
Born in Yorkshire in 1958, I grew up in Warwickshire, which is Shakespeare and Tolkien country. Partly from the example of my parents, who cared for others and worked for their welfare, I learned that ‘what makes others tick’ is far more interesting than competing. That lesson was reinforced by the negative example of the traditional, elitist boys’ school I attended, which was highly competitive and disciplinarian – with psychological and physical punishment part of daily school life – rather than warm and nurturing. Raised to be ‘a good Christian’, I lost my faith at age 13, though the compassionate, non-violent example of Jesus continued to inspire me. In my teens, I learned from leading English socialists such as George Orwell and Tony Benn that it is solidarity and working for the common good that gives life meaning.
I first came to the Netherlands in 1980, having failed the final year of my engineering degree — because I was too busy partying! In the not-so-United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher, unemployment was rife but work was easy to find here in the Netherlands. I had planned to save from my earnings and then travel overland to India. However, I was sidetracked by love in the form of a beautiful and intriguing Dutch woman who managed the job agency I worked through. We were young firebrands and soon discovered a shared desire to work in ‘Third World development’ in Africa, inspired by Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela and Pan-African Socialism. This motivated me to return to England and complete my studies cum laude. We then married and travelled overland across Africa before working for three years at a technical secondary school in stunning northern Tanzania.
Living and working there was challenging and there were many dilemmas. Widespread corruption, oppression, rivalry and suspicion stifled cooperation and progress. And there was the pervasive threat of violence. To cut a long story short, I returned to Utrecht in the late 1980s, culture-shocked, disillusioned with humanity and with my marriage in crisis.
Suffering from what was then called ‘a nervous breakdown’ – anxiety, insomnia, depression and suicidal thoughts, I was off work for 18 months. Group therapy with Hans Knibbe (founder of Utrecht’s School voor Zijnsoriëntatie) helped me get in touch with and release pent-up emotions. Thanks to bio-energetics, psychodrama, guided imagery and Gestalt, I gradually came home to my true self and felt grounded and present again. From this and my later experiences with transactional analysis, Mindfulness and integrative psychotherapy, I know how awful it is to struggle mentally and emotionally, to feel desperate and powerless, and to urgently need a guide for the healing journey. As a warmly empathic therapist / counselor, I readily relate to my clients and their problems. You can rely on me to listen and understand, not as a clinician but a warm-hearted fellow traveller.
I passionately believe that everyone can and should benefit from therapy, which I regard as the key to personal change. Those who suffer mentally, emotionally and spiritually should not be stigmatised but embraced and nurtured.
After largely recovering my balance, I flirted with various professions for nearly 20 years, including technical writing, public relations, translating and editing, radio journalism, human rights work, and general and academic English teaching. Despite my successes, vocation and passion were lacking.
It wasn’t until I was 50 that I realised I wanted to become a therapist. The trigger? The stab of jealousy I felt when a friend told me she was going to train as a therapist. I had found a new goal; my life made sense again; I realised that challenging and painful experiences had been preparing me for this step.
In 2012, I completed my professional training at the Dutch Academy for Psychotherapy in Amsterdam. It was a difficult but enormously enriching learning experience that gave my personal development a great impulse.
Since opening my independent practice for integrative therapy and counseling, I have gained thousands of hours of experience guiding adult individuals and couples, with all kinds of problems, through self-exploration, self-discovery, healing and growing. As an empathic therapist / counselor, I find it hugely rewarding to see clients going from downheartedness, conflict and disempowerment to revitalisation, harmony and empowerment. They achieve major and minor revolutions through gaining self-insight and mobilising their self-healing potential. You can do that too!