Rob Stuart – integrative therapist / counselor in Utrecht
It wasn’t until I was 50 that I found my vocation to give therapy. People had often entrusted me with their problems, sensing that they would be taken seriously on their own terms. Clients who are suffering emotionally don’t need a clinician who coolly maintains ‘professional distance’ but a warmly empathic and encouraging listener who doesn’t shy away from their pain and ‘darkness’. Clients want to be heard and understood by a caregiver who takes them into his heart yet speaks his mind about what he sees and senses. I confront my clients when necessary but never judge them. There’s no merit in judgement, only in self-discovery and self-empathy. My head-and-heart work is increasingly focused on how clients can love and care for themselves.
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. Far from being warm and nurturing, it was highly competitive and disciplinarian — with psychological and physical punishment regularly on the menu. Raised to be ‘a good Christian’, I became an atheist at age 13, though the compassion and non-violence of Jesus continued to inspire me. In my teens, I learned from prominent 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 — I was too busy partying! Unemployment was rife in Margaret Thatcher’s not-so-United Kingdom, 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. Young firebrands, we 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 ‘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 and lonely it can be to struggle mentally and emotionally, to feel desperate and powerless, and to urgently need a guide for the healing journey. The great advantage of that low point in my life is that I can readily relate to my clients and their problems. You can rely on me to listen and understand, not as a clinician but as 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 recovering my balance, I worked in 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, passion and vocation were lacking.
When I was 50 it suddenly dawned on me that I wanted to re-train as a therapist. The positive trigger was the stab of jealousy I felt when a friend told me she was going to train as a therapist. I had a goal; my life made sense again; I realised that many 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 in Utrecht, 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. I find it hugely rewarding and deeply moving to witness clients going from downheartedness, inner conflict and disempowerment to revitalisation, inner harmony and empowerment. They achieve major and minor personal revolutions through gaining self-insight and mobilising their self-healing potential. If they can do it, so can you!