Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob
Let’s take a man who suffers from agoraphobia, says Philippe Delespaul, professor in Innovations in Mental Health Care. “He is afraid to go outside, but he himself has most likely tried everything possible. On the days that he felt up to it, he tried to do some shopping. But soon he felt his heart beating in his mouth forcing him to return home soaking from sweat and completely shattered. Once inside he thinks: I can’t do this by myself, this problem needs the help of a professional.”
So it’s not such a strange thought, Delespaul agrees. “But when you subsequently receive treatment, you soon realise that the solutions offered by the psychologist or psychiatrist, who may act very important about methods and techniques in professional literature, are in fact rather commonplace. His expertise is in the public domain, by which I mean that the advice is in actual fact not terribly different from that given by a friend or neighbour.”
A neighbour? This is a sensitive subject since Health minister Schippers remarked in 2011 that not every problem in life needs to be treated in a doctor’s practice and that a chat with a neighbour can also help. Practically all psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists were up in arms at the time, but Delespaul feels that Schippers wasn’t entirely wrong.
“I sometimes compare it to people who go to a dietician because they are overweight. What are they told there? That they should eat less and exercise more. It is not that complicated. And the same applies to the psychiatrist who visits a patient suffering from agoraphobia. You need to go outside, is what he will say. A friend or a neighbour could say exactly the same.”
The fact remains that a professional has added value. “The neighbour will soon tire when the patient, because of fear, doesn’t open the door on a number of occasions. The therapist understands that. Besides, he can read the signs of the disorder. Many patients don’t even know what they are afraid of. The therapist can get to the bottom of the fear. One person might be afraid of having a heart attack on the street, the other may have been assaulted, or is afraid of being looked at or laughed at, others may be afraid of being spoken to and not being able to give an answer. Such insights may help to control the fear.”
Delespaul nevertheless argues for first-aid courses to be organised in neighbourhoods in order to bridge the gap between the care provided by professionals and care given by friends, family or neighbours. “One in four Dutch people suffer from a psychological issue. Everyone knows at least one person with such problems; you would expect them to know how to act. But a lot of people have trouble doing so. You won’t learn miraculous tricks from the course, but the first thing is not to turn your back on people.”
A series in which academics shoot down popular myths on complex topics