Thea is a relationship coach for relatives of people with fear and coercion

Bee Subway we like to dive into different professions. From positions you may not have heard of, to jobs you have always wondered ‘what exactly does such a person do’. This time: 54-year-old Thea van Bodegraven, who through her own experience has become the only relationship coach in the Netherlands who helps partners and parents of people with mental illness.

Profession: Relationship coach for partners and parents of people with mental illness (Strong in own strength coaching)
Age: 54 years
Number of years of work experience: Ten years

Thea .s profession

Tell me, what does your profession entail?

“I am a relationship coach for partners and parents of people who have received mental complaints and / or a diagnosis. These partners or children have, for example, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, borderline, autism or an eating disorder. You probably understand that this can have a huge impact on a relationship.

My coaching is really focused on the neighbor and the relationship. They come alone or bring their partner with mental illness. My sessions are not there to go against the diagnosis. There it is; that is the reality. But how do you handle it in your relationship? How do we discuss that? ”

What would you be when you were young?

“I used to want to be a nurse, and I have been for a long time. I have also been a nursing teacher for 17 years. It never occurred to me during that period to start my own practice, let alone in this corner. ”

How did you end up in this subject?

“I have a partner and a child with OCD. When our son was diagnosed at the age of 9, we realized that my husband also has one. We were in a relationship for 15 years at the time. It’s going really well now, but afterwards one realizes that one has actually been imprisoned for fifteen years. As a partner, you want to force. ”

Thea van Bodegraven
Thea van Bodegraven | Photographer: Agapè stories


“Coercion forces the person with the obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also the relatives. Things must be done as they are to be done. Therefore, the coercion forces the neighbor to join. As a neighbor, you feel powerless. Sometimes I said I was not with, but it created so many conflicts that I went with anyway.

At the time, things were not going well for me at all. I was just trying to make sure my husband and son were okay. My son’s diagnosis started a lot. From that moment on, I chose to take care of myself. Of course, one reads that everywhere these days, ‘take care of yourself’, but I had never learned that.

To just do something for myself, I started training. I was a nursing teacher at the time and decided to do a three-year coaching course alongside my work so that in the future I could coach my students even better. During that training, I got to know myself well, and I learned what I want and how to indicate it.

The fact that I was less aware of my husband’s coercion had a surprising effect: he was motivated to tackle his coercion. ”

So you thought: should I do something about it?

“After my education, I knocked on the door of the Anxiety, Coercion and Phobia Foundation. After my son’s diagnosis, I had attended a course there for partners and parents of people with fear and coercion. I asked if I, as an experienced expert with a coaching education in my pocket, could mean something in the continuation of the course, but they just happened to have someone who could hold the course themselves.

I have arranged it a little differently. No longer so focused on the person under duress and how best to deal with your child or partner, but on the neighbor himself. As a result, my practice has actually grown very organically. First only with parents and partners, but also increasingly with couples who go together to work on their relationship. ”

So it really is coaching and not therapy?

“It is not my intention to remove the diagnosis, which really requires specific therapy. But to teach them that not everything is about diagnosis or psychological complaints. For example, by making agreements so that the coercion actually becomes the compulsory duty itself.

When I am not coaching a couple, but only the closest person, I remind them that there is only one person they can change: themselves. I often see that relatives are only busy ‘rescuing’ the other person. It makes sense you see that your partner or child is having a hard time.

But the funny thing is: if you change, it affects the other person right away. ”

What is the most special thing you have experienced in your work?

Miracles happen, I dare say. Every week I experience special things, but the times when I can help parents between the ages of 65 and 80 now stand out. They will then have a middle-aged child who has never left home or has returned to live at home due to his or her mental illness. For example, their child has a passion for collecting, which makes the house smaller and less habitable. But they dare not clean it up, because they know it will lead to quarrels and conflicts.

The children themselves often refuse therapy, and the parents are bewildered. Then I teach them to let go. It’s super hard because it’s your child, but of course it’s different than dropping him or her and slamming the door.

I still think it is special that the compulsive person is motivated to go into therapy, and that doors suddenly seem to open because the child can live in a nursing home. ”

Do you have a partner or a child with mental illness, but do you feel that coaching is still a step too far? Thea wrote the book (including workbook) When it does not help to help

Jiska is a ‘professional hug’: ‘Sometimes someone sits on someone’s lap or I stand on top of someone’

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Thea is a relationship coach: ‘I help partners and parents of people with mental illness’

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