Friday , October 22 2021

A rehabilitation center that treats video game addiction as if it were cocaine


The clinic serves patients with mental health problems, including computer and smartphone addiction

I was in the most intense group therapy session where I sat. This is a "circle for exchanging experiences" of 20 people. Everyone, except the counselor who directs the session, is at least five years younger than me, and they are here because they try rebuild life of those who lost control.

By sharing with the worst groups they have done, they hope to change it.

One group member, Eva *, 19, was reading the list all the time His behavior has harmed the people most desire.

"One: a few months ago I told my parents that I didn't want them," he said in an expressionless voice. "I hurt them a lot when I said that."

"Two: Last year I shouted at my girlfriend I want to kill myself"

Register continuously and continuously. Eva read a lot of things she believed she had done wrong: she hid her feelings, she was a perfectionist and lacked self-discipline, he said. He did not brush his teeth. It doesn't do sports. Sometimes I don't take a shower.

I was surprised by Eva's honesty and, at the end of her speech, I began to feel sorry for him.

Kyra, the counselor who directs the session, goes to the circle.

"Who has comments?" He says. "Ethan *".

Ethan, a 17-year-old boy with tight jeans, turned to Eva. I want to know if he will offer you a few words of support.

Form of a patient

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen
The video game Minecraft, World of Warcraft or Battlefield is the most famous.

"I'm tempted to just say something clear like & # 39; good intervention or whatever," Ethan said, brushing his hair off his face. "But what are the consequences of your perfectionism? It's a bad thing if you bring it to extremes, but do you really do that? Is your life out of control?"

"I think so," Eva answered carefully. His legs are crossed under the chair, and he looks from person to person. Twenty pairs of eyes quietly returned their gazes.

Kyra looked around, squinting. "What do you think that feeling is based on?", Ask for a room.

There is a pause. Then another teenager, Thomas *, broke the silence.

"I think your perfection is related by becoming a victim. You don't realize that you made a mistake, so instead you play the role of victim. "

My the phone shook violently. I remember that I hadn't seen it in an hour and I had to consciously suppress the urge to see it. I held my breath anxiously when I saw Eva.

At first I thought he was upset. My cellphone vibrates again. I took it out of my pocket without thinking and immediately put it back in place.

But Eva doesn't cry. That said nothing. The room stared at him silently. I began to suspect that he wasn't angry at all: he was really angry.

Kyra turned to the group.

"Who feels it feeling sorry for yourself? ", He said.

The room exploded into a "safe" and "absolute" choir.

"Do you want to change?"Kyra asks Eva.

"Yes, I want to change," Eva said, with a touch of anger in her voice.

"Do you realize that behind your behavior there is an effort to get attention?" Kyra told Eva.

Silence passes through the room.

"Not yet," Eva said in a low voice. "But I will study."

Yes, We Can Clinic

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen
The maintenance costs are around $ 64,000.

Two hours ago I arrived at Yes We Can, a mental health center located on a large, tree-lined road, in a quiet corner of a city in the south of the Netherlands. When my taxi approached the impressive black door, the trees framed a large plantation with a large and well-maintained land.

This magnificent house might be made of pixelated blocks in a video game Minecraft; or provide a stage for the saga level Hitman.

The clinic is only for people between the ages of 13 and 25 years around the world who receive special care in mental health problems, including computer and smartphone addiction and other behavioral problems that the medical community does not know how to classify. less transaction.

Many people present said that they were addicted high schoolrtphones, social networking or video games.

For the first time this year, the World Health Organization was officially included in June addicted to video games at the International Classification of Diseases (CIE).

It can be said that the treatment program in this clinic is further: it places videogames under conditions of equality with hazards caused by drugs, alcohol and gambling, and demands that those who complete 10 week program keep away from everyone for the rest of their lives.

Debates about whether addictive smartphones and video games have existed almost since they existed.

This is the theme that founder Jan Willem Poot, 42, believes grows strong. He set up a clinic in 2010 to fill what he considers to be a gap in the market and then launch a Dutch mental health center that offers personalized care for young people.

"I was inspired by the slogan Barack Obama's campaign"He said smiling.

Jan Willem Poot

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen
Jan Willem Poot was inspired by Obama's campaign message for the name of his clinic: Yes We Can.

This is pure enthusiasm. I think that is in sharp contrast to how you should live during your adolescence, when I consume up to eight grams of cocaine a day.

Clearing drugs and alcohol since 2004, Willem founded a clinic to help young people overcome their mental health problems. So it was a surprise for him when the first young people who arrived at his clinic often said that they were captivated by the famous videogame Call of Duty, not cocaine.

"Every week we walk in the forest," Willem said with wide eyes. "And we have several children who say: This looks exactly like I'm in a game World of Warcraft & # 39 ;, or Battlefieldor whatever. They imagined that, behind every tree or stone, the enemy was lurking, or that behind every hill came a complete army. "

In this retreat in the middle of the forest, the first group activity of the day was a route through the treetops. Thomas, who has shown Eva as a victim, did not really enjoy it.

"This is very unstable!"

This is the day before his twentieth birthday. They tied it with a safety rope and held it in the middle of the stairs in the forest.

"I can not do it! I hate height.

Thomas began to hold back tears. The distance is about six meters from the ground, two steps from the platform in the trees. It's not far away, but it doesn't want to cross.

"You can do it, Thomas!" James shouted, from London.

Thomas went down the stairs and rubbed his face. I approached him. He was panting and his cheeks were red. I asked him why he came here.

"Especially for game addiction," he said, tinkering with his rock climbing rope. "But also because of eating disorders and maybe being addicted to porn too. Well, that's still debated."

Thomas in his sixth week at the clinic. The hardest thing he did since he arrived was to delete his video game account.

"I sweat and cry when I do it," he said. "Even though it's a problem, I still have good memories of my playing on stage and the people I met there."

In the last six weeks, Thomas studied enjoy outdoor activities, something I rarely experience when I play 16 hours a day.

I was impressed with Thomas, who seemed wise, aware of himself, strong and vulnerable at the same time. At an age when many other 19-year-olds faced their first years away from home, drinking and partying excessively, they had a future they could not imagine a year ago.

I was amazed when Thomas took the microphone and did a perfect rendition of Rag God for Eminem: a six-minute rap, 1,500 words that featured some of the fastest rapper.

Other children entertain him all the time.

A patient in the forest

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen
This program, for young people between 13 and 25 years, lasts 10 weeks.

There is something about karaoke that is strange to me for reasons that I don't understand immediately.

Then I realized it was clear: this was a group of teenagers and twenties who were truly conscious, singing in tents in broad daylight. At present, they look younger than them.

As young people from rich families who can get personal care, those who receive scholarships from abroad in certain ways are lucky. People from disadvantaged backgrounds face an increased risk of developing mental health problems and have fewer options for treatment.

The price is about $ 64,000.

There is increasing evidence that young people from all backgrounds in the West face a mental health crisis.

In the past few years it has happened increased anxiety and depression.

The investigation by the Institute of Education Policy, London, shows that the number of visits to mental health services for children and adolescents in the UK has increased by 26% in the past five years.

Children play

Chesnot / Getty
Video game addiction hasn't stopped increasing in recent years.

Jean Twenge suspects that there may be a common denominator. In his book iGen, psychology teachers argue that adolescent behaviors and emotional states undergo dramatic changes after 2012.

That year, he wrote, was also timely when proportion Americans who have super smart phonesor 50%.

Young people "are on the edge of the worst mental health crisis in decades, "he wrote,"[y] Most of this damage can be attributed to their cellphones. "

Twenge found a correlation between an increase in smartphone use and an increase in depression and loneliness among young people.

He also explained that after 2007, the year the iPhone was launched, American youth experienced a decline in socialization, courtship and sex.

Teenagers have more free time than before, he wrote. "So what did you do with all that time? They saw their cellphone, in their room, alone and often depressed."

Stairs from the center

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen
Some children in the center claim to have spent up to 16 hours playing a day.

However, not everyone agrees. Dr. Pete Etchells, a professor of psychology at the University of Spa in Bath, England, said that Jean Twenge's book showed relationship between smartphone and depression, but not one causes the other.

It warns that we run the risk of treatment behavior that is not recognized as a mental health problem.


Research about computer addiction or smartphone, social networking and chaos caused by video games are still in the early stages of study.

"In the case of consumption of cocaine or heroin, we clearly see what damage they cause," he said.

"However, research on video game addiction does not do a good job of distinguishing between people who are very involved, but do not suffer from problems, and people who become problematic."


BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

I want to know if Dr. Etchells right? There may be a risk of overdiagnosis. On this visit I have met many young people with different serious problems. Are they quite sick & # 39 ;? After all, how do you know if someone is "sick enough"?

And then I sat down to interview Ethan, who had been in the clinic for almost 10 weeks. He is friendly and charismatic, totally different, he said, to the person he visited when he arrived.

"I'm afraid of everyone," he said.

Ethan spoke to me with honesty that was typical of everyone I knew there. He told me what he did on a day to day basis before coming to this clinic.

"I woke up at six in the afternoon," he said. "I usually stay awake at night. It's more comfortable. Fewer people around. When my parents were sleeping, I went downstairs and ate something. "

What happens when your parents find you? I ask.

"Very simple," he said. "I ignored them."

Serious childhood trauma

My cellphone vibrates again. I felt like an avalanche of WhatsApp messages came to me. For a moment I was really disturbed. I consciously refocused my attention on Ethan.

Ethan spends a lot of time crying in his room. I have a panic attack. He hurt himself. He was sedated with "anything that fell into my hands," and played video games all night long. At 15, he left school.

"I thought I was screwed for life," he said.

At first, Ethan's behavior didn't even make sense to him. His parents were full of affection, he said, but they did not know what to do with him.

Then, it was discovered that Ethan had hidden something from everyone: he had a serious childhood trauma.

One patient from the center

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen
Dropouts are common among videogame addicts

The interview is complete. Ethan left the room. It happened to me that even though the people I met had been very open about their behavior, until my meeting with Ethan I didn't know much about their background.

Jan Willem entered with a telephone in his hand. I checked my own phone and felt a mixture of disappointment and shame when I saw a blank screen. I have imagined the vibration. I am a millennium cheated without friends.

Is it nice to receive notifications on mobile?I ask. Jan Willem smiled.

"Yes, of course," he said.

Is this a sign of addiction? How do you protect children from that? I ask.

"Sometimes we advise children to leave social networks," said Jan Willem. "But we never suggest total abstinence from them."

WhatsApp and social networking

"Because out there, in the world, they will need their cellphones and laptops. I have a Facebook account and LinkedIn account that I use mainly for my business. And it's true that I'm an addict. But it's also true that I have to use it."

I have my own phone in my hand because I use the built-in recorder to record conversations. Screen is on. This is a notification and I realize that I really need to open it.

Does that make me an addict? I am captivated WhatsApp? If I won't work, can I spend a few hours sending selfies on Snapchat? And can I transfer it to games, alcohol, drugs?

I saw Jan Willem and tried to imagine a life where I consumed eight grams of cocaine per day.

*Some names have been changed.

You can read original stories in English here.

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