The rehab center that treats addiction in video games as if it were cocaine | News from El Salvador


Children in a meeting

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

The Yes We Can Clinic holds meetings with its patients to talk about what they feel.

I'm in the most intense group therapy session I've ever sat in. It is a "circle to exchange experiences" of 20 people. Everyone, except the counselor who runs the session, is at least five years younger than me, and they're here because they're trying rebuild lives of those who lost control.

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

One member of the group, Eva *, 19, is reading a list of all time their behavior harmed the people who most would you like .

"A: a few months ago I told my parents that I do not want them," he says in a toneless voice. "I hurt a lot when I said that."

"Two: Last year I yelled at my boyfriend that I wanted to commit suicide. "

The list goes on and on. Eva recites many things she believes she has done wrong: she hides her feelings, is a perfectionist and lacking in self-discipline, she says. He does not brush his teeth. He does not play sports. Sometimes I do not bathe.

I am amazed at Eva's honesty and, at the end of her speech, I start to feel sorry for her .

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

"Who has a comment?" He says. "Ethan *".

Ethan, a 17-year-old boy in tight jeans, turns to Eva. I wonder if he's about to offer you some words of support.

Form of a patient

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

Minecraft, World of Warcraft or Battlefield video games are the most famous.

"I'm tempted to say something obvious like" Good intervention or whatever, "Ethan says, pulling his hair back from his face. "But what were the consequences of your perfectionism? It's a bad thing if you take it to the extreme, but did you really do it?" "Has it made your life uncontrollable?"

"I think so," Eve responds cautiously. Her feet are crossed under the chair and she looks from person to person. Twenty pairs of eyes silently return his gaze.

Kyra looks around, squeezes her eyes. " Which feelings do you think are based? "asks the room.

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

"I think your perfectionism is related with being a victim . You do not realize you've made mistakes, so instead you play the role of victim. "

My phone vibrates high . I remember that I did not look at him in an hour and have to consciously stifle the urge to look at him. I'm holding my breath anxiously as I look at Eva.

At first I think she's upset. My phone vibrates again. I pull it out of my pocket without thinking and put it back in its place instantly.

But Eva does not cry. Do not say anything. The room looks at her in silence. I begin to suspect she's not upset: she's really furious.

Kyra turns to the group.

"Who feels self-pity "he says.

The room explodes in a chorus of "safe" and "absolutely."

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

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

"Are you aware that behind your behavior there was an attempt to draw attention?" Kyra tells Eva.

Silence runs through the room.

"Not yet," Eva says in a low voice. "But I will learn."

Yes we can clinic

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

The treatment costs about $ 64,000.

Two hours ago, I arrived at Yes We Can, a mental health center located on a long tree-lined avenue in a quiet corner of a city in the South of Holland. As my cab approached their imposing black doors, the trees framed a large estate with large, well-maintained grounds.

This pristine mansion could have been made of pixelated blocks in the video game Minecraft ; or provide the stage for a level of the saga Hitman .

This clinic is only for people between the ages of 13 and 25 worldwide who receive specialized treatment for mental health problems, including dependence on computers and smartphones and other behavioral problems that the medical community does not know how to classify. less business.

Many of the people they attend say they are addicted to their sma r tphones , social networks or video games.

For the first time this year, the World Health Organization formally included in June addiction in videogames in the International Classification of Diseases (CIE).

It can be said that the treatment program at this clinic goes further: it places videogames on an equal footing with the damages caused by drugs, alcohol and gambling, and requires those who complete their 10 week program abstain from everyone for the rest of their lives.

The debate over whether smartphones and video games are addictive exists since they exist.

It is a theme that the founder Jan Willem Poot, 42, believes is growing strongly. He founded the clinic in 2010 to fill what he perceived as a gap in the market and thus launched a Dutch mental health center that offered a personalized treatment to young people.

"I was inspired by the slogan of Barack Obama Campaign "he says with a smile.

Jan Willem Poot

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

Jan Willem Poot was inspired by Obama's campaign message for his clinic name: Yes, we can.

It is pure enthusiasm. I think it's a stark contrast to the way your life should have been during adolescence, when I consumed up to eight grams of cocaine a day.

Clearing drugs and alcohol since 2004, Willem founded the clinic to help young people overcome their mental health problems. So it was a surprise to him when the first young people arrived at the clinic said they were hooked up to the popular Call of Duty video game, not cocaine.

"Every week we go for a walk in the forest," says Willem, his eyes wide. "And we had several kids who said," This looks exactly like I was in a game of World of Warcraft, or Battlefield , or whatever. They were imagining that behind every tree or rock an enemy was lurking, or that behind every hill came a whole army. "

In this retreat in the middle of the forest, the first group activity of the day is a route through the treetops. Thomas, who pointed to Eva as a victim, is not exactly liking this.

"It's so unstable!"

It's the day before your twentieth birthday. They tie him to a seat belt and suspend him in the middle of a ladder in a forest.

"I can not do this! I hate heights. .

Thomas begins to hold back his tears. It's about six feet off the ground, two paces from the platform in the trees. It is not far, but it does not want to cross.

"You can do this, Thomas!" Shouts James from London.

Thomas comes down the stairs and rubs his face. I approach him. He is breathing heavily and his cheeks are red. I ask why he came here.

"Mainly because of a gambling addiction," he says, tugging at his climbing harness. "But also because of an eating disorder and maybe an addiction to pornography too, well, that's still under discussion."

Thomas is in his sixth week at the clinic. The hardest thing he has done since he arrived is to erase his video game accounts.

"I was sweating and crying when I did it," he says. "Although it's a problem, I still have fond memories of my stage playing video games and the people I met there."

In the last six weeks, Thomas learned to enjoy outdoor activities , something I rarely experienced when I played 16 hours a day.

I am impressed with Thomas, who seems thoughtful, self-conscious, strong and vulnerable at the same time. At an age when many other 19-year-olds face their early years away from home, drinking and over-feasting, they have a future they did not realize a year ago.

I marvel when Thomas picks up the microphone and performs a perfect rendition of Rag God for Eminem: a six-minute, 1,500-word rap featuring some of the rapper's fastest verses.

The other children cheer him up all the time.

A patient in the forest

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

The program, for young people between 13 and 25 years, lasts 10 weeks.

There is something about karaoke that seems strange to me for reasons I do not understand immediately.

Then I realize that it is obvious: it is a group of teenagers and young people who are completely sober, singing in a tent in broad daylight. At this point, they look younger than they are.

As young people from rich families who can afford private treatment, those who receive scholarships from abroad are, to some extent, lucky. Disadvantaged people face a greater risk of developing mental health problems and have much less options for getting treatment.

The price is close $ 64,000 .

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

In recent years there has been a strong increase in anxiety and depression disorders .

An investigation by the Institute of Education Policy in London suggests that the number of visits to mental health services for children and adolescents in the UK has increased by 26% over the last five years.

Child, playing

Chesnot / Getty

Video game addiction has not stopped rising in recent years.

Jean Twenge suspects there may be a common denominator. In his book iGen, the psychology professor argues that the behaviors and emotional states of adolescents have undergone a dramatic change after 2012.

That year, he wrote, it was also exactly the time when the proportion of Americans who owned a super smart phone or 50% .

Young people are "on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades, "he wrote,[y] Much of this deterioration can be attributed to their phones. "

Twenge found a correlation between increased use of smartphones and increased depression and loneliness among young people.

He also explains that after 2007, the year the iPhone was released, young Americans experienced a decline in socialization, dating and sex.

Teens have more free time than ever, he wrote. "So, what are you doing with all this time?" They are looking at their phones, in their bedroom, alone and often distressed.

Stairs from the center

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

Some children in the center admit to having spent up to 16 hours playing each day.

However, not everyone agrees. Dr. Pete Etchells, a professor of psychology at the University of Spa in Bath, UK, says that Jean Twenge's book shows a link between smartphones and depression , but not that causes the other.

He warns that we run the risk of medicalizing behaviors that are not recognized as mental health problems.


Research about dependence on the computer or smartphone , social networks and the mess caused by video games are still in the preliminary stages of study.

"In the case of cocaine or heroin use, we clearly see what harm they cause," he says.

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


BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

I wonder if Dr. Etchells is right? There may be a risk of overdiagnosis. On this visit I met many young people with different serious problems. Are they sick enough? And anyway, how do you know if someone is "sick enough"?

And then I sit down to interview Ethan, who's been at the clinic for almost ten weeks. He is friendly and charismatic, totally different, he says, to the person he was when he arrived.

"I was scared of everyone," he says.

Ethan talks to me about the honesty characteristic of everyone I know. He tells me what he did in his day to day life before coming to this clinic.

"I woke up at six in the afternoon," he says. " I used to stay up at night . It's more comfortable. Fewer people around. When my parents were asleep, I went down and ate something. "

What happened when your parents discovered you? I ask.

"Very simple," he says. "I ignored you."

Severe childhood trauma

My phone vibrates again. I feel like an avalanche of WhatsApp messages is coming to me. For a moment I'm totally distracted. I consciously focused my attention on Ethan.

Ethan spent a lot of time crying in his room. I had panic attacks. He hurt himself. He was drugged with "anything that fell on my hands" and played video games during the night. At age 15 He left school .

"I thought I was fucked for life," he says.

At first, Ethan's behavior did not even make sense to him. His parents were affectionate, he says, but they did not know what to do with him.

Later, it turned out that Ethan was hiding something from everyone: he had suffered a severe trauma in childhood.

One of the center's patients

BBC Three / Tomasz Frymorgen

Leaving school is common among video game addicts

The interview is over. Ethan leaves the room. It occurs to me that, although the people I met were exceptionally open about their behavior, until my meeting with Ethan, I did not know much about their past.

Jan Willem comes in with his cell phone in his hand. I check my own phone and feel a mixture of disappointment and embarrassment when I see the blank screen. I imagined the vibrations. I am one millenarian deceived friendless.

A pleasure to receive a notification on your cell phone? I ask. Jan Willem smiles.

"Yes! Sure," he says.

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

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

WhatsApp and social networks

"Because out there in the world, they will need their phones and laptops, I have a Facebook account and a LinkedIn account that I use mostly for my business, and it's true that I'm addicted, but it's also true that I need to use it, the.

I have my own phone in hand because I'm using the built-in recorder to record the conversation. The display lights up. It's a notification and I'm aware that I urgently need to open it.

Does that make me an addict? I'm addicted to Whatsapp ? If I was not going to work, could I spend several hours sending selfies on Snapchat? And could I transfer this to games, to alcohol, to drugs?

I look at Jan Willem and try to imagine a life in which I am consuming eight grams of cocaine a day.

* Some names have changed.

You can read the original story in English on here .

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