62: Mental Health without the BS - Petra Velzeboer - Psychotherapist and Executive Coach
Play episode · 47 min

Petra Velzeboer is a mental health consultant, executive coach and podcaster. She has a radical 'no BS' approach to mental health and isn't afraid to come out with some hard hitting facts of life.

She has a challenging personal story from being raised in a cult which she broke out of to then fall into alcohol abuse and motherhood. Her tale of turning herself around to get her qualifications and become a shining beacon of inspiration and advice to others is amazing. She is a true advocate of the Growth Mindset and an absolute legend.

On the show we go through her dark history and the amazing challenges she overcame. But it is not a perfect wonder story and we both reflect on our own current challenges instead of pretending we have arrived at this Nirvana of knowing everything and being happy which too many people pretend. This is a hard hitting episode with lots of insights and tips for really being true to yourself, taking accountability and becoming the person you should be.


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Adversity to Advantage Podcast


My name is Sam Harris. I am a British entrepreneur, investor and explorer. From hitchhiking across Kazakstan to programming AI doctors I am always pushing myself in the spirit of curiosity and Growth. My background is in Biology and Psychology with a passion for improving the world and human behaviour. I have built and sold companies from an early age and love coming up with unique ways to make life more enjoyable and meaningful.



Sam's blog - SamWebsterHarris.com
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Revenge isn’t about punishing others or comparing yourself. It is simply about finding happiness and success for yourself regardless.

The worst thing you can do is punish yourself as an act of defiance and to hopefully make someone else’s life worse. Look at the bigger picture and don’t caught up in the moment and just seek to improve yourself.


With everything in life going against her Petra was able to completely turn her life around by following her interests. She got through one of the worst periods in her life by making one commitment and sticking with it and then adding more things and it turned into the blossoming career she has today.

Even your darkest moments can be the inspiration to create a life you love


Want to grow your personal brand and do more public speaking. Don’t just do things in halves. List with as many as possible and get yourself out there! They all have different contacts and the more you are with the more bookings you’ll get.


Go and meet every agent you might sign with first. Put a face to the name and help them get to know your brand.


coaching CEO’s and VPs so it can be coaching but also relationships.

Mainly go into companies to help their strategy on a mental health perspective

2:40 - Are there any common themes between business

Work with many different business, always humans so fundamentally it is all quite similar

3:35 - what are the common mental health problems in startups?

Systems and structure that is needed as you scale up often fails. Managers need more empowerment to talk openly and honestly about mental health

5:30 - Bigger companies have more issues

Old school companies have more issues due to things being in place for a long time. But as new companies are innovating on best practices older companies are starting to catch up.

7:10 - How did you get into this position

Well my success came from 12 years of working super hard in the area.

But I started from a weird place of being raised in a religious cult and then suffering from alcohol addiction and abuse. After nearly dying I developed a bit more of a nothing matter attitude so I’m very quick to jump right to the heart of the problem and don’t BS around the topic. I’m happy to confront a CEO with their biggest problem and tell them they’re doing things wrong.

I am just facinated in the area and it kind of happened with me following my curiousity and one thing leading to another.

9:00 - Have you always been fascinated in mental health problems or did it spark from solving your own problems first?

Ironically I was in some of the darkest moments of my own life whilst studying to be a psychotherapist. There was definitely a deep drive to fix my own problems and survive and became addicted to learning.

10:00 - So how did you learn the profession exactly?

Initially I did a one day a week class whilst I was still an alcoholic and I managed to just about keep it up despite feeling awful the entire day.

I then took on a masters degree at night whilst I was working full time and raising my kids. So anyone who puts something off because they don’t have time is lying to themselves.

I was really lucky to even get on the course, when I started I didn’t have a plan for how to pay for it but I just took the leap and worked it out as I went along

11:20 - How did you deal with addiction and getting out of it?

I went to Alcoholics anonymous which definitely saved me and it was essential for the first two years. But it is also really cult-like and I am hyper sensitive to cults after being raised in one so I was happy to leave once I was strong enough. I don’t want to give up my power and control in the long term. In the short term it was great to have people around to talk to and release my problems. It was great to admit I just really needed a drink right now, but once it was out there it suddenly felt easier to deal with.

After I was stronger I found AA limiting being around others who were complaining about their problems and needing to drink etc… and was actually unhealthy for me. So I tried to build a network of people that lift me up.

13:45 - Sounds like a very mindful process to realise the moments when you need a drink and intervene

Yes I really needed that ability to call someone when I had an urge. I also really relied on a 3 minute meditation after every urge to stop and think mindfully about why I shouldn’t do it. I must have listened a million times. Any time I had a slight level of cortisol increase I would need it.

15:05 - So what does being raised in a cult mean?

it sounds black and white but it was all shades of grey. Lots of hippie communes and travelling to events and classes. It has a lot of similarities to organisations as they grow, it takes one toxic person to suddenly change the entire atmosphere.

There is a weird brainwashing feedback loop where If you agree with the group you get rewarded and promoted and more privileges. If you try to change the trend at all you are ostracised and told your a bad person. Because you have no money and rely on the group and have nowhere to go you. This reinforces the idea that they are right and if you leave god will punish you.

For all my generation in the cult we had major trauma around being unable to build a life outside the cult or knowing what to do

18:00 - Did you keep in touch with other members then?

It took a few years to be completely isolated from that way of thinking to build my opinions. I really needed a growth mindset to become a different person first to then talk with them all about the experience and how bad it was without feeling like I still needed it. Take responsibility for myself first

19:00 - Taking responsibility is always a good step to get out of the victim mindset

I’ve really started to focus on this and so many people that go through worse stuff and find. There is never a good reason to feel like a victim when you can take ownership. This is the point of my podcast

20:10 - Breaking through adversity is a really good topic. How did you first select the theme and start the podcast?

I guess I was listening to a lot of podcasts and always wanted to be a radio host when I was young. I thought about what I really needed to hear when I was in my problems but also can I satisfy my curiosity and learn at the same time. So even if no-one listens I will still enjoy it.

Then the first few episodes really helped me. Since then I’ve good periods and bad periods and learn what works.

23:30 - So what were your biggest lessons

I guess it sometimes felt like just work and occasionally even I would be bored. So now I have a priming conversation to get connected and work out their direction and theme we can focus on for the podcast.

24:00 - What’s your favourite question to ask people?

I like knowing what challenges they are facing now and their general practices. people saying it used to be bad and now it’s perfect is just wrong.

25:45 - So what are your big challenges currently?

I’m taking on a lot of public speaking which is quite scary and difficult but it’s really helping me grow and it’s a challenge I like to have.

I also have two teenagers which I share with my ex-husband half the week. coming to terms with his new wife is not easy.

I’m defining my no BS approach to mental health and building a course for it which is also a challenge I’m taking on.

27:30 - How about writing a book

I spoke to a publisher and really want to do this also. So I will definitely try and do this.

27:50 - How did you start a public speaking career

I hustled a lot. I worked helping kids where I wasn’t needed but I kept on showing up. I took every opportunity to speak at meet ups and and consistently showing up. I made tonnes of mistakes and had things go wrong but I just keep going and it gets better. The world doesn’t end when i mess up on stage and I just carry on.

Then I’m really good at finding mentors. If you find people who have done it and ask for help then you can really open up a lot of opportunities. Do what they tell you to do and then they’ll help you more.

30:30 - So did you stick with just one agency

Definitely register on as many as possible. They all have different connections and have different things that work better or worse for your type of content.

And go to the agency and show up and show them why your type of content is important and how it can be funny. When they know your personality they know how to sell you.

31:00 - Most important tip

One rejection does not mean you are not on the right path, it just means you might not be right for that person or it happens to be the wrong time of the day etc.. Keep on trying and showing up!

So many people give up, if you believe just do it anyway

31:30 - What do you see in the future of mental health?

There will be a framework that companies need to align with to prove they are doing all the right things to ensure good mental health.

Companies will be competitive to provide the best mental health.

Young people want to work for companies of purpose and have great satisfaction and wellbeing in what they do

33:30 - what do you do now for you mental health

I’m trying the 5am club. the victory hour when you start

  • 20 mins exercise
  • 20 mins goal setting
  • 20 mins learning

it basically means you are brainwashing yourself to be awesome and gives you and hour away from tech.

then again in the evening writing your reflections:

  • 3 things I’m grateful for
  • 3 things to do that will make today a success
  • 3 things i want to be today

35:40 - Whats the best advice you’ve been given

“The best revenge is living a good life.”

Instead of focussing on messing up your life or other peoples this flips it into a positive action to just go and be awesome.

Then it also links to my other favourite quote.

“It’s all your fault”

Everything that happens is down to you. You have control to fix it or not. accept responsibility and then you can change it. Anything that happens now that goes wrong I can take on. People who always blame everything around them are going nowhere.

36:45 - What is the kindest thing someone did for you?

Ex husband really helped me get through my worst problems at the time. He also presented many other problems but his consistent help was the most incredible thing when I needed it.

37:40 - Most vivid memory from childhood

One of my family members getting consistently punished in front of everyone and not having a voice to be able to do anything about it. This really forced me to never not have a voice instead, I have always felt like a coward since for not doing something or saying ‘punish me instead’. This has propelled me into having a voice and empowering others to have a voice.

38:40 - let’s flip questioning. What scares Sam the most?

Getting too comfortable with something that is quite successful and 90% there and seeking a new challenge when you haven’t really made the most of mastering the thing you are doing. You can get panicked by getting by being about to have a clear success which you need to commit to and jump to something else.

Existential life worry around women. Any day it isn’t really a problem that affects me and I”m pretty happy doing my thing. But if I just plod through life and get to 90 without every having a wife to share my life with that seems like one of the most important sources of joy I am completely missing out on.

41:00 - Time to apply the overnight success philosophy to dating. take the rejections and put in the time.

you get better at it. now I’m really good at the first three months but after that I hit issues. But you get better at communicating your problems early and having honest conversations

true. but yes as a guy it does take a lot of work to just get two dates on tinder. I guess more in person things and get used to loads of rejections and try and get 5 girls numbers a day and be used to talking to new woman all the time and make statistics work in your favour.

41:45 - So what’s the writing Sam is doing and your big goals

Too many things. Psychology and mindsets, business advice, life advice, meta lessons you can learn from stupid things like 50 shades of grey. And then meditation, there’s a whole book to be written on the crazy journey that happens in your brain during a 10 day Vipassana retreat that’s never really been told. It’s weird but Vipassana was actually really funny and the whole thing felt like a comedy show of your life and how hilariously stupid you are, it could be told in a really nice way.

I love improving at things and working on my craft. I really hope to be able to reach people and improve their lives as well with my learnings.

44:45 - yea ten days of silent retreat sounds horrible I hate the idea of it. perhaps one day I’ll be brave enough.

It will be worth it!


If you enjoyed the podcast please subscribe and rate it. And of course, share with your friends!

Special Guest: Petra Velzeboer.

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