talkhealth meets... Petra Velzeboer

Sometimes, the biggest challenge you can face when you receive a chronic condition diagnosis is the mental health repercussions. Whether it's coming to terms with new ways of life, or figuring out how to communicate to your friends and family, Petra Velzeboer wants to help.

After being raised in a cult, and experiencing a life in and out of the collective, she dedicated her career to becoming a renowned mental health expert.

Watch her webinar, and learn more about Petra in the Q&A below.


How did you come to specialise in mental health support? Tell me more about yourself. 

My own challenges in mental health made me curious about the topic. Having dealt with depression, anxiety and addiction after being raised in a cult, I was curious about how the mind works. 

Once I got sober and learned a few things for myself, I ended up training to be a counsellor and then doing an MSc in Psychodynamics of Human Development. Later on I developed my skills as a coach and eventually started my own business.  

How does your own experience of living a 'double life' - one life in a cult, another outside of it - help you to support others living with chronic conditions?

I’ve noticed that a lot of mental health challenges and even physical health issues stem from years of stress build-up or living with multiple masks, as I did.  Not knowing how to integrate or accept different parts of ourselves leads to suppressing emotions, energy spent on pretence and avoiding getting out of our comfort zone – eventually this bubbles up to the surface in the form of anxiety, depression, addictions or physical health concerns.  

Having worked with hundreds of clients over the years I see this pattern playing out countless times.

How have attitudes towards mental health changed? 

We’ve definitely been challenging mental health stigma for years and have made some progress, especially in places like the UK, Australia and Canada. However, I sometimes think we are perpetuating stigma by only talking about the dark side, not about prevention. 

Prevention is about looking at all of these elements and openly talking about the good stuff too.  My focus in the last few years has been around workplaces, toxicity, leadership and challenging individuals It’s about focusing on what’s in a person’s control and in some cases to radically change lives so that they can invest in themselves effectively.  

Why is work-life balance so important? Specifically when you have a chronic condition. 

No one kind of formula that applies to everyone. It’s about understanding your own body and mind, and what needs you have that will enable you to do work. Is it working part-time or at certain hours of the day? Is it communicating boundaries effectively? Or, is it having 100% flexibility at work and a safe environment so that you don’t have to spend energy on toxic behaviours as well as the challenge of getting the work done. 

It starts with self-awareness and knowing that what you can change over time depending on what you’re going through and what your circumstances are. 

What is your best advice for setting healthy boundaries? 

The best advice I ever had was about how to communicate those boundaries effectively and of course, challenging the judgements people may have around boundaries.  

Setting boundaries is about challenging our own or other people’s judgements (real or perceived), communicating these boundaries to those who will be affected and then practice, practice, practice. Boundaries are a skill that can be developed over time. 

What are some of the biggest challenges people face in the workplace? How can you support them? 

These days burnout is one of the big challenges. Dr Paul Conti said recently that ‘we are blaming individuals for what is actually a systemic problem’. It is a bigger problem because we focus on individuals being burnt out, so we miss out on noticing the wider global systems, environments, technologies and pressures people are facing.  

We need to think about belonging, connection and working in healthier ways overall if we’re going to tackle the burnout pandemic.  

What do you hope for the future of mental health support? 

I would like us to truly understand that mental health is about everybody. The health of our mind fluctuates over time and is affected by life, health and challenges that are relatable to everyone.  

Mental health is about being human and there are things we can do to take responsibility for it – and it is so much easier when we can do some of this together!  

If you need more support for your mental health, visit the talkmentalhealth hub

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 4 August 2023
Next review: 4 August 2026