Professional Story

From Medicine to Psychiatry and Family Therapy

Theo Compernolle (Bruges-Belgium) graduated as a Physician at the Catholic University of Leuven.

In 1971, together with his wife, he traveled overland from Belgium to India and back.

Then he specialized at the University of Amsterdam (Neurology), the University of Leiden (Psychiatry), and at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic of the University of Pennsylvania  (Systems Approach/Structural Family Therapy).

He got his Ph.D. at the University of Amsterdam on research about "Stress in Secondary Schools"

He was one of the pioneers of Family Therapy in Belgium, the Netherlands, and France .

He worked at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Leuven.

Later he moved to the Netherlands where he worked at the Tulpenburg Hospital, which merged with Amstelland and moved into the remarkable new Hospital "Triversum" in Alkmaar.

In 1989 he became a professor at the Psychiatric Department of the Free University of Amsterdam.

In his role as a department director, in Leuven and Amsterdam he managed and reorganized several departments. He started and developed three out-patient departments as greenfield operations.

He was a member of many professional organizations such as The American Orthopsychiatric Association (fellow), The American Marital and Family Therapy Association (fellow), The Society for Stress and Anxiety Research, The (Dutch) Association of Family Therapists (member and trainer), the New York Academy of Sciences etc...

He published more than a hundred articles and a dozen books (two became best-sellers, two others became  bestellers ánd long-sellers).

He (co)produced several Professional Training Video-tapes.

From Psychiatry via Stress Research to Business Consulting

In 1976 he started his research on stress. The publication of his Ph.D. thesis provoked a massive long discussion in the media and this caught the attention of the business world, professional organizations, and business schools. Hence, from 1987 on, like Alice in Wonderland, he stepped through the looking glass into the business world, to become more and more involved in training, consulting, and coaching companies and managers on the subject of individual and organizational stress. His book "Stress: Vriend en Vijand ("Stress: Friend and Foe") became a best-seller among the management books in Belgium (24 editions). 

The basics of his approach became available in two videos produced by Video Management NV/SA  (a subsidiary of the Financial Times Inc.). These videos became bestsellers. In 2004 they were updated and re-edited on DVD in a series of "Classics".

He developed a rather unique approach to corporate stress management, that takes it out of the hands of helping professionals, coaches consultants, and researchers and puts it radically in the hands of managers. 

More about this here.  Since a lot of sources of stress are related to Management and Leadership Behavior, he became more involved in management and leadership development. Working with managers and executives, his advice was increasingly sought on different emotional, irrational and relational aspects of management, especially stress in times of change, change management and the prevention and resolution of conflict at the top. He developed a special affinity for the problems of service professionals firms and family businesses.

In 1989 he became a visiting professor at the Vlerick Leuven Ghent School for Management , the business school of the Universities of Ghent and Leuven in Belgium , and later he became an Adjunct Professor-at-large at the INSEAD in France and Suez Chair in Leadership and Personal Development at the Solvay Business School in Brussels.

When consultants at some of the major consulting firms discovered that their (succession) projects with Family Businesses regularly failed due to family conflicts, they involved him in their consulting to family businesses. Together with Arthur Andersen and later Deloitte and Touche he developed the "Family Business Scan" (in Dutch).

Based on these experiences he wrote the book  "How to be Successful as a Family with a Business" , the first book for the public at large in Dutch on this subject (Lannoo , Belgium /RDU, Netherlands ).

His consulting, training and executive coaching evolved in so many fascinating directions, that it was no longer possible to combine this with his duties at the university and as head of a department at the hospital. Therefore, after ten very interesting and productive years, he left the Free University of Amsterdam at the end of 1999 to devote full time to management and leadership development.

Full-time keynote speaker, consultant, trainer, coach, and writer.

From 2000 onwards he became an independent international consultant, coach, trainer, keynote speaker, and writer.  While still teaching or coaching at business schools like INSEAD (FR) CEDEP (FR) TIAS (NL)  and IMD (CH) he worked with the most amazing and diverse managers, executives ad their companies on three continents in English, Dutch, and French.

In 2002 executives started using Blackberries. Working with executives when facilitating off-sites,  with the appearance of the Blackberry, he got the impression that this fantastic technology for the first time allowed managers to have their emails always within reach, but that it did not increase but decreased their intellectual productivity. For one thing, it became very difficult if not impossible for them to develop a helicopter view to look ahead, to develop scenario's about the future,  to take a broad view, and to delve deep into strategic issues because their Blackberries pulled them all the time back to operational stuff, in what was more of a Caterpillar-view. Not up, up, up but up, down; up, down; up, down... This limited their creativity and created stress: looking at their Blackberries all the time created stress, and when they were unable to look at them that create stress too. Last but not least, when Theo took their blackberries away, some of them panicked and gave the impression that they were kind of addicted. When in 2007 smartphones became available for everybody these impressions became even stronger. He turned them into hypotheses and started a six-year study of the scientific research on the issue. 

I summarised my discoveries in the book "BrainChains" which got raving feedback on Amazon.  It is translated in Dutch, Russian and Chinese. The Dutch translation became a bestseller.

For people who are too busy to read comprehensive books, he wrote a short and powerful summary of this book “How to Unchain Your Brain ” (50 pages of 250 words, 1 topic per page, 50 illustrations). 


He just finished a book about “BrainChains” for high-school teachers  “Van Brokklebrein naar focus" (From CrumbleBrain to Focus). With Gerjanne Dirksen and Gertie Verreck and a book for parents "Ontketen het brein van je kind" (Unchain the Brain of Your Child)

In the Netherlands, he was invited as an expert at the parliamentary commission which gave a strong recommendation to ban the use of smartphones in the classroom and preferably in school as well.