Juggling between Groningen and Indonesia for a dream come true

At this time five years ago, being a PhD student was still only a dream. I was pursuing my Master degree in my home country, Indonesia, while trying to keep my dream torch burning. Now, I am sitting here in my office at the University of Groningen, enjoying the busiest year of my life so far.

It started in 2013. I wrote an email to a professor at the University of Groningen and applied for a scholarship, the Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education. An ideal PhD project I always had in my mind was to study online treatments for depression in my home country. Such treatments have been studied and are being used widely in more developed countries, including the Netherlands.


“It started in 2013. I wrote an email to a professor at the University of Groningen and applied for a scholarship”

To my surprise, professor Claudi Bockting was very interested in the idea. Following many e-mail discussions and video calls, I finally received a letter of acceptance from the University of Groningen. Shortly after, I got the scholarship too. In less than six months after received good news twice, I flew from Indonesia to the Netherlands and had my very first long trip to Groningen to start my PhD journey.

The first month in Groningen was utterly awesome! It was like a honeymoon period, everything made me excited all the time. Then, of course, the work of my PhD project really began. During my first year, I was busy with the research preparations. I started with a systematic review on the topic of online treatment for mental health problems in developing countries. I found only 3 studies, which motivated me even more to conduct online treatment in Indonesia. Oh, the systematic review also became my first PhD publication (Arjadi et al, 2015). I was super ecstatic!


“The first month in Groningen was utterly awesome!”

Entering my second year, things became harder. I needed to be able to keep my feet on two different continents, Europe and Asia. I juggled between the Netherlands and Indonesia, Groningen and Jakarta. By then, I had already learned so much about online treatment. I thought that with all my knowledge it would be easy for me to program an online treatment for depression in Indonesia.

It turned out I was wrong. I had knowledge about online treatment in general, mostly conducted in developed countries, but not about how to implement it in a totally different culture like Indonesia. I was not building everything from scratch, but adapted a Dutch online treatment called “Doe en Voel” and named it “Act and Feel Indonesia”. I did endless pilot testing for my online treatment before the website reached its final form. I kept checking if my texts and examples fit the Indonesian context. My Indonesian colleagues laughed when I put “walking a dog in a neighborhood park” as an example of a pleasurable activity. I had translated it literally and it is of course a very typical Dutch thing, but in Indonesia … very rare. I was laughing so hard myself when I realized how ridiculous the example was!


“long flights became my new best friend”

During my second and third year, long flights became my new best friend. I went back and forth to Indonesia several times, to make sure the research could be done. I recruited research assistants, lay counselors, and clinical psychologists who would support the online treatment, as well as clinical interviewers who would help me with the pre- and post-treatment assessments. My two supervisors, Prof. Bockting and Dr. Maaike Nauta, once joined me to Indonesia to deliver the first training for our lay counselors and clinical psychologists. That was an unforgettable experience.

By then, I had a team in Jakarta on which I could always count on, and all I did was supervise each team member from thousands of miles away. I also realized that my PhD project was no longer a dream, not only because I was finally able to conduct the research, but also because I had many people supporting me to make it happen. I am very happy that they also find my project interesting and ask me for updates now and again. Their help, support, and hopes for my project greatly contributed to keeping me going despite many obstacles.


“I cannot wait to see the results of my research”

Now, it is already the last year of my PhD trajectory. The research is still ongoing, but luckily still fits the timeline. I cannot wait to see the results of my research and, of course, I hope I can continue what I have been learning and building here in Groningen when I return to Indonesia.

Wish me luck!


Arjadi, R., Nauta, M.H., Chowdhary, N., Bockting, C.L.H. (2015). A systematic review of online interventions for mental health in low and middle income countries: a neglected field. Global Mental Health, 2, 1–6.

Note: Image source is pixabay.com, where all images are licenced under CC.

Originally from Indonesia, Retha completed her Bachelor degree at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia in 2010. Two years later, she obtained her Master degree from the University of Indonesia and also became a licensed clinical psychologist. She was (and still is) always passionate about doing research on depression and about finding a way to improve the availability of mental health services in her home country. This encouraged Retha to apply for a PhD program abroad, with the hope of having an opportunity to study more advanced treatments for depression. In 2013, she started working at the University of Groningen. In her PhD project she examines the effectiveness of an online treatment for depression in Indonesia.

After finishing her PhD program, Retha plans to return to Indonesia and pursue a career in academia, while maintaining her clinical practice. She truly hopes that she will be able to continue doing research about online treatments for depression (and other mental health problems) and make it available in Indonesia for more and more people.

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