Bentleys and blood tests at Swiss clinic for patients with everything except peace of mind

A chauffeur-driven transfer to check-in at Paracelsus Recovery is the start of a journey to wellness like no other

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Jan Gerber settles back into the cream leather seat of a Bentley Flying Spur as it rounds a hairpin bend in the climb to Zurich’s hillside Dolder spa.

The grandeur of the car is something Mr Gerber explains was added to the services offered by his exclusive health clinic Paracelsus Recovery after he noticed that some clients were uneasy with its earlier Mercedes.

“Our clients are from a particular demographic and normally live materially very comfortable lives,” the former business executive turned practice founder notes.

“It is important that we match their expectations. Part of what we do is creating familiarity or a baseline of comfort … having a nice limousine and not having to queue at the immigration desk at the airport.

“It takes away possible stress factors at a time of crisis.”

I had earlier experienced that VIP introduction to the Swiss clinic at Zurich airport, where a BMW had waited at the steps of the flight from London.

The first thing I noticed on slipping into my seat was not to reach for the door. That is closed for the passenger.

Immigration is a brief walk around the booth containing the passport officer and back to the car.

At the airport's VIP lounge, I sit and wait while the staff bring orange juice and my bag is retrieved from the carousel and brought to me.

I have agreed with Mr Gerber and the Paracelsus Recovery team that my time at the clinic is part inquiry into their services and part participation in their programmes. I am not a patient of its medics, therapists and eminent psychiatry.

Paracelsus is named after a Renaissance Swiss/German apothecary who roamed the cities of this belt of Europe, framed by the Alps and Tyrolean mountains, leaving a legacy of treatments that became the foundation of modern medicine.

Home for the next few days is an apartment on Utoquai corniche that runs along Lake Zurich. Dolder Grand Spa sits on the ridge in the forest hill that can be seen from the windows of the flat.

So exclusive is Paracelsus clinic that a point of pride is no client will ever see another patient while on the premises. That sometimes requires some nip and tuck in the arrangements between the apartments and the clinic. There are never more than three people in its care at any time.

Mr Gerber is keen to share how particular and tailored the treatment is for those in need of support.

More than half of his clients come from the Middle East, so staff are practised in the treatment of issues presented by those who arrive at a point of crisis in their lives, who will typically spend six weeks in Zurich undergoing an intensive but carefully constructed regimen of recovery.

The chaperone living in the apartment with me is deemed unnecessary in my case but obligatory elsewhere.

My package, I am told, is trimmed down and would cost 25,000 Swiss francs ($28,105).

Part of the appeal, says Mr Gerber, is Zurich itself, where – despite the urban setting – nothing leaks about the identity of the guests.

Discretion is the watchword at Paracelsus Recovery where, he hints, A-list Hollywood celebrities and certain European royals also avail themselves of its services in anonymity.

Settling in is overseen by a cheery Canadian, Lindsay Farrell, who introduces me to Juliette Bulowuis, who will be my personal chef for three meal times a day as I take some downtime in the kitchen.

Mental Health

It is stressed to me how important food and diet is to the wellness that Paracelsus hopes to achieve with its clients. It is one foundation of the treatment that is part of unlocking what troubles the patient.

“Most clients come here in an acute situation and the immediate expectation or hope is to not feel that pain any more,” says Mr Gerber.

“What’s brought them here, apart from an acute relief, is to achieve some sustainable processing or healing so that pain will be gone, or at least less, in the future.

“It’s often only here when clients are with us that they learn so much about their health.

“Their lifestyle – what they do, what they eat, how they do things – has massive implications on how likely they are to be well and happy, without physical and emotional pain, in the years and decades to come.”

If wellness and a growing emphasis on longevity are part and parcel of the programme, the doctor's assessment room is also critical.

Recovery from bad choices – which can range from the substances that derail even high achievers' lives to habitual activities – means figuring out what the body has suffered and perhaps can endure.

Ms Farrell does a thorough run-through of medical histories and the physical check-out, which includes a body-composition scan.

I am later presented with an impressive array of 3D charts that show heart function, mapping such attributes as cardiovascular adaptability and the provision of a “fire of life” graph.

I am told at one point that there are underlying improvements that could be made, such as the ratio of skeletal muscle mass to overall weight and body fat.

Most metrics are within normal bands and if there is an overall figure, I am on the better side of the ledger.

Dr Anna Erat oversees the blood tests and other laboratory findings, as well as the most thorough consultation I have had from a GP.

Cholesterol, proteins, tumour markers, hormone and vitamin levels are all taken and given as feedback by the good doctor, as a wind whips up through the open window overlooking the lake.

“Many people who come here are extremely health-literate and do regular check-ups and already know what kind of issues they have,” Dr Erat observes.

“Some really do not and we do tests that might really be a wake-up call.

“These are a very strong motivator to change – change lifestyle, change habits – and often the disorders or the symptoms are reversible. That's, of course, ideal.”

Mr Gerber talks about how the clinic came about and why it caters to only the most hard-pressed elite patrons.

His medical professional mother was a key driving force in the project, as was the lead psychiatrist Dr Thilo Beck, with whom I am later to do two sessions of brisk analysis.

First I am in the hands, literally, of Stefan Rausch, the team’s physiotherapist who sizes me up as a lineman would measure a pylon.

My working habits are quickly considered to be the source of some muscular kinks and I am advised on an upper cross set of exercises to help iron out accumulated stresses on the frame.

Joanne Ormond, the clinic's masseuse, reinforces the need to tackle the rustiness I have presented.

Accumulation is a theme when the specialists at Paracelsus Recovery get down to business. Ms Farrell points out that the body is the vehicle of recovery and its parallel systems must function properly.

I am fitted with 24-hour monitoring devices that provide data on respiratory rate and blood pressure, and a sleep assessment. Overnight, the chart tells me, 369 measurements were taken over just eight hours.

Monitoring for recovery

“We usually use sleep monitoring and what we see is when people aren't recovering,” Ms Farrell says.

“We have two systems, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system, and they should be balanced. We should have those times to fight in a stressful period where you need to perform.

“But, at night, you should also have this recovery period where the body relaxes, recuperates, cells regenerate.

“When you're constantly in that process of stress and then your body doesn't recover at night, this is very detrimental.”

The advantage of Switzerland for the very wealthy, largely those facing a mental health crisis, is that it is a known quantity. With this comes a measure of confidentiality that may not be reliable in places such as the UK or the US.

For people with more than one home and a global footprint, jumping on a plane to Switzerland is not a barrier.

“Most of our clients are familiar with Switzerland, skiing, bank accounts, whatever it might be,” says Mr Gerber.

“They’ll have been here a few times. It’s known for discretion and confidentiality. You can walk the streets here, even if you have a recognisable face, without being approached.”

Mr Gerber ad-libs “never say never” when asked if Dubai or elsewhere in the GCC region might make a logical second base for Paracelsus.

The logic could work. He says what clients with mental health issues receive in Switzerland is something distinct from the typical in the US or GCC.

“Let's say all things being equal in the GCC region, if you're not emotionally well and you manage to take the courage to see a professional psychiatrist, you're very likely to walk out of that meeting with a prescription,” Mr Gerber says.

“There’s nothing per se wrong with that, there is a time and a place for psychopharmacological interventions.

“The issue we often see is that most times there is a lack of timeline and strategy.”

That means overprescribing and a failure to tackle the underlying cause is often what puts people on the plane to Zurich.

The George Clooney movie Up in the Air forms part of my discussion with Dr Beck, as we explore travel and purpose.

A pioneer of Switzerland’s public health policy, he asks how to help extraordinary people reconcile with “the normalities”.

Fused with crisis

Dr Beck looks at his patients as at their lowest point “so far”, so that he can motivate people to explore the alternatives.

“When somebody is in a difficult place, people are stressed, right?” he asks.

“When you're stressed you have this sort of tunnel vision and you don't know you are fused with the problem.

“You believe the problem is you and you can't imagine how that could change right now. You'll feel hopeless.

“I try to help people to sort of correct their vision and to see there are many different parts in our personality – helpful parts, difficult parts, loving parts, a whole community of different aspects of ourselves.

“So, I try to help people to get a sense of reaching these.”

This means nudging clients to better life choices as well. “We can help people to find better compromises.”

Finding your own identity is particularly important where second-generation high-net-worth individuals are concerned.

“What you should do and what you are and what you have to be – oftentimes it’s a process of finding what of your heritage you want to take on and what to drop,” he says.

Pulling away from the clinic Refik Tishuki, the Bentley driver, tells me about his life escaping as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia as Serbian-dominated forces drafted university students to attack Kosovo.

He has brought up his sons in Switzerland with a strong sense of connection to their homeland.

He speaks of his pride in second-generation refugee Kosovars who have become role models, such as the singer Dua Lipa.

It is a reminder that pride in recovery from the times of crises of all stripes is a basic human instinct.

Updated: June 10, 2024, 9:52 AM