Mental Healthcare in Switzerland: Options for Finding a Psychologist

Finding the right support in a foreign country can be challenging
Finding support in a foreign country can be challenging

Given this recent study from Oxford University which shows that mental health conditions can influence life expectancy in the same way that heavy smoking does, I am reminded of the importance of access to effective mental health services. It can be challenging enough to find a psychologist or psychiatrist or even a knowledgable general practitioner in your country of origin. When abroad, that challenge is increased by the daunting prospect of making appointments in another language and consulting your health insurance to see what kind of coverage is provided for psychological care.

Given Switzerland’s unique geographic location, currently lucrative economic position and excellent reputation for providing high caliber post-secondary education, it is a country highly frequented by increasingly mobile individuals from around the world. It is a small country with 25% of its workforce comprised of foreigners, which makes this land-locked alpine nation a truly international mileu.

Despite its picturesque setting, expatriate life here can be difficult. Those who move here often do so at great personal cost- leaving behind social support networks, established careers, and affordable childcare. Given the stress of the transition, these individuals are at higher risk of developing adjustment reactions or other mental health issues, including but not limited to major depression (often with postpartum onset) and anxiety disorders. Moreover, coverage of mental healthcare is expensive here, requiring the purchase of a “complementary” insurance plan that most families do not buy. For non-native residents, finding affordable mental healthcare providers with legitimate qualifications and that fluently speak their language is an almost impossible task.

However, the organization in Switzerland that regulates psychologists (basic training) and psychotherapists (specialty training to provide psychotherapy) provides a search engine to help you find someone that matches your language needs and location. It can be found here.

Although this regulatory body is necessary, there are also a number of therapists and counselors from other countries who provide psychological services. Usually the services they provide are lower cost as they will not reimbursed by the complementary insurance plans. In selecting one of these providers, proceed with caution. Ask about their training and credentials. Ask them why they have not obtained FSP certification.

In some cases, like my own, the training provided in North American universities to licensed psychologists/psychotherapists is not easily translated into Swiss standards given that the American and Canadian training structure is more targeted and applied versus the Swiss graduate training structure. As of yet, there is no treaty between North America and Switzerland/Europe to facilitate easy recognition of the academic credentials of psychologists.

However, the need for native-English speaking psychologists is plainly there, particularly in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and in Zurich where an international workforce thrives. If you are searching for support to address a mental health issue, the “fit” between therapist and client is critical. Research indicates that people who participate in therapy overwhelmingly benefit from it, especially when there is this good fit between the therapist and the client. Part of this good fit is feeling understood and connected to the provider and the odds of this are increased when the provider fluently speaks a language in which you feel comfortable expressing your thoughts and emotions.

Finding psychotherapy when living in Switzerland is difficult but not impossible. Given what is at stake, it is worth the effort needed to find an effective and reputable mental healthcare provider.

(Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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