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What are the main reasons internationals in Germany turn to therapy?

From culture clashes in the workplace to loneliness, these are the issues that impact internationals living in Germany.

What are the main reasons internationals in Germany turn to therapy?
Photo: DPA

As a therapist, Matthew Reynolds was used to treating patients with stress and anxiety issues in his native Australia.

But when he relocated to Frankfurt in 2016, and opened an English-language online practice there aimed at expats, he noticed a sharp increase in clients experiencing these issues.

SEE ALSO: 'Being honest helps': How expats have overcome loneliness in Germany

“In Australia about 50 percent of my clients had issues revolving around anxiety and stress, whereas the figure is about 90 percent in Germany,” said Reynolds.

His clients range from a Berlin start-up entrepreneur feeling lonely because he can’t find a partner, to couples who feel isolated from each other, with one partner seething in resentment for “following” the other to Germany.

Reynolds uses what’s known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which contrasts from the common cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). While CBT tries to stop people from having certain thoughts and feelings, ACT works on accepting certain thoughts rather than trying to block them out.

Workplace culture clashes

One of the largest catalysts among his clients is a “culture clash in the workplace,” as there is a different set of values, says Reynolds.

“They kind of internalize that and ask, ‘Why isn’t everyone else sharing my values?’ and that just leads them down the path of those anxious thoughts compounding on each other.”

For example, some of his clients – especially those coming from countries such as Australia, the US and the UK, “have values around humour and fun in the workplace” which were very important to them in the past. They then struggle working in German companies where this doesn’t seem to be such an important value.

Photo: DPA

When his clients feel they don’t fit in at work, the thought builds up until they assume that their job is at stake.

“ACT helps them diffuse the power of those thoughts and feelings so that they don’t get struck on that downward route of 'everyone is against me and I’m going to lose my job' and it becomes a catastrophe in their minds,” he says.

Couples issues

Another issue Reynolds has noticed is the strain that moving to Germany can put on a relationship.

Often one partner will follow the other to Germany on account of a job, “and that becomes part of the blame. One partner starts to believe that they’ve been brought [to Germany] against their will.”

This thought is only magnified, he says, when the “following partner” feels cut off from friends and family back home.

Reynolds often encourages the partner who “followed” the other to look at their values. They stop feeling like a victim mentality and realize it was their own ideas – such as a sense of adventure and drive to explore – which brought them to Germany in the first place.


Reynolds also notices more incidents of loneliness than he did back home in Australia. This holds especially true for expats who have left a country where they have a large family or friendship group and in Germany they experience feelings of isolation and loneliness from this group.

“They miss the connection, the general warmth of friends and family,” he says.

SEE ALSO: Two thirds of Germans think the country has a major loneliness problem

But there are many steps, mentally and physically, a person can take to alleviate them from these feelings, said Reynolds. For example, he encourages them to join social networks, stay connected back home through Skype and similar outlets or in general working on making new friends.

But Reynolds also helps clients accept that their new life in Germany simply can’t be like the one they knew back home. Embracing the current life involves re-framing their thinking.

“We find that if clients move from a ‘why me?’ or 'this is unfair' type of thinking to a more mindful acceptance of their environment that they are not prone to being controlled by anxious thoughts or feelings and can then take steps to make new connections in Germany.

Whether with workplace stress or loneliness, many people take on an “It’s all going to end in disaster” mentality, especially when separated from their built-in support group of friends, family or just their comfort zone that they knew back home, he says.

“It’s very much self-compassion and being kind to yourself, and diffusing the power of negative thoughts when they arise,” he says.

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For members


Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?