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Explained: How to receive help for a mental health issue in Germany

Suffering from a mental health issue as a foreigner living in Germany can be tough. In this article we break down the steps you can take to get help.

Explained: How to receive help for a mental health issue in Germany
Source: dpa-tmn

What should I consider first?

In an emergency 

A mental health issue can become a Notfall (emergency) in many cases. Here are some choices you have if the situation is urgent:

1. If the situation is life-threatening, you should call the emergency services on 112. 

2. If the situation is not putting you or anyone around you in immediate danger, but is still urgent, then you can call the Patient service on 116117 any time of the day or night. They can help you to find an appointment.

3. Every Bundesland has numerous psychiatric emergency departments and you can find a list of them here.

If it’s a long-term problem

If your problem is more chronic than critical, then you may need to find a mental health professional who you can visit on a regular basis. You do not necessarily need an Überwiesung (referral) from your Hausarzt for this, but it can be helpful in speeding up the process. 

READ ALSO: I arrived in Berlin expecting a giddy European adventure. Instead I got depression.

Psychiater, Psychotherapeut, or Psychologist?

As with their English equivalents, the terminology for German mental health professionals can be a bit confusing. Here is a breakdown of the main groups of mental health professionals and what they do. 

Source: dpa-tmn

Psychiater (Psychiatrist)

A psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor who is specialized in psychiatry, having completed further training in psychiatry and psychotherapy as well as a specialist exam.

A psychiatrist will usually take a detailed medical history at the first appointment, taking the biography and medical history and after that, may do some psychological or neurological tests to rule out other diagnoses.

READ ALSO: Five ways to calm anxiety in a German workplace

Psychiatrists mainly take care of the physical diagnosis and treatment of people with mental health problems, determining physical and medical causes for mental illnesses and can prescribe medication to treat them. Psychiatrists rarely offer psychotherapy.

Psychotherapeut – Psychotherapist

A psychotherapist is someone who has studied psychology, with a focus on clinical psychology and completed several years of training as a therapist. After this, they can apply for a license to practice medicine in order to treat patients with psychological problems. 

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

Psychotherapists deal with all mental disorders which can be treated with therapy, dialogues and mental exercises. These can include depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders or sleep disorders and addiction disorders.

Psychologe – Psychologist

A psychologist is someone who has studied psychology, but who may not treat patients without completing additional training. 

Psychologists can work in many fields without training as a therapist and are often employed as experts in business, marketing, advertising, various advice centers, and healthcare. 

Getting an Appointment

If you want to go directly to a mental health professional, you can start by searching online. 

The Federal Chamber of Psychotherapist’s website is a very helpful starting point, which enables you to search for psychotherapists in every Bundesland and also to filter them by the languages in which they offer psychotherapy. 

Another great resource is the “Kassenärztliche Vereinigung” – with websites for every Bundesland, you can search here as well for a Psychotherapist or Psychiatrist. 

READ ALSO: 'Being honest helps': How expats have overcome loneliness

If you do have a good Hausarzt however, paying them a visit can be a very useful starting point. They can give you a referral and perhaps also recommend a local mental health professional and, if they determine you problem to be acute, they can give you a special Dringlichkeitscode (urgency code) on your referral sheet which can be entered into the Kassenärztliche Vereinigung website and guarantees you an appointment within four weeks.

As with arranging a doctor’s appointment, E-mail can be a very effective way of seeking an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, as you can contact many practices in a short space of time and can avoid a sometimes tricky conversation in German. 

How long will you have to wait?

Depending on where you live in Germany, you may have to come to terms with long waiting times. A 2018 study by Germany’s Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists (BPtK) showed that the average waiting time for a therapy place is 20 weeks and that in big cities, there are an average of 36 psychotherapists per 100,000 inhabitants, but only between 12 and 18 outside.

However, waiting times for an initial appointment are, on average, much lower – around 6 weeks and if, in this initial appointment it is decided that you need acute treatment, the waiting time for a treatment place drops to three weeks.

Source: dpa-tmn

What can I expect if I get an appointment with a Psychotherapist?


All psychotherapy sessions start with an Erstgespräch (initial consultation) where a therapist will try to get an overview of the issue and make a preliminary diagnosis and recommendation for further treatment. 

Exactly how this conversation will look, depends on the therapist – some therapists have a short initial conversation of around 20 minutes, others longer, some focus on regulating formal details and getting to know the patient, while others may already be getting a detailed picture of the patient.

Probatorische Sitzungen

If psychotherapy is deemed to be necessary, the next step is to have between two and six Probotorische Sitzungen (trial sessions) with a therapist. During these sessions, the patient can receive some initial treatment, clarify any open questions and can decide whether the or not the “chemistry” with the therapist is right, or whether they would prefer to see someone else for longer term therapy.


If it is determined that long-term therapy is needed, the therapist will make an application to the patient’s Krankenkasse to cover the cost of one of three longer term treatments: behavioural therapy, psychoanalytic therapy and deep psychological therapy.

Once this has been agreed by the Krankenkasse, a minimum of 12 appointments can begin. When and how often the appointments are to take place are usually to be determined between the therapist and patient. A word of caution – if you miss an appointment without giving 48 hours notice, most practices will charge you forty euros for the missed session. 

Therapy in English?

Although there are many therapists who are able to offer treatment in English, there is no guaranteed right to therapy in a language other than German. One of our readers took her health insurance company to court, after they told her that she had no entitlement to therapy in English. The lower court rejected her claim and advised her that an appeal court was likely to reach the same decision. 

However, this does not mean that you will not be able to find a therapist who can offer therapy in your language – it may just mean that you have a longer wait. 

READ ALSO: How foreigners in Berlin are turning to a black market in mental health treatment

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Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination.