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How to get an English-speaking therapist in Switzerland

The importance of proper mental health support has come to the fore during the pandemic and remains an important consideration. Here’s what you need to know about accessing mental health support in Switzerland.

How to get an English-speaking therapist in Switzerland
Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

The Swiss healthcare system can be difficult to navigate for people born and raised in the country, let alone foreigners. 

This is the case for mental health therapies. According to the Swiss statistical office, six out of every 100 residents are currently being treated for mental health problems – up from four in 100 two decades ago. 

Then there’s the question of speaking English. 

Around 25 percent of Swiss residents are foreigners, many of whom may speak the national language of the part of Switzerland they live in, but who might be more comfortable doing therapy in English. 

From understanding which treatments are covered by your health insurance to your chances on an English-speaking psychologist, here’s what you need to know. 

Accessing psychotherapy and mental health treatments in Switzerland

Everyone in Switzerland is required by law to take out health insurance cover. This is sometimes known as “compulsory insurance”. 

Although Swiss health insurance can be expensive, one of the advantages is that a lot more is covered than in some other countries. 

READ: How Swiss healthcare costs have ‘doubled’ since 2000 

This means that many forms of psychological support are covered fully by your health insurance provider. 

This will of course depend on your policy – some will cover far more than others – but most mainstream health insurance policies will at least cover up to ten sessions, from which you will need to get approval from a doctor and take it to your health insurer to get additional assistance/sessions. 

What types of psychotherapy are covered? 

Generally speaking, many approved or recognised modes of therapy are covered. 

This means that psychotherapy, behavioural therapy or other forms of treatment conducted by a psychiatrist or under the supervision of a doctor – known as delegated psychotherapy – will be covered by your insurance provider. 

In many cases, an insurer will cover 90 percent of the costs, in other cases the full amount will be covered. 

While this is good news for the majority of us, you’ll need to pay for witchcraft and other “alternative” therapies out of your own pocket. 

What types of therapies are there in Switzerland? 

A psychologist, sometimes known as a psychotherapist, has a degree in psychology rather than medicine, and therefore cannot prescribe medications. 

The abbreviations FSP, SBAP and ASP stand for membership in a professional association, which means they are federally recognised. 

A psychiatrist has studied psychology and medicine and can therefore prescribe medications. 

The term therapist is used to describe both. 

As noted above, where a therapist partners with a GP or a psychiatrist, this will be covered by your compulsory insurance. 

Private or “self-employed” therapists will often not be covered by compulsory insurance. 

What if my psychotherapy is not covered? 

In some cases, only a certain amount of sessions will be covered by your health insurance provider. As we wrote above, you will need to gain approval from your insurer to get additional sessions or support. 

Alternately, some therapies can be supported only through “supplementary coverage”. 

Supplementary coverage is an optional addition to your compulsory health insurance cover. (More information about supplementary insurance is available at the following link)

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

This supplementary insurance covers items like orthodontic treatment for children, a free choice of doctor or hospital anywhere in Switzerland, alternative medicine options or partial refunds on health-promoting activities such as gym memberships.

Note that you do not have to take out your supplementary insurance with your basic health insurance provider, so it pays to shop around.

However, in contrast to basic health insurance, insurer providers are not required to take you on as a customer for supplementary insurance and may reject your application if you have a pre-existing condition.

Therefore, be sure to read the fine print and be certain as to whether your planned treatment is covered. 

How do I find a therapist? 

While you can go down the route of cold calling therapists to see if they’ve got an appointment free and if your treatment is covered, the best place to start is with your GP. 

In some cases, your GP will need to provide you with a referral – particularly if you want this covered by your health insurance. 

Your GP will have insight as to waiting times and available therapists, while he or she may be able to help you with other tips. 

For instance, waiting times are often shorter at university clinics, where masters-level students are completing their psychology studies and are overseen by trained professionals. 

Your GP will also be able to assist you in finding the right therapy for you, from deep psychotherapy to behavioural therapy and otherwise. 

What if I don’t have a GP or want to search on my own? 

If you need support in an emergency, you can call the Dargebotene Hand (La Main Tendue in French)  on 143 at any time to talk to someone.

This service however is officially offered in German, French and Italian, although some online sources have confirmed that patients have been provided with support on the number in English. 

How about one that speaks English? 

There is no one centralised way through which you can find a therapist that speaks English in Switzerland. 

Again, speaking to your GP will be the first and possibly most important first step here.

Your GP will likely know of therapists who conduct therapies in English – or at least will know where to look. 

Many clinics will have consultation hours where you can have an initial session to see the nature of your condition and be sent towards a therapist. 

Additionally, the university clinics are also a good option as many of the graduates are younger and therefore more likely to be able to conduct their therapy in English, 

Otherwise, if you would prefer to look for yourself, you can visit the websites of Pro Mente Sana, the Federation of Swiss Psychologists, the Swiss Professional Association for Applied Psychology or the Association of Swiss Psychotherapists who maintain a list of their members and contacts. 

The number of English-speaking therapists is understandably larger in larger cities and cantons. 

Information will be provided on these websites as to which languages each therapist provides support in. 

Most of the websites also have an option to search in English and will have English information. 

There are also contact points on a cantonal level. In Zurich for instance, the Zurich Society for Psychiatry and Psychology maintains its own site with a list of contacts. 

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OFFBEAT

Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

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