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Intercultural therapy

Refugees run an increased risk of suffering from mental health problems - intercultural therapy can help them process what they have experienced. 

Andrea Freund , 05.10.2023
Many people find it easier to open up to a therapist from a similar cultural background.
Many people find it easier to open up to a therapist from a similar cultural background. © AdobeStock

Germany is an international country. More than one in every four inhabitants has amigrant background, which means that they themselves or at least one of their parents did not have German citizenship at birth. This includes those who have been forced to flee their home countries in search of a safe haven. The risk of suffering some form of mental illness is particularly high in the case of refugees. The experiences of fleeing, losing their homes and suffering violence can pose such a burden that mental disorders develop. According to the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists in Germany, roughly two thirds of refugees suffer from mental disorders. The important thing is to seek professional help in good time. Many people do not find it easy to talk about themselves and their innermost thoughts, however. This is particularly the case if they are feeling listless or desperate, or if they are suffering from nightmares or experiencing inner turmoil. The situation is further complicated if German is a foreign language for the person in question. To overcome cultural and linguistic hurdles, special forms of intercultural and transcultural therapy are on offer in Germany.  

Therapy on an equal cultural footing 

In intercultural and transcultural sessions, patients are treated by doctors and psychotherapists who not only speak their language but also share the same cultural background. Because mental illness is a taboo in many countries, those affected not infrequently insist that they have a physical illness, even if this is not true from a medical viewpoint. When discussing their situation with a doctor or therapist with the same or similar roots, they often find it easier to accept their need for treatment.  

Intercultural institutions in Germany 

Germany’s 47 nationwide psychosocial centres offer special support for people of migrant background. The following, among others, are particularly specialised in such cases: the Charité hospital in Berlin with its Centre for Intercultural Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (ZIPP), the Migrationsambulanz (migrants’ outpatient clinic) at University Hospital of Munich, the intercultural surgery at University Hospital Halle and for example the Greek and Turkish outpatient clinics at the LWL Hospital in Hemer on the outskirts of the Ruhr region. 


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