Dr. Elizabeth Frei Quoted in an article in Blick – Wellbeing section on 4.2024
Link to original Article in Blick in French

When you finally summon up the courage to ask for help, the last thing you want to face is an interminable waiting list. Yet this is the harsh reality that bogs down the system of psychotherapeutic consultations in Switzerland: three to six months’ waiting time in the canton of Geneva, five to six months in the canton of Neuchâtel, more than six months in the Jura, French-speaking Bern and Valais… According to figures compiled at the beginning of 2024 by the Swiss Federation of Psychologists (FSP), the lack of therapy places is becoming problematic, particularly for children and adolescents.

“All our members report waiting lists, but outlying regions are particularly hard hit,” says Cathy Maret, member of the board and head of political affairs at the FSP. For some years now, the need for more consultations has coincided with a shortage of psychiatrists.” While this discrepancy was already present before the arrival of Covid, the pandemic and semi-containment have not failed to accentuate the prevalence: “There has been a notable increase in certain segments of the population, including girls and young women, who are more often affected by psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression”, continues our speaker.

In December 2022, the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (SFSO) reported that hospital admissions for mental disorders had risen by 52% between 2022 and 2021, among girls and young women aged 10 to 24. A record increase.

Mental health is less taboo

In addition to societal factors that can worsen mental health (eco-anxiety, pandemics, inflation, uncertain future…), the rise in requests can also be explained by a liberation of the word around psychological well-being: “The population is more inclined to consult than before, as questions relating to mental health have become less taboo,” confirms Cathy Maret. This is obviously very good news, but it also exacerbates the shortage of therapy places.”

Psychologist and FSP psychotherapist Elizabeth Frei agrees, noting a greater appreciation of mental health among the younger generation: “Since Covid, phenomena such as anxiety are largely destigmatized by GenZ and GenAlpha.” On TikTok and Instagram, content relating to mental health and personal development is indeed gathering millions of views, while very young content creators are sharing their feelings and anxieties with unprecedented openness.

Psychotherapy included in basic health insurance

Access to therapy was to be facilitated by the introduction of the prescription model in 2022. Under this system, the first 30 consultations with a psychotherapist are reimbursed by basic health insurance, provided they are recommended by the attending physician and provided by professionals recognized and certified by the canton. If necessary, and with the psychiatrist’s agreement, these reimbursed sessions can be extended.

“This is obviously a very good thing, but it also complicates the situation a little, as clients turn first to reimbursed therapists, who end up being overwhelmed and running out of space,” says Elizabeth Frei. Unfortunately, this official accreditation is difficult to obtain, especially for professionals who have not studied in Switzerland or Europe.”

Not to mention that training to become a psychotherapist is as long as it is costly: “Unlike a medical assistant, whose training is paid for and comes with a good salary, a psychotherapist’s assistant has to cover his or her own costs and is paid less,” laments Cathy Maret. This is a considerable obstacle, and we need to improve these conditions to encourage more people to choose this path.”

What if you can’t find a therapist?

Faced with an impressive waiting list, our therapists recommend that you don’t give up! It’s essential to get the help you need, from a therapist you can trust completely. Here are a few tips to help you find the support you need as quickly as possible:

  1. Never hesitate to call for emergency assistance

In cases of distress, hospital psychiatric emergencies (such as Lausanne’s CHUV or Geneva’s HUG ) are quick to receive people in need of immediate help. In addition, platforms such as Pro Juventute (for parents), 143 (for young people), Action Innocence (for cyberbullying cases), Alpagai (support groups for LGBTQIA+ people) or Safe Zone (for addiction and dependency problems) are dedicated day and night to supporting people in distress or in need of a sympathetic ear. Don’t be afraid to contact them: the professionals on these platforms are there to help, whatever the situation you’re going through.

2. Ask for resources, even if you are refused

When the therapist you’ve tried to contact mentions his or her waiting list, or apologizes for not being able to take on more clients, Elizabeth Frei advises you to ask questions, in order to find other useful leads: “At the very least, an overworked psychologist or psychotherapist will be able to redirect you to someone else,” she points out. He’s bound to have a very extensive network and will probably know another professional who can help you.”

For Cahty Maret, even if you can’t book a session quickly, it’s possible to find contacts, resources or advice to help you continue your search: “We can’t see everyone, but we do our best, and there are group therapies, discussion groups or even readings that can offer you information and support while you wait for your appointment”, she continues.

In addition, Cahty Maret points out that it can be beneficial to explain your situation to the therapist with whom you would like to make an appointment: “If it’s an urgent request, the psychotherapist may be able to advise you or try to arrange time to see you. But this is not always possible, so never hesitate to turn to the emergency numbers.”

3. Browse the FSP directory

As Cathy Maret reminds us, the role of psychologists is to support people going through difficult periods in their lives, such as divorce, separation or bereavement, with a view to prevention, to avoid the onset of a psychological disorder. ” Psychotherapists, on the other hand, see people whose symptoms are linked to an illness, a serious psychological disorder with designated characteristics,” she continues. As a reminder, psychologists’ services are partially covered by some complementary health insurance plans, although this varies according to the insurance model and deductible, while psychotherapy is included in the prescription model mentioned above (with the famous 30 sessions reimbursed by basic insurance).

To make your search easier, the FSP has createda directory called PsyFinder. By entering your zip code and a few key words, this tool will provide you with a list of professionals likely to be able to help you, whom your initial research may not have identified.

Faced with a long waiting list, I also encourage those concerned to book a few sessions with a professional not reimbursed by basic insurance, in the meantime,” suggests Elizabeth Frei. If this option is financially viable, it may be beneficial to start the process with a certified professional, if it seems urgent, before being able to be seen by a reimbursed psychotherapist.”

4. Beware of the Internet

At a time when mental health is increasingly valued, hundreds of coaching platforms and offers are flourishing on the Web. However, it’s essential to make sure that the person has received recognized training before taking the plunge: “I wouldn’t advise using just any platform,” agrees Cathy Maret. When you suffer from psychological disorders, it’s essential to turn to professional services, not just any program or offer you can find on the Internet.” Likewise, Cathy Maret advises against working with self-declared coaches who have not undergone any training whatsoever.

5. Dare to Change Therapist

This last piece of advice may seem contradictory, especially when you’ve waited three months for an appointment. However, finding the right person is crucial, as a good relationship between therapist and patient can make all the difference: “Even after a long wait, if you feel that things aren’t going well with your therapist, I really encourage you to look for someone else, or to address your concerns with your current therapist,” insists Elizabeth Frei. It takes a bit of courage, but don’t be afraid of offending the person: we’re trained to react well to this kind of conversation and to refer patients to the right professionals.”

Translated with DeepL.com (free version)
Link to original Article in Blick in French