What is Counselling and Psychotherapy? How Do I Access Them?

Authors: Dr. phil. Ulli Biechele, Dipl.-Psych. Margret Göth, Dipl.-Psych. Thomas Heinrich and Dipl.-Psych. Andrea Lang

Being stressed from time to time is simply a part of life. As health, love, family and work don’t always work out as we would like them to.

Most of the time, people are able to get through such tough times just fine. They have learned how to cope with difficult situations, disappointments and failures alone or with the help of others, e.g. friends. We can also deal with certain life events better with the help of self-help groups – with people who are in the same situation.

There can however also be stresses and burdens in life that are too hard, never stop or keep coming back – situations in which even friends or self-help groups can’t help enough. In such cases it makes sense to seek psychological help. Counselling or therapy can also help to understand yourself better or to develop more self-confidence. In short: when someone has the feeling that they want to change something in their life.

In individual cases, it is not so easy to distinguish the above cases from one another. In general, the following applies:

  • Why: Counselling aims to solve clearly defined problems (e.g. difficulties with a separation), while psychotherapy rather aims for a comprehensive change in the relationship the person has with themselves and their environment.
  • How: Psychotherapy usually takes place in the form of personal sessions. Counselling is usually the same, it can however also be done online or by telephone.
  • For whom: Both counselling and therapy are offered to individuals, couples, families and groups.
  • How long: Counselling tends to be limited in terms of time, while psychotherapy tends to be more long-term. Nevertheless, long-term counselling and short-term therapy also exist.

If your mental suffering really overwhelms you or if you notice a change in your consciousness (e.g. hearing voices), treatment with medication or so-called psychiatric drugs can help. This is possible on either an outpatient basis or in a psychiatric hospital.

As a rule of thumb: counselling or therapy is no reason for shame, it is a service! It is better to arrange a session at an early stage, before problems become too overwhelming. It is better to talk to someone than swallow pills!

Psychological Counselling

Psychological counselling can relate to all areas of life: marriage and partnership, school and education, addiction and drugs etc. The corresponding counselling centres are therefore called e.g. marriage and life counselling centres or youth and family counselling centres etc. Such centres exist now even in smaller towns. Usually they are run by the town administration or one of the two large church communities.

Independent counselling centres often perform specialized tasks that churches or town administrations cannot, e.g. Pro Familia for sexual counselling, AIDS-Hilfen for HIV and AIDS counselling, or gay and lesbian counselling centres for counselling gay and lesbian people. While AIDS-Hilfen and Pro Familia are present in all cities and towns (you can find them in the telephone directory under “Pro Familia or “AIDS-Hilfe”), LGBTQI*-specific counselling centres can only be found in big cities.

Counselling is not covered by health insurance providers. Depending on the economic and political situation at a given time, the city or state administration or other organizations cover the costs. Those seeking advice often pay part of the costs themselves, either at a flat rate or according to their financial situation. In certain cases, the social welfare body in Germany can also cover the costs of counselling, as provided for under the German Federal Social Welfare Act (BSHG).

Here you will find an overview of counselling centres for lesbian, gay, bisexual or Trans persons in Germany that we have put together. We provide information about the counselling services of VLSP members here.


Psychotherapy is generally offered in a psychological or specialist practice. These practices can be found on the internet using the search term “psychotherapy”, or you can use the psychotherapy information service run by the Professional Association of German Psychologists (Berufsverband Deutscher Psychologinnen und Psychologen) (BDP): www.psychotherapiesuche.de. Another possibility for finding a psychotherapist is to ask your health insurance provider or the coordination offices of the “Kassenärztlichen Vereinigungen” (which can be found in every capital city of federal states or administrative districts).

You can contact psychotherapists directly – you do not need a referral from your doctor. However, if psychotherapy is approved by your health insurance provider, a medical examination is necessary in order to rule out any physical causes for the problems you are facing.

Health insurance providers in Germany cover psychotherapeutic treatments by medical and psychological psychotherapists, as well as those by child and adolescent psychotherapists. The health insurance providers in Germany recognize the following psychotherapeutic procedures: psychoanalysis, therapy based on depth psychology, behavior therapy and, more recently, systemic therapy. Other procedures usually have to be paid for privately.

You should consider the following: if psychotherapy is covered by your health insurance provider, the therapist must write an anonymized report to an assessor as soon as long-term therapy is requested. This assessor then recommends the health insurance provider as to whether and for how long the therapy should continue to be paid for. These reports are sent in a sealed envelope to the health insurance provider. The health insurance worker is not allowed to open this envelope, i.e. only the assessor receives the report. Furthermore, an appropriate diagnosis must be made, as health insurance providers obviously only cover the costs of illnesses. Such a diagnosis may cause problems when taking out additional private insurance.

The addresses of therapists who are members of VLSP can be requested from us here.

Last updated: 03/09/2021 - 16:04

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