It’s so hard to find a therapist. They are only available to answer the phone at certain times and you always get answering machines telling you ‘if you’re calling about a therapy place, I’m sorry to inform you that I have no free places and the waiting list is closed’. It’s so demotivating to keep calling and keep being told that there’s no room for you. When you have depression the last thing you want to do is to make more calls and get rejected again. For long periods of time I would give up and not bother calling. It was January when my doctor gave me a list of therapists and until yesterday I couldn’t even get on a waiting list. If you have public health insurance in Germany it’s so difficult to find a therapist. There are so many people needing therapists and so few public therapists. If I still had private insurance that would be a completely different story (in fact I had been lined up with a private therapist last year until my insurance fell through).
When I got the therapist list off my psychiatrist, my initial plan was to seek out a therapist with good reviews. I went through the list crossing off any therapists which were difficult to get to and male therapists (I thought I would feel more comfortable with a woman) and I narrowed the remaining list down to therapists with good reviews. I was told that because it can take months to a place for therapy I should get a place in several waiting lists. But I couldn’t get a place in any waiting lists. All the waiting lists were closed.
One therapist I sent an email to told me that unfortunately she had no places available and she gave up with her waiting list because it grew very long, very quickly. But she encouraged me to keep calling therapists and keep trying because places would open up. Every therapist had the same story ‘no places, no waiting list’. It seemed so unfair to me, I was just supposed to keep calling and hopefully get lucky? At the end of the list was an organisation which was supposed to help with finding a place. I tried calling them as well but they simply told me that there were no places.
My depression has kind of relapsed recently (I say ‘kind of’, because it never really left), I’ve been getting upset about the most ridiculous, arbitrary things. Last week I had a breakdown because I entered the time for my physio appointment into my calendar wrong and ended up being fifteen minutes late. I was absolutely devastated that I could only have a ten minute appointment. Then there was the breakdown the week before after I bought a new pair of glasses and then later found out that I had bought a very expensive pair and could have saved a lot of money (it was my first pair of glasses and so I didn’t know what a normal pair costs). To top it off, my computer decided to breakdown on the weekend, and when you take online German lessons that’s really not great. (At the moment I’m using my very old, slow, clunky laptop which at any minute is going to overheat and turn itself off and has an English keyboard, which I haven’t used in years -I can actually change it to a German keyboard but then an important key is missing.)
After crying on Sunday for about four hours over something stupid and knowing that I was in a really bad state, I decided it was time to do something to change the downward spiral. I contacted my friends. I asked them to pray for me. It was also time for me to try and find a therapist again (it had been a week or two since I’d last tried to make enquiries).
I sat down yesterday with the list of therapists and decided to call every therapist in my city from top to bottom. I had a pen in my hand and if they said their contact hours, I would write that down. I would call them again, even if their answering machine would tell me they had no places. I would take breaks after every couple of calls but I would keep making more calls.
(It’s actually strange how determined I was. Normally when I’m depressed I have no determination what so ever. I’ve been especially unmotivated to do anything lately; my household chores have been extremely neglected as of late, I haven’t spent as much time learning German as I normally would, and I haven’t had much interest in leaving the house. But yesterday I managed to achieve a lot, even if it was very slowly thanks to psycho-motor retardation.)
With each phone call I got the same response ‘Hi, this is the practice of …. Unfortunately I can’t answer the phone during therapy hours, you can reach me on… at…. If you’re calling about a therapy place, I’m sorry to inform you that I have no free places and the waiting list is closed…’. I reached the seventh therapist in my city on the list. I had made some notes about her; she had a perfect rating on the infamous German doctor rating website and she had no free places. It was 12.30pm. Her answering machine picked up. ‘Hi, this is the practice of …. Unfortunately I can’t answer the phone during therapy hours, you can reach me on Mondays between 13.30-14.15…’. Strange, she didn’t say anything about not having a place. I set an alarm to call back at 1.30pm.
In the meantime I complained to one of my friends over WhatsApp about how difficult it is. ‘Germany needs a better system for getting therapy. I can’t find a place because there are none and I can’t get on a waiting list because there are none and when I called the organisation which is supposed to help me find a place they couldn’t help me’. Then we prayed together.
I called the therapist again at 1.30 but the line was engaged. I decided I would keep calling until I got through.
At 1.48pm she picked up.
‘Hi… I’m looking for a therapy place.’
‘Yes, that’s difficult. How flexible are you?’
‘I’m very flexible, I’m a freelancer.’
‘Ok, could you come in last minute tomorrow at 8am?’
‘Yes, that works for me.’
‘Just so you are aware, this is only a preliminary talk so we can get to know each other. This isn’t therapy. I probably won’t have a therapy place for six to eight weeks.’
‘Yes, I’m aware of that.’
‘Ok, then see you tomorrow.’
So today I met with the therapist just so we could get to know each other… not for therapy. I nearly had a panic attack on the bus on the way when my phone decided to throw a temper tantrum and Google Maps stopped working so I didn’t know how to get to the appointment (I had a vague idea where the street was, but I couldn’t just wander in the vague direction and hope to magically arrive and I’m terrible at following directions, so even if I called the therapist and asked for directions, who know’s if I would arrive). Luckily it started working well enough that I could at least SEE the map, even if it wasn’t giving directions. I probably need a new phone though.
So I arrived for my appointment with three minutes to spare. She told me to hang up my coat and take a seat, offered me a drink and took my insurance card. All the usual things. Of course, she then reminded me that this was not therapy yet and she couldn’t say when a place would open up.
‘Are you nervous?’
‘Have you had therapy before?’
‘No… actually yes, when I was in care…’ (the phrase ‘in care’ makes more sense in German).
‘Were you an inpatient?’
‘Yes, I was an inpatient for seven weeks. And a part time inpatient for thirteen weeks.’
‘In a day clinic?’
‘How old are you?’
‘And what has happened in your life that has made you so unwell?’
I started to tell her everything: being told I was a bad teacher, failing my placements, having three of my classes ask for a new teacher in the space of a month, being afraid of losing my job… (I’ve only been wearing glasses since Wednesday but I’ve already learnt that crying and glasses don’t match. I took off my glasses, placed them on the coffee table and reached for the tissues.)
It continued for 45 minutes. She asked about my family, my relationship to my family, if depression runs in my family (yes). She would respond to my story and say ‘poh’ (which the occupational therapist in the day clinic used to say too), as if to say ‘wow, that’s heavy’. A couple of times times the therapist told me she needed a second to take in what I’d said and that my story was a very sad one. She told me I was strong and I was a fighter.
‘I’d be lying if I said you were an easy case’, she told me, ‘you’re not, but I think you know that.’
‘I want to help you. I’m taking time off next week for the Easter break. I can see you in a fortnight on Wednesday at 8am. Are most of your classes in the evening?’
‘Yes, most of my classes are in the evening, sometimes I have morning classes, but most are in the evening. I have no classes on Wednesday mornings at the moment.’
‘Ok, then Wednesday at 8am or do you prefer Friday at 8am?’
‘I’d prefer Friday…’
‘Ok, then I’ll see you on April 21st at 8am.’
And that’s how in the space of 24 hours I went from not being on a single waiting list, to having a preliminary appointment, to scheduling my first appointment before a space even opened up.
It’s impossible to get a therapy place in this city. But somehow I did the impossible.