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How to find an English-speaking therapist in Spain

How to find an English-speaking therapist in Spain
Image: Kristina Tripkovic/Unsplash
Whether your Spanish isn't good enough or you'd just be more comfortable in your mother tongue, it is possible to find an English-speaking therapist here. Here's everything you need to know about accessing English-language therapy in Spain.

Living in a different country can be a challenge with family and friends far away, culture shocks and of course the language barriers.

With the extra trials that the pandemic has thrown at us over the past year and a half, it’s all the more important that foreign residents in Spain have access to English-language therapy.

Even if you speak some Spanish, it’s key that you have access to counsellors and psychologists with whom you can communicate in your mother tongue.

To discover more about the opportunities for seeking English language therapy in Spain, The Local spoke to two licenced therapists – Australian Leigh Matthews, Founder and Director of Therapy in Barcelona and Irish Declan Fitzpatrick, a qualified and experienced psychotherapist who works in Alicante. 

“Finding a therapist who speaks the language in which you can easily access and express experiences and feelings, and be understood, is critical as authentic communication is the heart of therapy” explained Matthews.

“One study found that therapy is twice as effective in clients’ native language. At Therapy in Barcelona, we offer services in English, which all of our therapists speak, in addition to the languages of the therapists’ native countries such as Afrikaans, Arabic, Dutch, German, Finnish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Gujurati and Urdu. Moreover, it is so important to work with a therapist who appreciates the nuanced costs and benefits of life abroad.”

Fitzpatrick agrees.

“If the person’s first language is English, it’s best to conduct therapy in English, unless their level of Spanish is quite high. Therapy is the ‘talking-cure’ so language, and the use of metaphor and imagery, are very important when describing feelings,” he added.  

Are English-speaking therapists available outside Barcelona and Madrid?

This may be all very well if you live in a big city such as Madrid and Barcelona where there are several English-speaking therapists, but what about accessing English-language therapy for those who live outside of these areas?

Fitzpatrick explains that in places such as Alicante and Valencia, where there are lots of English-speaking foreign residents, there are also opportunities to find registered professionals who can help, although he knows that it’s more difficult in smaller, non-coastal areas where the availability is likely to be limited.

Here you can find a directory with English-speaking counsellors and therapists in many places in Spain, including Valencia, Seville, Malaga, Granada, Nerja and Marbella, as well as Madrid and Barcelona. There’s even a registered English-speaking therapist in the Basque Country. 

But with the dramatic increase of online activities, especially during the pandemic, there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to access English-speaking therapists, no matter where their location.

“Having just left a Zoom session with one of my clients who lives outside of Barcelona, I’d say, now more than ever, with the meteoric rise of online therapy, individuals outside of Barcelona and Madrid have access to English-speaking therapists online,” said Matthews.

Indeed, both Matthews and Fitzpatrick offer online therapy sessions to people outside of their locations. Fitzpatrick believes that online therapy is just as effective as face-to-face sessions.

Matthews agrees with this sentiment but also has her reservations when she said: “Research suggests it is as effective as face-to-face therapy but, humans are wired for connection and part of this wiring involves how we regulate each other via mirror neurons through physical presence”.

“Online therapy robs us of that physical connection and the critical information we take from body language. In fact, while many are sold on online therapy’s convenience, around 80 percent of our clients still request face-to-face therapy. I think that speaks volumes about humans craving connection in real life. Face-to-face therapy is here to stay.

“Face-to-face therapy is to online therapy what vinyl is to digital music; it will always retain a special quality that is unsurpassable.”

While finding an English-speaking therapist in your area is obviously the best option, the main takeaway is that if you don’t have access to access to one close by, then online therapy is just as effective and will definitely help you much more than not seeing one at all.

Leigh Matthews from Therapy in Barcelona. Photo: Maggie Michalowicz / Instagram @maggie_jm

What are some of the most common reasons why foreigners in Spain seek therapy or counselling and does it differ from those reasons people seek help for back in their own countries?

Fitzpatrick explained that his clients have “issues that cover the full range of human experience. Foreign residents in Spain suffer from depression, anxiety, loneliness, relationship problems etc. just like any other group of people”.

While Matthews also sees people with many of these common problems that affect anyone, such as depression, anxiety, she also has many clients coming to her with issues that do specifically affect foreign residents.

These include things such as culture shock, language barriers, trouble making friends, ageing parents back home, homesickness, being single in a foreign country, parenting without a village, problems adjusting to work and culture, the challenges of intercultural relationships, loneliness and existential issues – like identity and belonging.

READ ALSO: Life after Brexit: What are the issues that worry Brits in Spain the most?

Did these issues change during the pandemic and have people been seeking therapy more than normal in these difficult times?

Fitzpatrick said that he saw “a noticeable increase in people presenting with anxiety issues during the pandemic, as well as a general sense of fear as a result of everyday routines being curtailed”.

He also saw an increase in relationship problems for couples who were spending a lot more time together than normal and facing a lot more pressure.

Matthews on the other hand said that she didn’t see an increase in patients until after the initial lockdown period. “In lockdown people were trying to meet their most basic needs for psychological safety. While people were attempting to maintain routine and ‘survive’ under the exceptional and frightening circumstances, they were not in a space to delve through their concerns,” she told The Local Spain.  

But, during the first few months of 2021, she definitely saw an increase in clients.

“The pandemic has brought a level of uncertainty to the fore for people, and, with the incapacity to return ‘home’ to visit friends and family as many foreign residents do, this has magnified a sense of dislocation and homesickness,” she explained.

“The pandemic has been a big pause on our ability to travel and the impulse to move, leaving us to face the concerns we may have been avoiding through frequent travel.

“For many people who had been considering seeing a therapist over the years, the pandemic has been the catalyst to finally take that step, for the better.”

While Matthews also saw an increase in anxiety and depression, relationship problems and grief, she also saw more adolescent patients “who have really lost a lot in the pandemic”.

Although the Covid situation is improving and things are opening up more, this is also making people feel more anxious. If people haven’t taken the steps to get professional help yet are there any tips or tricks they can do at home to help?

“Exercising good self-care around mental health is important. Taking time out in the day to reflect on how we are feeling, making time to connect with friends and family, exercise and a good diet are all important. Crucially though, it’s important to understand that sometimes we need professional help and to reach out for this help as soon as we can, rather than putting it off or delaying things,” explained Fitzpatrick. 

Matthews agreed.

“It’s important to focus on what you can control including self-care, reducing media consumption, keeping a routine and attending to the pillars of mental health such as sleep, nutrition, exercise and, connection with others,” she said.

“Take your time adjusting to the changes, go at your own rhythm in terms of removing the mask, returning to work, socialising and travel. You can give yourself permission to slowly ease yourself back into life without restrictions, there’s no need to go at other’s pace.

‘If you feel the ongoing challenges are getting you down, consider reaching out for support from a therapist. It can bring a lot of relief to reach out and have your concerns heard in a confidential space with a professional who can also offer you strategies for coping”.

Contact

If you do feel that you need professional therapy then both Matthews and Fitzpatrick are open for new clients.

Matthew’s company Therapy in Barcelona offers an international team of foreign therapists who work with adults, couples, kids, teens, families and companies.

Each therapist has a different specialist background and they offer many types of therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Art therapy, Psychoanalytic, Existential, Transactional Analysis, Positive Psychology, Mindfulness and other approaches. They can be contacted by phone on +34 644 522 369 and by e-mail at [email protected].

Fitzpatrick offers Psychodynamic Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Existential Therapy and can be contacted by phone on +34 625 211 405 and by e-mail at [email protected].

You can also find a list of registered English-speaking therapists in locations across Spain here
A separate directory for the Costa del Sol can be found here, while those in Costa Blanca can look here. There are also specific directories for those in Madrid and Barcelona

READ ALSO: ‘I’m going crazy’: Why international residents in Europe will travel this summer despite Covid


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