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Ask the expert: How to find an English-speaking therapist in France

The Local France
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Ask the expert: How to find an English-speaking therapist in France
Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP)

Accessing mental health support can be a challenge in many countries, but for foreigners in France there is the added hurdle of finding someone that you can fully communicate with, explains Paris-based clinical psychologist Francis Merson.

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The French health system is by and large excellent, with most treatments covered by the state health insurance system if you are a resident.

When it comes to mental health, however, the system is quite different and tends to focus on psychiatry and medication, with talking therapy – which is what anglos are probably more used to – a less common option.

We explain how the mental health system works HERE.

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So if you need to find a therapist and, what's more, a therapist with fluent English so that you can fully communicate, it can be complicated.

Francis Merson, a clinical psychologist and director of the Paris Psychology Centre, explains more: 

"Finding a good English-speaking therapist in France shouldn’t be difficult in theory. There is no shortage of therapists offering a variety of services in English – from hypnosis to life coaching. But there’s also a problem... 

In France, the field of therapy is largely unregulated, meaning that anyone can call themselves a therapist. You don't even need any qualifications at all: you can just set yourself up and start charging for your services. This can make it a rather tricky field to negotiate as a consumer. 

So how do you make sure your therapist is legit? There are three main things to look out for

  • Qualifications
  • Registration
  • Evidence-based Treatment 

Let’s have a look at each of these things in a bit more detail. 

The first thing to examine is their qualifications. A decent therapist will have at least a Masters-level qualification in the field of therapy that they are delivering.

If you’re looking for help with a mental health issue, then you’ll want to make sure your therapist has a Masters in Clinical Psychology. This means they have specialised training in treating mental illnesses. Be on the lookout for anyone who only has a diploma, certificate, etc. Real professionals have real degrees – so a Bachelors, Masters and/or PhD in their field of practice.

While we tend to refer to anyone who treats mental health as a ‘therapist’, this label can accidentally group together a) people with no qualifications and b) highly trained professionals with a decade or so of university education and experience.

It's useful to keep an eye out for the word 'psychologist' or 'psychiatrist' in descriptions. These terms are protected, which means it's illegal to use them unless you have the corresponding education. If someone describes themselves only as a therapist, that's already a red flag.

You also want to make sure that your therapist is registered with the appropriate bodies. Would you go to see a doctor who isn’t licensed? It’s the same thing for therapists.

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A registered psychologist in France will have an ADELI number, which means their qualifications have been recognised as sufficient to practise as a psychologist. This number can also be taken away if a therapist violates professional guidelines. So active registration with ADELI is a really good way of telling that you’re working with someone safe.

You can check an ADELI number on the Annuaire Santé HERE

The third thing to look at is the kind of therapy they are delivering. To be confident that therapy is going to make a real difference, you want to opt for an evidence-based treatment, such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

This means that the treatment has been shown in randomised clinical trials to be superior to placebo – ie it actually works for most people. Otherwise, there’s no guarantee you’ll get any benefit for your money. Here is a list of common evidence-based therapies for mental health: 

The American Society of Clinical Psychology keeps a regularly updated list of all the treatments for which there is an evidence base, which you can check to see if what your therapist is offering is likely to be useful. 

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It's not uncommon for our clinicians at the Paris Psychology Centre to see new patients with mental disorders such as depression who have already been undergoing hypnotherapy for several years. At the current stage of research, there's no evidence that hypnotherapy reduces the symptoms of depression. And true enough, these people generally report being no less depressed than when they started hypnotherapy. This is why evidence-based treatment is important: it's the best guarantee in existence that a form of therapy will work for you.

In short, you want a therapist who is qualified, registered, and practises evidence-based treatment. You might also want to have a look out for these 5 danger signs: 

  1. Qualifications are unclear or insufficient (ie a diploma in dolphin-assisted therapy)
  2. No scientific evidence that their therapy works
  3. The therapist is not licensed to practise
  4. The therapist charges unusually low fees
  5. There is no fixed address shown for therapy (or they want to meet at their place, or in a café)

The presence of one of these danger signs should alert you that something is amiss. If you see more than one, you’re better off looking elsewhere. 

One of our clinicians recently had a new patient who had seen a so-called 'holistic therapist', who had conducted therapy in the kitchen of her apartment while her family was busily making dinner around her. Dinner was not included in the fee. 

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Another common problem we see is people who have seen French therapists, who often have decent qualifications, but who lack the language skills to conduct therapy in English.

If you look on the French medical website Doctolib, you'll find thousands of psychologues in Paris who claim to offer services in English. But our experience shows that some of these therapists struggle to make themselves understood and, more importantly, really connect with what the patient is saying. 

READ ALSO How to use the French medical website Doctolib

Good therapy can be a wonderfully enriching experience, resulting in powerful change. And qualified therapists have first-hand experience of how a person's life can be turned around in therapy.

And if you stick to a few simple guidelines, it’s not too hard to sidestep the charlatans and find a qualified, licensed professional who can make a genuine positive difference. 

Costs

Sessions with a psychiatrist are refundable with a carte vitale, but therapy sessions are usually not - or only a small percentage of the fee is reimbursed.

If you have a mutuelle for top-up insurance this may cover the cost of therapy sessions, depending on your policy.

Francis Merson is the director of the Paris Psychology Centre, which is staffed by psychologists from Australia, the US and the UK offering therapy in English. 

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Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

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hupkensconsult 2022/11/17 17:36
It’s always good to check someone’s credentials. However, this article is written by an individual who is not neutral. 1. They are the owner of a therapy practice/enterprise. 2. They are recommending their own brand. “We from Coca Cola find that the best softdrink is Coca Cola”. 3. The psychodynamic practices are left out completely, psychoanalytic therapy or attachment theory based therapy, and so forth. 4. Not everyone wants to go through a process of getting their therapy approved by an insurance company, compromising their privacy. However, the article is a good way to start looking for a therapist.

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