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German-Turkish Psychologists' Association celebrates 20th anniversary of its founding

© Meryam Schouler-Ocak

On November 7th and 8th, the German-Turkish Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosocial Health (DTGPP) is celebrating its 20th anniversary with an anniversary conference. The Chairman of the DTGPP, Dr. Meryam Schouler-Ocak, together with Karl Max Einhäupl, Chairman of the Charité, Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, Aydan Özoguz, among others, have invited high-ranking speakers.

It is the most pressing wish of the DTGPP to sponsor the psychiatric and psychotherapeutic care of migrants of Turkish origin. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the association's founding, Schouler-Ocak, a doctor at the psychiatric university clinic of the Charité, expressed concern about the lack of Turkish-language psychiatry and psychology in Germany in an interview: "It is estimated that there are approximately 300 Turkish-language psychotherapists and an estimated 100 psychiatrists for 2.2 million people of Turkish origin. That's clearly not enough." The project is sponsored in the context of the German-Turkish Year of Science by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Schouler-Ocak: "Head-hunters are looking for doctors with specific profiles in Turkey" What are the objectives that the DTGPP pursues with its work?

Schouler-Ocak: The DTGPP wants to see the care of patients with a migration background optimised and for many of their colleagues to acquire knowledge of intercultural competence to deal with interpreters and handle treatment expectations of patients with a migration background. Intercultural competence should become an obligatory part of the training of doctors, psychotherapists and nurses as well as other professionals active in the medical field.

How can a doctor who doesn't speak Turkish treat a patient who doesn't speak German?

Schouler-Ocak: If there is no common language, it's difficult for a doctor to treat a patient. That's why we plead for the use of professional interpreters, by which we mean language and cultural mediators, not amateur interpreters. It isn't language alone that is the problem. Cultural misunderstandings are even more significant. There are many people who understand German quite well, but they don’t want to go to a German native but rather to a native speaker of their own language. Because a native speaker also has cultural background information.

Who pays for the interpreters?

Schouler-Ocak: That's a real problem. The Bundessozialgericht (federal social court) decided in 2006 that the expenses for an interpreter are not included in statutory health insurance. At the same time, the social court explained in a decision of 2008 that there is no right to treatment in one's mother tongue. And so we have a dilemma.

Do we need more Turkish-speaking psychologists and psychiatrists in Germany?

Schouler-Ocak: Absolutely. It is estimated that there are approximately 300 Turkish-language psychotherapists and an estimated 100 psychiatrists for 2.2 million people of Turkish origin. That's clearly not enough."

What can this deficit lead to?

Schouler-Ocak: It leads to unnecessary treatment costs and of course to unnecessary suffering for the affected persons and their relatives. It can even lead to wrong diagnoses and wrong treatments being carried out. Colleagues in Hamburg have carried out a study in which they compared the diagnosis of the same patients by native physicians and those who speak the mother tongue of the patients. In approximately 30 percent of affected persons, they resulted in different diagnoses. 

If doctors migrate from Turkey to Germany, would that lead to a gap in care facilities in Turkey?

Schouler-Ocak: Of course, that's exactly what already happened in Greece and other countries. For example, specialised head-hunters are scouring practices and clinics in Greece and Turkey for doctors with specific profiles to recruit them. It's the same with nursing staff: Head-hunters or agencies are looking as far as China and the Philippines to find nursing staff to deal with the healthcare deficit situation.

How can one find psychological help for friends or relatives who only speak Turkish and no German?

Schouler-Ocak: The DTGPP is available as a point of contact. Native colleagues, Turkish-speaking psychotherapists, the Turkish community and other institutions and affected parties get in touch with us and we help them.

What has the DTGPP achieved since it was founded 20 years ago?

Schouler-Ocak: The DTGPP regularly organises platforms such as the anniversary conference to promote exchange and connection between colleagues and contributes to the qualification of those colleagues. Of particular importance is the spreading of knowledge about cultural psychiatry and psychotherapy so that as many colleagues as possible acquire the knowledge they need to treat their patients more effectively. Aside from the DTGPP, the task force for Turkish-speaking psychotherapists and the task force for migration and public health were created at the first German-Turkish Psychiatry Congress in Antalya in 1994.

The event is aimed at interested persons and professionals. The Berlin Medical Association grants continuing education credits for taking part in the event. It is still possible to register. Please contact: s.smith@alexius.de.

The printout of the interview and of the pictures of Dr. Schouler-Ocak are free of charge. In case you have any questions, please contact the editorial staff of the German-Turkish Year of Science at 030 / 818 777 – 192.

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