Expat Essentials

Sarah Nagaty: We all need good mental health more than ever. Here’s where to start in Lisbon

Expats, like everybody, everywhere, may need at certain moments in their lives to turn to psychotherapy and other mental health solutions. What makes it sometimes especially necessary for expats is the fact we are people living outside our comfort zone and our support system.

Hence, when a newcomer to a foreign city faces problems such as loneliness, work stress, break ups or financial strains, s/he does not have the option to go and collapse to their families and friends. The language barrier also exaggerates problems which could have looked simpler if such barriers never existed.

Adjusting to a new culture could also be quite challenging. Needless to mention that going through all this in the middle of the worldwide pandemic certainly calls for more attention to mental health. As a matter of fact, taking care of mental health, may be, in many cases, more important than taking care of one’s physical wellbeing, family, career or eating habits.

An “okay-ish” mental health is the key to fixing other aspects to one’s life (and I am saying okay-ish because it is not that easy to maintain that given the current circumstances, so let’s expect what is realistic). When one feels mentally okay, they can take care of their loved ones, follow healthy daily habits, perform better at work, etc.

There is a common mental trap which most of us fall into and that is the idea that one can actually improve her/ his own mental health by fixing other aspects of one’s life first, something along the lines of “if I have a better relationship with my partner, I will be less anxious.” And while this could be true sometimes – more often than not – we find out that unless we are “okay” with ourselves, we will not be okay with anyone else.

Luckily, in Lisbon, there are many therapy options to seek out. And it is not at all difficult to find therapists who speak English fluently (many also speak Spanish). I have an expat friend living in another country who spent quite a few months looking for a therapist whose English is good enough for lengthy, deep conversations. In Lisbon, this is usually not a problem at all.

I am happy to share some tips for starting a therapy journey in Lisbon:

Decide on what you exactly need

Sometimes it is not as straight forward as one might want for it to be. Not all types of therapy work for everyone at every stage of their lives. One has to determine what they exactly need, be it psychoanalysis, couples therapy or help with addiction, etc.

Searching online will be the way to go to make a decision. You can find many therapists online who exactly describe their field of specialization. If you can search in Portuguese, or get someone to do that for you, you may find more options which are – unsurprisingly – more affordable.

Always ask around.

Your friend or colleague may have an excellent therapist to recommend to you. Then you would know for sure they are good enough as they have been recommended to you by a trust-worthy source. Of course, with therapy, what works for one may not work for the next person.

However, it never hurts to ask because those with quite popular online profiles may be overbooked or simply good at marketing themselves.

Affording therapy …

Well … this one is tricky! Everyone knows that therapy ain’t cheap. The average price for a therapy session in Lisbon is 60 euros (You might find something a bit cheaper or more expensive, though). Those who have health insurance will definitely have their sessions at a reduced price (depending on each individual plan).

Many of my Portuguese friends go for Médis for private health care. However, there are many other options out there such as Millennium BCP health insurance plans or Multicare. If you know you will be doing therapy sessions for quite some time, it is probably not a bad idea to go for a health plan which covers most of the cost of your sessions.

Not affording therapy …

As a PhD student, I can write a book on not affording things. However, this has also taught me resourcefulness to an extent which was quite surprising for my character. After a short time in Lisbon, most expats get to discover the concept of “associations.” Lisbon has plenty of associations which offer services at a reduced cost.

For example, there are food associations which make meals at cost price. There are also associations which provide therapy sessions for a small fee – usually determined on individual basis – for those who cannot afford private sessions. These associations usually have excellent therapists who made a decision to help democratize access to mental health care.

I cannot recommend enough Centro Português de Psicanálise – Associação Lacaniana Internacional. Since the pandemic, the association’s therapists have been providing help to their patients through video calls. Therapists speak many languages there and many of them also happen to be artists who feel strongly for those undergoing particularly precarious situation during the pandemic. However, Centro Português de Psicanálise is not the only place which offers such service. There are several others across Portugal which you can find more about online.

Starting therapy is not easy, starting therapy in a foreign country is not easy at all. However, once one gets over having to “start,” life opens up in different ways and that is because we, ourselves, have opened up in new ways.

About the author:

Sarah Nagaty is a PhD researcher of cultural studies in Lisbon. She’s lived in Portugal for two years.

As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.

See all of Sarah’s Dispatches posts here.

See Dispatches’s Lisbon story archive here.

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