Annika and Alexander Schwitalla open a private psychotherapy practice in Plettenberg

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From: Michael Jeide

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Annika and Alexander Schwitalla offer behavioral therapy in their own practice. The couple completed their studies together in the Netherlands. © Jeide, Sabrina

Lack of specialized therapists in the country? Annika and Alexander Schwitalla swim against the supposed current: they open their own psychotherapy practice in Plettenberg. What made you take this step? And what makes your work so special?

Plettenberg – When we look back on our lives at our old age: what memories come to us? Can we say: life was beautiful? There are two simple, fundamental questions about meaning, and yet they also describe, by way of example, the meaning of the work of psychotherapists. Because they want to help people to create beautiful memories, to experience beautiful moments, to have the joy of life again. Annika and Alexander Schwitalla are psychological psychotherapists who will open their first practice in Plettenberg in October, offering behavioral therapy for adults.

And it’s quite an exciting path that has brought her to Plettenberg, because it’s the exact opposite of what’s so often propagated why doctors and therapists don’t (want to) come to the country.

She – born in Hamm – met him – born in Münsterland – during her studies in the Netherlands over ten years ago. They come into contact with the Sauerland through other professional stations and immediately fall in love with this region. In Plettenberg you will find your own house high on the Wieckmerth with a beautiful view over the countryside that suits you and your professional plans. They’re moving in in 2019, but just three Corona years and a few bureaucratic hurdles later, it can finally get going. Not as a health insurer practice (see info telegram), but as a private practice they dare to take the step towards independent entrepreneurship.

However, the preconditions for patients who want to make use of therapy are currently anything but simple. Appointments only in six months to a year; Practices that can no longer put patients on waiting lists due to the large number of applications. “We see that things are not going well,” says the therapist couple, who are quite frustrated by the external circumstances. It should actually be possible that patients in urgent cases can be helped quickly and in the long term.

But when the conversation turns to the actual therapy work, Annika and Alexander Schwitalla literally blossom and tell what great joy the work brings when you can achieve an improvement in the patient’s living situation together with the patient. “Our work is very diverse and it’s incredibly rewarding when people open up,” said Alexander Schwitalla. The pair of therapists are well aware that they gain tremendous trust from the patients.

In their practice they offer behavioral therapy for adults. But when is therapy actually necessary? The clear answer: when the suffering is simply too great for the person and the quality of life decreases. Problems are often based on unfavorable learning experiences – for example, social anxiety can arise from increased bullying experiences at school. And these fears last throughout life. Concerns about being rejected in training or not being good enough can manifest themselves on a physical level, for example in the form of heart palpitations, tremors, stuttering or the like.

In depressive episodes, patients may develop low mood, sleep disturbances or appetite disturbances. In one patient it is withdrawing from social contact, in another patient extremely high performance requirements can regularly (too often) cause the person to cross boundaries.

Whether it’s a feeling of emptiness, joylessness or too much pressure to perform – Annika and Alexander Schwitalla also found that especially the corona pandemic had made it worse. Less positive experiences – be it a dance class, a cup of coffee with a friend or a visit to the playground with the kids: all these experiences were completely unexpected for many. As a result, the balance between demands, for example in work or in daily family life, and the balance, for example through social contacts, has shifted. But precisely this balance, which even small things in everyday life can provide, is extremely important “to refill the batteries”.

“I need to work on my own values,” Annika Schwitalla says when it comes to being “at peace” with yourself. But that also includes questioning things that are supposedly taken for granted and recognizing ‘what’s really important and meaningful to me. How do I learn to organize everyday life in such a way that I can live according to my own values?”

Developing a feeling for it also helps to better understand one’s own behavior. Especially with withdrawal, the realization often remains that in the short term everything may seem better, but in the long term it cannot be the solution.

Fears, compulsions or behavioral addictions: there are many areas that can limit people’s quality of life. Especially with fears, the therapy brings “very nice experiences when someone can become freer again”, Annika Schwitalla reports. Fears are usually treated with so-called confrontation exercises, in other words, one faces the fear. Together you will meet a large crowd or maybe go shopping together. But it is also important to realize: “I don’t have full control and safety, risks are always part of life”. But how freely can I live, to what extent does a residual risk limit me – developing effective strategies is the most important thing here.

Another problem area that should not be underestimated is psychosomatic diseases, in which psychological factors can influence physical processes, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Psychological factors can also exacerbate the long-term Covid virus as people become increasingly irritated and withdrawn due to constant states of exhaustion or pain.

“Where does my inner compass ultimately lead me?” Psychological psychotherapists address this fundamental question in their therapy sessions. Without downplaying, patients should be given the tools they need to learn how to effectively implement desired changes in their own way of thinking and acting. But, and that is very important for both: “We only make offers”. Ultimately, the patient always decides for himself how far he wants or can go.

Private practice at Wieckmerther Weg

The Schwitalla couple open their own practice on Wieckmerther Weg and offer behavioral therapy for adults. Appointments can be made from now on. Both obtained their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical psychology at Radboud University in Nijmegen. At the Academy of Behavioral Therapy (AVT) in Cologne they were trained as psychological psychotherapists for adults in the field of behavior therapy with a license to practice. Further stations led her to clinics (eg Hans-Prinzhorn-Klink in Hemer) and educational practices, and finally to self-employment.

For example, Annika Schwitalla has been working for the Awo counseling center in Meinerzhagen for five years, Alexander Schwitalla in the psychological liaison department of the Märkische Rehabilitation Clinic in Lüdenscheid. Annika and Alexander Schwitalla would have liked to have taken a seat in the cash register, but there is currently an oversupply in the Märkisch district. If a colleague in the MC gives up his practice, you should apply for it. “We keep our eyes open,” say the psychotherapists.

Until then, billing can be done through private health insurance or the services can be paid for yourself, the amount being based on the fee scale for psychotherapists. A 50-minute therapy session costs 100.55 euros.

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