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Culture

Family Counseling on the Rise in Germany

Today's International Day of Families is not a reason to celebrate for everyone: An increasing number of German families are seeking professional advice to cope with problems they face in their daily lives.

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Things aren't always quite as idyllic.

Family counseling centers are not a new phenomenon. In Germany, the first ones opened more than 70 years ago. The center run by the city of Cologne for example has been in business for three quarters of a century. It's focus areas and methods have changed significantly over the years.

"Years ago, we functioned more like a repair shop," said Jürgen Zimmermann-Höreth, who directs the center in Cologne. "Parents or teachers came, 'dropped off' a child and said: 'Now do something and change things.' Today, it's the family as a whole that's seeking help. Parents tell us: 'We have a problem that also affects our children.'"

No longer a taboo

Even fathers, who avoided seeking help in the past, have shown more willingness to visit a center. But the number of single mothers in need of advice grew at the same time, Zimmermann said. Altogether, about 8,300 families came to the Cologne center last year.

Problems span from insecurities about raising children to problems in school and the threat of a family breaking apart.

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"Divorce and post-divorce problems have increased significantly," Zimmermann said, adding that visitation rights are often a difficult subject.

Families seeking help come from all walks of life, according to the expert. While people were embarrassed to admit their problems in the past, it's become more acceptable over the years.

Financial problems top the list

Apart from divorce, unemployment and financial problems top the list of reasons why people come to see Zimmermann and his colleagues.

"Whether there's a lot of money or very little, the financial situation is often the biggest reason for fights between parents," he said. Children's performance in school is closely related to that since parents themselves feel the pressure to excel in their careers and pass this on to their children, Zimmermann added. Multicultural families form another group of clients that is on the rise. About 40 percent of those couples visiting Zimmermann come from different cultural backgrounds. Just like German families, they often have exaggerated expectations of a perfect family that are modelled after TV commercials.

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