'Bottle of warm beer' more effective than psychotherapy? German official sparks outrage

A German health official said that "a psychotherapist is not needed next to every citizen" and that sometimes a beer "is enough." Michaela Rehle / Reuters

By Andy Eckardt, Producer, NBC News

Mainz, GERMANY -- A German health official has sparked controversy by suggesting that a "bottle of warm beer" can sometimes be more effective than psychotherapy.

Josef Hecken, chairman of the body which decides what treatments are offered by the country's statutory health system, was quoted as saying he believes a brew can heal mild "occasional problems" such as sleep disorders.

Hecken added that "a psychotherapist is not needed next to every citizen" and that sometimes a beer "is enough."

His comments were recorded in official notes taken during the meeting with German health insurers, according to Spiegel Online and Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Dieter Best, chairman of the German association of psychotherapists, described Hecken's comments as "unspeakable." He said the remarks had triggered a "protest letter" being circulated among psychotherapists.

According to Spiegel Online, the letter read: "You trivialize and ignore the needs of our patients with your bottle of beer metaphor, and subtly stigmatize people with severe psychiatric disorders."

In the wake of the criticism, Hecken issued a statement in which he called his remarks "unfortunate."

"I ... know and am aware, that there are significant interdependencies between alcohol consumption and psychological diseases, which are documented in studies," he said. "That is why the last thing I want to do is to trivialize psychological diseases or to even describe alcohol consumption as an appropriate alternative for psychotherapeutic treatment."

The health official also suggested that his remarks were "capable of being misunderstood."

Hecken added: "What I rather wanted to address, is the circumstance, that I, as a private person, do not regard every indisposition, such as occasional problems to fall asleep, as a pathologic condition that requires treatment, but that sometimes the old home cure of a bottle of warm beer helps me."