Archive for January 9, 2019

Psikoterapist Gocmen’in izlenimleri

Maryana Harrelson’un web sitesinden ( gocmenlik ve adaptasyon sureci uzerine bir yazi…

The Stages of Immigrant Adaptation

This article contains valuable information concerning the stages of the adaptation process for immigrants and recommendations for maintaining a healthy state of mind during the immigration process. I hope this article will give you some ideas of what to expect when you immigrate to a different country and how to make the adaptation process smoother.

There are many articles on this topic that you can find on the internet, but I would like to explain this process based on my own immigration experience.

Here is some history about me. I moved to the USA from Ukraine three years ago to reunite with my husband who is American. I was 38 with a successful career, deep professional experience, and great confidence in my skills. By the way, I previously had been in the USA for my internship in the psychotherapy field. My English, at the time of my immigration, was adequate. Thus, I thought it would not be very difficult to find a job in my field, and I would adjust relatively quickly. Well, my expectations were not met. My first two years of immigration felt like the most difficult time period in my life.  It took two and a half years to get approval for my credentials, receive my license as a psychotherapist, and attain my first position in the field. I must say, however, that this was a short time compared to others who have immigrated to other countries.

The first stage of the adaptation process is known as the Honeymoon, which usually lasts from a few days to a few months.  During my first two months in the USA I felt wonderful. It feels like you are on a vacation. Everything seems new, interesting, and pleasant. I was curious to learn more about the people and places in my new environment. After the long exhausting visa process, packing and traveling it seemed like everything was possible and I was about to conquer the world. I loved the place, the weather, my new home, meeting new people – everything. I was full of enthusiasm.

After Honeymooncomesthesecond stage – Beginning of Disappointment.Here people usually become aware that they will have more of what feels like a battle to find their place under the sun. Immigrants become aware that nobody waited for them with “bread and salt”, and nothing will just fall them from the sky.  People come to understand all the challenges they will have to face in order to be successful and accepted in a new society. Immigrants often meet bias and prejudices from locals, which makes it difficult to find employment. Your social status and career achievements do not mean as much in a new country as it did in the old.  Almost every new immigrant would be required to build his/her career from zero while accepting any kind of job he or she can find. The job may very much depend on the proficiency level with the new language, and very little on the individual’s education and skill set.  Thus an immigrant usually becomes disappointed, anxious, and depressed.  An immigrant looses his/her identity based on status and achievement because they find themselves in a new situation where prior achievements are not so valued. Many are isolated because of the language barrier. This stage is especially difficult for older adults and for those who have high, or sometimes unrealistic, expectations, and who have already achieved something in their careers and formed their professional identities in another culture. 

Of course, I also had to experience and face this stage, and it was a very painful and scary period of my life. I had to work in a job which did not reflect any of my experience, education or professional skills – simply to earn some money.

Feelings of disappointment, depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction and uncertainty may bring you down even more, burn your energy and create a closed circle of negative feelings.  In my situation, the dissatisfaction also created intense motivation. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to do what I love and what I am good at – being a therapist and helping others, and I was very determined to get to that point of success. So, I did! I will tell you how in the next paragraphs!

Next stage is Orientation. People begin to understand how the system works. They seek information, make new acquaintances and friends. At the same time, they may still suffer chronic stress from the challenges of overcoming the problems. Cultural shock is at its peak during this stage. Going through the challenges of adaptation, immigrants often think about going back to where they came from. They feel a dislike for locals, their traditions, food, the cultural differences and other things related to the new country and as a result begin to idealize their own culture and country.  Nevertheless, many decide to stay and find internal strength not only to survive but to overcome the challenges.

There are a few things that are essential for successful adaptation during this stage. It is very important to seek information on what you need to do in order to achieve your personal and professional goals, learn the language and cultural aspects, learn how the social and legal system works, and build a social support system that will help you, as an immigrant, to receive the necessary support, emotional relief and assistance with the adjustment process that you need. 

During my orientation phase, I studied and practiced English every single day by taking ESL classes and studying at home and at work. The negative feelings I had from working at the unloved job motivated me even more. I told myself over and over: “This is just a temporary job, just a step which will help me to get to where I want to be; thus I need to get from it as much as I can.” So I used every free minute at work and home to study and practice my English, to learn about the culture, and to communicate and network. I also hired a tutor to improve my pronunciation. I met and made new friends, mostly other immigrants from my culture, through social networks which gave me tremendous support and a feeling of belonging. I have been administering a facebook group for immigrants organizing meet ups for people from my culture which became a great source of information and support for me and other participants.

Next stage is Overcoming Depression. During this phase people usually take more active steps to adapt. Immigrants begin to feel better emotionally which creates positive energy for overcoming difficulties. They also study the language intensively, make new friends, and adapt more quickly. People begin to see things around them in a more positive, yet realistic way. They once again begin to like being in the new country and become even more interested in its people and culture. People stress out less and feel more comfortable in the new country.

I began communicating more with Americans and learning about their habits, traditions, attitudes, styles, characters, and cultural aspects. I am still in the process of learning and making adjustments where needed. 

Truthfully, I used every possibility to support myself while going through the painful adaptation process and you should too. I cannot even imagine what I would go through without my individual therapy.  Also, I created a couple of professional consultation groups to support my professional identity. I started to network with professionals in my field and consulted with them. I found therapists-immigrants who came through a similar process and who helped me to understand what steps I needed to take to be able to work as a therapist. I read tons of information on the Internet and in forums for immigrants to understand the process for evaluating my education, and what I may need to prove my professional status. And I got my payback. My professional career developed through a shortcut. I did not have to go to University to redo an education that I already have, which many immigrants do because of their fears, insecurity, and simple not being aware of other options and other ways. I worked diligently to receive my license in counseling. My American career as a Licensed Professional Counselor began working in the field providing therapy to children and families, people in recovery from alcohol and drug addictions and working with immigrants assisting them in adaptation process.

Action Stage is the last stage of adaptation which is characterized by proactive thinking, planning, determined actions and the role immigrants take to successfully integrate into a new society. People grow rapidly in the professional, cultural and communication aspects of their adjustment. Immigrants are almost fully adapted and feel much better emotionally, less vulnerable and safe. Their identities are almost formed within a new culture. The time required to arrive at this stage depends on how flexible and adjustable an individual is, as well as their adequate level of realistically optimistic expectations. The adaptation process is stressful and painful for everyone, but it also brings a person enormous personal growth and opens new possibilities for much more.

Successful psychological adjustment means the ability to change and adapt to a new situation. Some people adjust more quickly than others – internally developing the abilities, psychological strengths and flexibility. Psychotherapy, individual and/or group, is a great resource for developing the ability to adjust, gathering support and overcoming the stress of the adaptation process.

Personally, I had to work very much to make my way to this stage. I had to fight my own personal demons including unrealistic expectations, being impatient, and relearning how to value myself in my new environment. My prior method of valuing myself upon my external status and achievements led to lower self-confidence in an environment where I had yet to prove myself to myself or to others. My own therapy process assisted me greatly in this endeavor and made this process easier than it otherwise would have been. I am currently in this action stage, after three years of immigration, where each day brings new and exciting possibilities along with personal and professional growth on a daily basis, including my successful and thriving private practice.

Maryana Harrelson, MA, LPC