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Expat Counseling

Has A Big Move Caused You To Feel Like A Fish Out Of Water?

Are you struggling to adapt to your new life in a different location? Do you feel living as an expatriate is causing you to question your decisions? If so, expat counseling can really help.

photo of luggage with a passport and toy airplane sitting beside it

Many people who have decided to move abroad or across the country feel like they are learning to live all over again, learning how to be an adult from scratch, which can cause a lot of anxiety.

If you moved abroad, you are likely going through a huge culture shock and lifestyle change. It is one of the biggest life transitions you can make. You have to learn where to get food and necessities, learn how to cook, pay bills, do finances and yes even laundry in another country isn’t always easy. It’s like you are starting to be a grown up all over again.

You decided to make a big move to better your life or for your family. Despite knowing you needed to do it or wanted to do it, the reality of moving away from family, friends and the country / place you were born in, might be causing you to feel an anxious and depressed. 

Unlike the ‘perfect images’ of ‘living one’s best life’, the reality is that moving and uprooting your life can lead to depression and a very high level of anxiety, after the fact, and is often a big surprise / shock. The reality of living abroad, is very different from the fantasy of living abroad (or going on a holiday). Expat counseling may just be one of the best investments you could make as part of your transition to living abroad successfully. Thankfully finding an expat therapist is a lot easier than it used to be!

If you moved to help your family back home, you might not realize how important the milestones you are missing out in their lives would be. Or how stressful it actually would be to not know when you would see them next.

Beyond financial freedom and security, there are many reasons why someone may choose to leap to a new country or location. There are many reasons why someone chooses to become an expat. More and more, people are fleeing their home countries or states to remove themselves from the hostility that comes from being who they are. 

Whether it is for religious freedom or staying away from hostility as an LGBTQ+ person, or being an ethnic minority, or for any other reason. Seeking physical and emotional safety often comes at a high price and personal toll. This is never easy.

There are so many unexpected problems (and challenges) that come from living as an expatriate. No matter how prepared you thought you were, your whole world feels flipped upside down. With so many changes, it’s common for an expatriate to feel ungrounded, lost and without direction. 

You know what you were leaving behind wouldn’t be easy to let go of, but you also didn’t expect the expat experience to be so challenging, nor the impact that missing home, family and friends can have. 

Expatriate Challenges Can Cause A Decline In Mental Health

With any new change in life, there is always an adjustment period. It is especially true for those who made a huge life change. 

After the loss of community from moving abroad, many expats commonly experience anxiety or depression. This is very normal, but the over hyped social media (and social media anxiety) perfectly curated lives don’t talk about this reality. These feelings of anxiety and / or depression as well as a decline in one’s mental well-being, happens even if someone moved to keep themselves or their family safe. 

Change is hard. Even change that is wanted, is still change, and change is unsettling for many, especially in the beginning. Getting expat counseling from a trained therapist who specializes in working with expats, can help to jumpstart your new life. 

What Are Some Of The Mental Health Problems Of An Expat?

In addition to anxiety and depression, expatriates often go through other issues that can affect their mental health.

  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Self-Attack/Negative Talk Towards Oneself
  • Highly critical of self
  • Questioning their decisions
  • Doubt
  • Loss of Self-Worth
  • Loneliness
  • Sadness
  • Confusion

We are living in a world where no one is immune from mental health struggles. Especially within the last few years, many people have struggled to overcome these issues. Even though mental health concerns are more widespread, there is hope that your life as an expat can feel more balanced and less overwhelming. And often this is true BUT not always at the beginning.

Benefits Of Counseling For An Expat

No matter who you are, there is always a benefit to counseling. But many people are hesitant to try therapy, especially an expat. Why is this, though?

Among expats, there can be a stigma that exists that you must do this alone. It was your choice to come to a different country or location, you should have known it would be hard. We often don’t want to reach out for support because we feel as if no one will understand, or that we will be judged. 

When I say that I understand the problems with being an expat, I am not just saying that as a therapist. In various stages of my life, I have also been an expat in different countries. Having lived in the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, I have uprooted my life to a new location many times. I have also lived in very different locations within the United States. 

Even from one state to the next, I have experienced a huge culture shock and a different way of living with different value systems than what I grew up with. I understand how beneficial counseling for an expat can be because I have been there myself and I found expat therapy to be invaluable in helping me to make a successful transition to life in a new place.

photo of navy blue trunks sitting on top of each otherThis is even more true when living in a different country than what you are used to. Having to accustom yourself to a new language, new people, and a new culture can be overwhelming and stressful and takes a great deal of energy. Generally speaking, there are four different stages of culture shock that an expat experiences. 

The first stage is known as the honeymoon stage. This is where you experience elation over the new things you see. It’s that breath of fresh air you have longed for. Everything is exciting and new at this stage. 

The second stage is the negotiation stage. It is when the exciting differences you found during your honeymoon stage suddenly become overwhelming, causing you a lot of anxiety, and filling your head and heart with lots of doubt. In particular, at this stage, one can feel like they are in a permanent state of limbo and uncertainty. 

The excitement you felt is dissipating and you suddenly find yourself suffering from extreme homesickness for your old life, friends, and family. 

The third stage is the adjustment one. During this period, everything starts to feel a little more balanced and easy to deal with as you become accustomed to your new life. And this doesn’t happen over night. It requires you to learn the language, culture and customs of your new country / place. For a successfull stage three transition, you need to make friends and establish new routines in your new home. Again, this does take time, but knowing this and successfully being able to navigate this are two different things. 

The fourth and final stage is the adaptation stage, where you finally become used to the new country or state you are in and feel like you have integrated well. At this stage, you are able to live in your new country (which stops feeling so new) while also honoring and celebrating where you have come from. Successfully making it to stage 4 is quite an accomplishment and enriches your life dramatically. 

That being said, unfortunately, many people become stuck between the negotiation and adjustment stages. My goal with expat counseling is to help you transition from feeling overwhelmed to integrating yourself better into this new reality and to grow as a human being in the process. My goal when providing therapy for expats is to help expats learn life-long skills of resilience. 

In expat counseling, I use many approaches to help expats with the transitions they are facing. My bread-and-butter approach to counseling is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT.) This approach looks at how our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all connected and influence one another. I will also use Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), which helps people learn how to generate feelings of support and soothing no matter what is happening in their lives as well as life coaching to focus on developing a medium to long term plan for designing your ideal life. 

With counseling for expats, I love to help my clients find ways to get through the adjustment changes that come with this way of living and thrive in ways they didn’t know were possible. Whether that is through meditation, going out in nature more, connecting with loved ones back home online, or remembering to celebrate both their own home culture of birth as well as the newly adopted culture that they chose to be a part of. 

As an expat therapist, I want to help you feel more at ease and better equipped to deal with the culture shock that this move has caused you and help improve your mental health as an expat by helping you find ways to ease yourself into a different culture, no matter how long you may be there. After all, wherever you are, there you are and your life keeps going, right? 

There is no “one way” to integrate well into a new location or country. Instead, it is what is best for you, not what other people expect. Although the stages of culture shock are similar for many people, the actual, individual experience is still very unique and this is why getting tailored expat counseling that fits your life, your personality and your circumstances is critical.

photo of a map with polaroid photos sitting on top of itExpat Counseling Can Help You Grow And Heal As A Person

There is nothing wrong with you, please know that struggling in the early / middle stages of being an expat is perfectly normal. It is very common to feel overwhelmed by the expat experience. It would be more surprising if you didn’t feel this way, after all, changing your entire routine, life, culture, identity even, is hard work. However, please know this,  you can come out of this on the other side and thrive. To be an even better person than you were before.

Feel free to reach out to my Honolulu or London office if you are ready to learn more about how expat counseling can help you.

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