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Coping with the stress of coming to a new country

Immigration can be a stressful experience, with change of cultural values, lack of support from extended family and changing financial situation. It also causes changes in gender roles. Before things turn worse, people often benefit from some counselling.
The names of the patients in the case histories below have been withheld to protect privacy.

A 22-year-old recent immigrant found it difficult to adjust. He felt very uncomfortable speaking in front of others at school, continuously thinking about how others perceived him or viewed his appearance or his accent. He was convinced they judged him in a negative light and this caused intense periods of loneliness. He worried incessantly about his ability to procure a job or his ability to develop intimate relationships. Being in a new country – facing new sociocultural situations, changing family dynamics after immigration, parents struggling to get a foot-hold in this new environment and more frequent conflicts in the family faced with an uncertain future – added to the stress. Dr. Biswas used mainly cognitive behavioural therapy for him, and helped him to identify and challenge his negative cognitions and assumptions and develop adaptive thought processes and behaviours.

A 19-year-old girl approached Dr Biswas for help with frequent conflicts at home. Coming from a conservative and conventional South-Asian family, she found it difficult to adjust to the rules at home. She viewed them as excessively strict compared to what her friends had at their homes and said she was forced to revolt against regulations imposed by her family members. The conflict became stronger day by day. She displayed severe temper tantrums and harboured suicidal thoughts. Weekly counselling sessions were conducted. Allowed to speak openly in the sessions, she felt validated, respected and heard. Through role play she was made more aware to her family’s concerns. She was taught assertiveness skills where she learned to express her views in a positive way rather than resorting to temper tantrums. Some sessions with the family were also conducted to explore and understand their concerns. Dr. Biswas then discussed healthy parenting skills and conflict resolution strategies.

A South Asian couple came to Dr Biswas for marital therapy to deal with their deteriorating relationship. Happily married for 15 years, they immigrated for a better future. But things didn’t work for them as expected. From being the successful homemaker in India, the wife had to work here in order to make both ends meet. This led to severe household conflicts as the husband was not used to this life-style. Gradually the conflicts started worsening, leading to trust issues. The husband started thinking that his wife was having an affair with someone at work, the wife vehemently denied the allegation. The situation worsened and the children started suffering. Dr. Biswas started couple counselling. Weekly sessions were conducted for 10 -12 weeks and they were helped to develop healthy communication strategies and address their negative cognitions towards each other.
– Shipra Chaudhury

Posted: Feb 1, 2012

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