Therapy for Immigrants

Therapy for Immigrants, Expats, and International Students

Are you new to the Bay Area? Feeling confused about who you are? Having trouble fitting in? Unsure how to connect with others? Finding it hard to get your point across or to understand people around you? Homesick? 

Immigrating to a new country can be exciting but at times also causes difficulties. Leaving everything behind that you know for the Bay Area may have been a dream-come-true initially, but is now causing you trouble. If this sounds like you, then psychotherapy may help. 

I have helped many immigrants over the years, including international students, professionals here on temporary work visas, and permanent residents.

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What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock can be thought of as a psychological experience where you feel a mixture of strong  emotions when suddenly encountering unfamiliar cultures.

Culture shock happens when immigrating to new countries, but it can also happen when changing any living situation. Many people in the Bay Area have come here from different parts of the country and are likely to experience some form of culture shock upon arriving here. That is, the cultural difference between the Bay Area and Detroit, for instance, can bring about just as intense feelings of culture shock as an international migration might.

Culture shock specifically refers to the negative emotional aspects of encountering  novel cultures. There is often excitement and an appreciation for new cultures that is not encompassed in this definition. Culture shock specifically refers to when the differences between cultures is experienced as sudden, overwhelming, uncomfortable and has a component of morning.

If this sounds familiar you are probably experiencing culture shock.

Is it a problem?

Not necessarily. Culture shock can be short-lived and often not much more than a nuisance. However for some people, and in some situations culture shock can be a real problem. It can interfere with relationships, job performance, and psychological and emotional well-being.

Culture shock becomes a problem when it interferes with your relationships, job, or causes depression, anxiety, or other emotional problems.

When culture shock is enduring, this usually indicates that there is a larger problem that needs to be addressed. The culture shock may be bringing about issues that have been dormant or haven’t been fully addressed. Issues of loss, belonging, and identity often get stirred up when experiencing culture shock. These feelings can be very overwhelming and poorly understood by friends and family.

Indeed, they may lack the experience to relate with you. Thus feelings of loneliness are common.

If this is something you think you might be struggling with, please contact me. I specialize in helping people like you adapt to the feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and depression associated with culture shock.


Signs you may be feeling Culture Shock:

  • You feel like others have special knowledge that you do not have.
  • You feel that others make cultural references you do not understand.
  • Procedures for etiquette are foreign to you.
  • You feel strong negative feelings about your host country.
  • You feel strong negative feelings about your country of origin.
  • You feel misunderstood and angry.
  • You only spend time with people from you country of origin. 


When culture shock is a problem?

Feelings of fear and confusion can  be signs that you are experiencing culture shock, and to some degree can be viewed as normal. However, culture shock becomes a problem when it interferes with your ability to work/or be in school, form and/or maintain relationships, or causes you personal distress.

Failing to adapt to your new culture has consequences that can interfere with emotional well being. This is not to say that you must discard your cultural heritage in favor of the new host culture. On the contrary you must find ways of integrating your cultural identity to give space to both cultures.

Forming and maintaining relationships are important to your mental health, and if you are worried that culture shock may be affecting your abilities to make these connections please contact me.

Returning Home


Repatriates and Reverse Culture Shock

Culture shock can be experienced when returning home too. When you feel overwhelmed, distressed, and shocked by cultural differences upon returning to your country of origin, this is referred to as reverse culture shock. Feeling disconnected with the cultural norms that were once so familiar to you but are now bizarre and foreign can be alarming.  After living abroad, foreign cultures can become more comfortable or familiar than the ones you came from. Upon returning to your original country of origin this adaptation to the new culture presents itself as an acute awareness of the cultural differences between the two places. For some this brings a profound sense of loss. What was once familiar takes on a new light, and may even be experienced as exotic. 

If you have just returned from living abroad and are struggling with not-fitting-in feelings, or are overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, please contact me. I have helped many people cope with such feelings .


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