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The Road to Resilience: How Immigrants Adapt with Support from our Counseling Center

Change is a challenge to everyone. The first thing refugees and other immigrants encounter in America is change. Every day they face critical adjustments like learning a new language, adapting to new cultural norms, adjusting to different weather and food, and so much more. These changes vary from physical to social to personal. 
 
Those who have fled chaos or conflict often carry the invisible weight of trauma as they navigate all of this change. Our counseling team understands this ongoing internal war and serves as a vital resource, offering both emotional support and practical guidance. Read on to learn more about each of these change-areas and see examples of how we’ve helped people see and accept change so they can connect with themselves, God and the community. 

Environmental Change

Physically, refugees and other immigrants are removed from their known land to an unknown land that is different and, in many ways, opposite from what they were used to. These changes include weather, surroundings, facilities, food. Even driving on different sides of the road! Socially, the way of life is different. For instance, greetings. In some countries, proper greetings are vital and involve vigorous hand-shaking, bowing, kneeling or squatting. In other countries it involves hugging and cheek-kissing but never with the opposite sex. Prolonged enquiries on someone’s wellbeing is part of many greetings. American-style greetings by comparison can feel superficial.

The change of customs, language and other elements of the environment can be paralyzing. Our team navigated this stress with one person named *Naomi.

Naomi Adapts

Naomi was feeling overwhelmed and hopeless because of culture shock and difficulties adjusting to life in the US. On top of that, she was stressed about paying her rent. Various departments shared with us that she often cried and struggled with basic tasks.

Now, she’s regularly attending counseling where she’s learning to navigate challenges by acknowledging her emotions while also considering her rational thoughts. This enables her to gain perspective, prioritize what’s important, and make thoughtful decisions. In addition, Naomi has since found a job that pays a living wage, bought a car, and is working on getting her driver’s license. As she recognizes her achievements, her feelings of overwhelm and hopelessness are fading, replaced by hope and joy.

Identity and Status Change

In addition to the basic environmental changes, many refugees and immigrants must cope with the fact that before they become anything in America they feel they have to become “nothing.” They do not have the luxury to choose the job they want or do not want.  Though they are safe from physical harm or other difficult situations in their home country now, they face a different part of the survival challenge: regaining their sense of personhood and purpose.

Some people have skills that are highly valuable and sought after in their countries but seem invalid or don’t transfer into the American context. For instance, a refugee who was a doctor in his home country must settle for something else or go through a painstaking process to regain his or her career in the US. An Afghan woman whose pride was in her homemaking skills must adjust to the reality that her husband’s income is likely not sufficient and she will need to work outside the home.

We are walking with one client named *Alejandro through this process.

Alejandro Pursues Stability

Alejandro recently shared feelings of frustration and overwhelm. He is struggling to make ends meet by paying rent for his family, let alone having the space to pursue his goals of further education and a fulfilling career. His counselor guided him to understand that adjustment takes time. Together, they examined his journey through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Currently, he’s focused on stabilizing his life by ensuring his family’s basic needs for safety, shelter, and food are met. He’s also dedicating himself to learning English.

Once these fundamental needs are addressed, he’ll have the capacity to pursue higher aspirations like returning to school and exploring new career paths. Alejandro expressed a profound sense of relief, thanking his counselor for fostering kindness and patience within himself throughout this process.

The Invisible Load

Counselors understand that refugees and other immigrants carry more than the physical weight of their luggage when they arrive. We are aware of the invisible load they carry and of all that our clients have left behind. While they want to live in the present, some are haunted by their past lives. They are here but they are not fully detached from the instability in their home countries. This separation from family takes a toll. Some experience feeling guilty for being safe while their loved ones are not. Many experience emotional distress while exhibiting signs of depression, anxiety and PTSD.

We walked with a client named *Jasmin through some of these challenges.

Jasmin Experiences Healing

Jasmin was referred to us due to experiencing intense post-traumatic symptoms, such as feeling constantly on edge, struggling to focus, and experiencing flashbacks triggered by loud noises at work. These symptoms made it impossible for her to sleep or even go to work.

She is now engaged in weekly therapy sessions, where she has learned to understand the origins of her symptoms and how to manage them. As a result, her sleep has significantly improved, and she has been able to return to work. While her symptoms still arise occasionally, they are no longer as frightening now that she has learned to understand and cope with them.

Conclusion

We hope this has illustrated some challenges and changes refugees and other immigrants overcome, and how our counseling team journeys with them. By promoting psychological well-being and providing tools for successful integration, counseling plays a crucial role in helping immigrants build fulfilling lives in their adopted countries.

*names changed for privacy

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