Contributed by Dr. Jana Jenkins
For most of us the end of each year leads to reflections and evaluations of the past year and thinking about what the new year will bring. This is no different for those of us who emigrated to a different country including myself.
Perhaps you have always dreamt about relocating to a different country and idolised what the ‘new life’ is going to be. On the other hand, your circumstances may have dictated the move which may mean that your move was not necessarily within your control. The latter could make your adjustment to becoming an expatriate more challenging psychologically. However, if you over-idealised the international move, that brings about its own challenges such as language and cultural barriers, leaving the loved ones behind, missing familiarity in multiple contexts and in my case buying a sour milk instead of semi-skimmed!
Adjustment to any life changing events could be stressful and may even lead to clinical depression for some.
Perhaps you are someone who has been putting off therapy for some time and your New Year resolution is to make changes in your life.
I would encourage anyone who can benefit from talking, to give it a try. Everyone and anyone can benefit from therapy, just think of it as a safe space to talk and explore what’s going on for you.
One of the most damaging preconceptions is that therapy is a sign of vulnerability. I always say to my clients that it is the exact opposite, it takes a lot of courage to be in therapy, look at your fears, hopes and discuss your wish to change. Therapy can be helpful for people from all walks of life.
Thinking about entering therapy can feel daunting, especially if you have no previous experience of seeing a therapist. Many questions may surface in your mind, such as “What if I do not like a therapist?, What if they are unable to help?, What if they do not understand or judge me?”
Please be assured that these worries are very common and understandable. Therapists understand and respect that you are letting them into your internal world and you may be a private person who does not find talking about your difficulties and feelings easy. You may feel embarrassment or even experience shame about asking for help and if funding private therapy, feel guilty about spending money on yourself. You may be blaming yourself for ‘not coping’ and feeling ‘overwhelmed’.
Good therapy involves treating you as a unique individual with a therapist helping you to making sense of your difficulties in a collaborative way. It may be helpful to think that you are the expert on your difficulties and how they impact on your life whereas your therapist is an expert on how to identify your needs and help you. In therapy you are an active participant and your motivation for change is important.
Good therapy can also increase your self-awareness and provide you with a better understanding of the causes of your distress and which factors maintain or sustain it. It can also teach you coping strategies to manage your distress and build resilience.
In this process, a good therapeutic relationship is paramount, therefore if you are not comfortable with your therapist, you should not hesitate to choose another therapist you feel more at ease with. My key message is to persevere and find a therapist who can facilitate change.
Another observation that I would like to share with you that sometimes people feel that they do not deserve therapy as they believe that other people are worse off or it is selfish to talk about oneself. What might help you to challenge this belief is to know that human distress lies on a continuum and comparing the intensity of suffering is not helpful.
Many people I meet are initially ambivalent about starting therapy and there are people who “do not believe in therapy”. However, how do you know that therapy is not for you? Understandably, you may have certain preconceptions and feel unsure or even fearful. My advice is to try one session and see how it is for you.
Author: Dr. Jana Jenkins
Dr. Jana Jenkins is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. She runs her private practice in Correze, south west France and works with English and Slovak Speaking expats.
Jana had lived in the UK for 25 years after relocating from Slovakia in her mid twenties and also lived in South Africa before moving to the UK.