Interview with Susan Baker
What do you think are the main challenges for parents and their children when relocating to a new country? How can you as a psychotherapist help them?
The main challenge for people of any age moving to a new country is also the main opportunity – that of seeing oneself in a new context and being pushed to develop different aspects of oneself, different skills. It can be very stressful when people don’t relate to you in the same way that you were used to at home, when you have no idea how they will react. Each person responds to this stress differently – some with anxiety or fear, some with depression, some with anger, etc. I try to help people understand that this discomfort is temporary. If you stay, you will develop a new niche for yourself, a new comfort zone.
In my practice I often meet with people regarding personal problems they’ve had in the past which are exacerbated by the insecurity and lack of support in a new place. I encourage clients to see this as a creative opportunity. Without all the expectations and unwritten rules of social life at home, you are free to be as you like, to try out new behaviors or coping mechanisms. This allows you to gain new understandings and appreciation of your self and your world.
Do you find that mothers are often more affected by a move than a father and children and if so why?
If the mother is the care taking parent, she may not have the automatic social engagement of work or school and may end up feeling more isolated than her husband or children. Also she faces a very complex and challenging task of trying to protect her children’s well being in a school system that she doesn’t understand.
What advice do you give to women who suffer loneliness and depression as the result of a relocation?
Don’t be hard on yourself if you feel this way. It is not because you are a failure or because your venture is failing. These are normal reactions at first. The key is to use them as an impetus to actively seek out new connections. It could be with an expat group who will know what you are feeling, or with local women who can help you negotiate the new territory. If you don’t speak the language, then language classes are a very helpful start – and a good way to meet others. Also conversational exchange is a great way to get to know local mothers – and there are many people here who want to practice English. Remember, local mothers may be shy at first about how to relate to you, but they will find you interesting because you come with different experiences and perspectives.
Also, keep up contact with friends and family at home!
How much strain can a relocation put on a relationship? How do advise couples to overcome these difficulties?
A relocation puts similar strains on a relationship as would any big project – having a baby, renovating a house, etc. And of course some couples are doing all at once! Each individual will be feeling unsure and wishing that they or their partner knew what to do. It is very easy to take out frustrations on the person nearest to you ‘If only you would… Why did you have to do it that way?’ etc. It helps to remember that the difficulties are not the fault of your partner. Also celebrate small advances or discoveries. Take time for yourselves – go for a walk, have coffee together, and find the humor in the strange situations you encounter.
Do you find that mixed marriages often suffer more? Ie when one partner has moved to the other partners home country?
I would say that mixed marriages have a different set of challenges and opportunities. The newcomer to the culture may feel particularly lonely and the person from here may have a hard time understanding their partner’s insecurities since the way of life here is obvious to them. On the other hand the person from here and their family and friends can offer a ready-made support system. And the newcomer can help the local partner to change and grow by giving them a reason to do things a bit differently.
What are the main emotional problems that you are seeing among young children and teenagers?
Young children coming to a new culture often have an easier time fitting in because they haven’t developed so many expectations of themselves or others – the new environment is just one more thing they are exploring. Their difficulties more likely center on changes (i.e. a new language) at the time they would be reaching a developmental milestone. So it is possible that some of their skills will develop a bit later (but in the end may be more flexible). Teenagers may find the transition more awkward socially and need lots of encouragement and venues for making new friends – such as sports or artistic endeavors.
Are you seeing more incidence of depression among teenagers? If so, why is this and what do you believe is the best way of overcoming it?
I am not finding more depression among teenagers than when I worked in America or when I first came here. To some extent, the drawing inward of mild depression is a natural response to all the internal and external changes of the teen years. It helps if parents keep in mind that this phase will pass – and find support themselves from other parents. However if the teen is completely isolating from others, doesn’t have any moments of good cheer, or if the parents suspect substance abuse, it might be helpful to have an evaluation and get advice from a professional.
Do you commonly work with parents and their children together?
Yes. The child’s behaviors and emotional reactions take place within a system of family rules and interactions. I try to help parents see other options of response so that the problematic behavior becomes less interesting to the child and other more adaptive behaviors are rewarded.
Do you give any practical advice to families who have just relocated abroad?
Make the most of being in a new culture. Learn the language(s). Take time to explore and appreciate the new country and customs. And, most of all, be patient. Adaptation comes in fits and starts. You may be surprised to find out how much better, more relaxed you feel after 6 months, and then again after a year, or 5 years. You have chosen a big adventure by coming to a new country – give yourself credit for how challenging it is and enjoy the learning process.
You use the practice of Kung Fu for some of your sessions. Can you explain in what situations you use it?
I wouldn’t actually use the Kung Fu in a session but it informs my understanding of myself and other people. All our reactions are channeled through our physical bodies. Movement and gesture express both our strengths and our vulnerabilities.
I often recommend exercise as a tool for personal development and change. And the practice of Kung Fu has been essential for me to relieve stress and keep my energy flowing.
You can contact Susan on email@example.com and 629182751http://susanbaker.atspace.eu