Life can be stressful, we get that. Whether it’s adjusting to a new culture, maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse or getting your kids through their emotional teenage years (while still working a 9 to 5!), you (or someone you know) may have reached breaking point and need to seek some help. We spoke to professionals from four counselling services about the common issues expats face and the treatment options available.
Counsellor, Psychotherapist and Director at Aspire Counselling
Cultural identity crisis
Moving into an unknown culture can be a confusing, stressful and frustrating experience for both adults and children as they are suddenly made to adapt to a new way of life or set of values. Being far away from home and without family support can also create stresses of their own. Culture shock can cause symptoms like extreme homesickness, an abnormal change in appetite and depression.
You can attend individual, couple or family therapy where counsellors can help you develop coping strategies for cultural adjustment issues. They can also assist you with any other underlying or coexisting issues such as marital strain or mood disorders.
Issues in a marriage can develop or become more pronounced during cultural adjustment periods. Both partners are experiencing high levels of stress as they get accustomed to the new environment, roles, cultural expectations and jobs. Excessive travel, loss of former careers and long work hours can add to daily frustrations of beginning a new life, creating temptation, loneliness, resentment and sparking arguments between spouses.
You can go for individual or couple counselling sessions where counsellors can provide a framework for you to work through difficulties.
Isolation and loneliness
Living in a foreign community and being away from friends and family, expats are likely to struggle with loneliness. It’s easy to feel isolated, particularly when there are language barriers and cultural differences.
Counsellors will help you examine the causes of loneliness and develop your capability to be comfortable alone. Being alone is different from being lonely – one can feel lonely in a group of people but be content by one’s self. They’ll also strategise with you in the creation of social relations such as researching local customs and rehearsing social interactions, and teach relaxation techniques to reduce social anxiety.
Accidents are not the sole cause of trauma; serious conflicts and daily stressors can cause psychological trauma too. Symptoms include muscle agitation, feelings of fear and helplessness, nightmares, a heightened awareness of danger, a fractured self-concept, and a loss of meaning in one’s life.
Counselling will involve increasing knowledge of self, circumstances and others, improving tolerance to negative experiences and development of skills to make better choices. Techniques include Talk Therapy to explore the trauma and develop acceptance, Meditation to regain a sense of control, and Exposure Therapy to deal with the fear.
Director and Counsellor at Fernhill Consultancy Pte Ltd
Having a baby is a challenging, life changing experience – especially for the new mum and dad living away from their home country. In the first few weeks after birth, most mothers experience emotional changes. Expat mums can be particularly vulnerable as they lack social support from close family and friends. Factors that trigger serious depression include sleep deprivation, marital problems and prior history of depression.
Post-natal depression may be prevented from by attending antenatal classes and being well informed about the symptoms of depression before the baby arrives. If you are feeling miserable after the baby is born, tell your partner and family, ask for help and consult a therapist or a doctor. Make sure you get enough sleep and use relaxation techniques to manage anxiety.
Common underlying causes of workplace stress among expats in Singapore are cultural differences in attitudes to work, gender, responsibility and promotion. These differences in personality and behaviour traits lead to misunderstanding, resentment and conflict that can cause adjustment difficulties and loss of self-confidence.
You could attend individual or couple therapy sessions to gain insight, new communication skills and support from your partner. Also, workplace mediation sessions are useful to improve communication and defuse conflict.
Ho Shee Wai
Director & Registered Psychologist at The Counselling Place
Teen behavioural issues
The teenage years are a time of identity formation and they can be difficult for expat teens who may find it hard to fit into their new cultural environment. Parents can often be unaware or brush aside their losses of friendship and stability that may run deep. To cope, teens may resort to self harm such as cutting or putting themselves in other danger.
Teens can undergo individual psychotherapy that provides a safe space to discuss feelings and develop management strategies. Other options include group therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy to manage emotions and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing to reduce trauma.
Expats face many unknowns in their lives – what their new home will be like, if they’ll make friends; the list goes on. Minds run wild and create worst-case scenarios, causing anxiety – and worry that is too intense or frequent can affect happiness and even physical health.
Undergoing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy will help you better control your feelings. Acceptance Commitment Therapy can also help in letting go of unwanted thoughts, accepting the struggle and taking action. Relaxation techniques as well as medication can also be used.
Looking for more on mental health? Read more at our Health & Fitness section.