Cultural Transitions Counseling

Each of us shines in a different way, but this doesn’t make our light any less bright. 
-Albert Einstein

  • When I first got here from the Midwest, I was so excited. I don’t know what changed. Somehow I don’t feel quite like myself. I just don’t “get” LA and its lifestyle.
  • I moved to LA for my career and it’s going great, except I just can’t connect with the people here.
  • I couldn’t wait go back to my hometown for a visit. I thought I’d finally feel “at home” again. But, seeing how different things were there, I felt like a stranger all over again.
  • I moved to Los Angeles to marry an American citizen. Though we love each other, our cultural differences are having a negative impact on our marriage.
  • I wish I could talk to someone who understand my experience and would help me figure out how I fit and where I belong.

If any of the above statements resonate with you, you are not alone. As a multi-cultural and multi-lingual therapist, I understand that leaving your home, extended family, culture and country is a major life-changing event. Whether your move is temporary or permanent, a welcome change or one brought on by circumstance, cultural transition and adjustment is complex and takes time. It doesn’t matter if you had previously visited Los Angeles or not, or if you’ve moved from another state or halfway across the world. It often doesn’t matter if have spoken English all your life or if you are just learning English; acculturation is challenging!

Initially, after a relocation, many people experience a “Honeymoon” phase. They often feel a sense of excitement about moving to a new city and being in Los Angeles with all it has to offer. Curiosity and interest in the novelty of the new surroundings as well an appreciation of new opportunities are typically at the forefront during this time.

However, this phase often changes to a more distressing experience known as a “culture shock.” During this phase, one is more acutely aware of and affected by the difference between one’s home culture and the new culture. “Culture shock” is not simply feeling homesickness. Rather, it involves a mixture of emotions that stem from the attempt to deal with the new culture’s practices and values. This phase is a normal part of the extensive acculturation process, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

During this phase of cultural transition, you might be:

  • Feeling lonely, isolated, anxious sad, and/or angry
  • Feeling out of sync, as though you don’t belong
  • Having difficulty making new friends and “dating”
  • Feeling frustrated about not being able to understand subtle verbal & non-verbal communication
  • Frustrated over the lack of outside recognition of your previous personal and professional accomplishments
  • Aware of significant differences in gender roles and expectations
  • Anxious over your immigration status and naturalization process
  • Disappointed that your family doesn’t understand how you have changed since being in L.A.
  • Experiencing some physical ailments and discomfort (e.g., stomach aches, muscle tension)
  • Feeling disconnected from peers and colleagues

If You Are Struggling With These Issues and/or Others Like Them, You Are Not Alone

It can be helpful to talk to a multi-cultural professional who understands the struggle you are going through. As you grieve what you have left behind and enter this new stage of your life, it is important that you can feel supported as you gradually adjust to your major life change. In culturally sensitive psychotherapy, we can explore your cultural identity, address the meaning of “home” and foster a sense of belonging. Together, we can transform this time of emotional upheaval into an opportunity to build bridges between your culture-of-origin and the culture you have joined, without making you feel pressured to choose one or the other. Taking this path could lead to a greater sense of adaptation and comfort in being bicultural (or, for some, being multicultural). Cultural transitions counseling can enhance your sense of confidence, “belonging”, maturity, flexibility, and tolerance.

Cross-Cultural Relationships and Marriages Are More Common Today Than Ever Before

If you and your partner come from different cultural backgrounds, cultural differences may contribute to your growth as a human being, while the blending of your diverse experiences enriches your relationship. However, over time, obstacles unique to cross-cultural relationships can often arise. For example, a language barrier can become a real block in one’s ability to express most intimate thoughts and feelings as well as fully understanding the nuances of the partner’s verbal and non-verbal communication. Just because you speak English doesn’t mean you think in English.

There are significant cultural differences in the way people express (if express, at all!) feelings of shame, guilt, dependency, or anger. Culturally sensitive couple therapy could help you and your partner better understand the different ways you each express feelings and emotional experiences, and how those experiences may have different meanings to each of you. You could learn how to cope more effectively with the cultural differences between you and your partner, and to appreciate each other’s subjective viewpoint from a cross-cultural perspective.

With Cultural Transition Therapy, You Can Become a Truly Multicultural Person

Another phase in a cross-cultural transition is a “Reverse Culture Shock,” which is usually the least expected part of the acculturation process. Though you have been feeling more adapted to the new culture, when you return back to your home culture, you may temporarily feel like a “foreigner” in your own home town and even in your family. It may lead to new conflicts, dilemmas and feelings of confusion. It may evoke the feeling that you don’t belong anywhere, that you are a “homeless” or a 21st century “nomad.”

In a cross-cultural counseling, your “journey” would gradually lead to the phase of “Adaptation.” As we would address the challenges and feelings you have been struggling with, you could begin moving toward becoming a “bicultural” or, even “multicultural” person. You can better appreciate the similarities and the differences between your home culture and the new culture. It is quite rewarding and liberating to be able to appreciate the complexity of both cultures and their contribution to your life. During this phase, people often feel a renewed sense of self-confidence, personal enrichment and, excitement about new challenges and possibilities. With help, support and time, you can feel like a whole, complete person again.

Please feel free to email me or call me at (310) 277-4305 for more information about cross-cultural counseling and to schedule an appointment. I’m looking forward to speaking with you. In addition to English, I speak Spanish, Hebrew and Russian.