Expatriates—more commonly known as expats can be included as part of the diaspora because expats dwell in countries outside of their homeland and/or country of citizenship. This matters in counseling because expats may want to discuss, explore, and/or require support for matters concerning their unique biopsychosocial-spiritual needs.
Biologically, expats may initially have to adjust to a time zone difference—which can obviously disrupt: mealtime, leisure, work, and sleep rhythms. Additionally, if expats move from a more urban, populated place to a more rural, less populated place and vice versa, expats must adjust to cultural norms of the area—from transportation to holiday hours and closures. Suffice to state: biological rhythms and cultural norms do not stand alone—each biopsychosocial-spiritual-cultural component affects the other(s).
For example, even if an expat seeks counseling following biological, geographical, and workplace adjustment, an expat may acutely experience social adjustment and support network issues as the expat’s loved ones may be living elsewhere—thus they are likely dealing with time zone differences too. So, while the expat may be forming new collegial supports at work, new friendships in the community, and keeping in touch with loved ones far away, the person who is an expat may experience homesickness in addition to a lack of local social support as their deepest, strongest, and longest-lasting social connections may reside with loved ones abroad.
Lack of social support is a stressor. Stress can be a risk factor and expats experience stress. Common stressors for expats can include: relocation, moving, housing, transportation, visa and residency requirements, culture shock, language and/or dialect barriers, conversions (currency, temperature, mileage, etc.), locations, inclement weather procedures, loneliness, isolation, social, psychological, faith and/or spiritual support. Therefore, since most people have moved before, the counselor can typically draw on their own moving and new location stress experiences in order to empathize with expat stressors.
Empathy is a wonderful foundation in the professional counseling alliance! From there, the counselor and expat client may discuss the expat’s experiences, values, challenges, and surprises which can inform a supportive, co-created treatment plan. Naturally, the expat’s treatment plan with include objectives and goals to be reviewed and adjusted as needed—with particular attention to screen for other issues (such as anxiety or depression) which may arise from stress or may already be symptomatically present.
No matter what country an expat may come from and no matter the counselor’s personal moving experience, empathy is an essential element for supporting, treating, and caring for clients who are expats.
Darby J. Koogler is a graduate counseling intern, writer, former teacher, and hopeful international school counselor. darbyjkoogler.wordpress.com