Moving country and emotional challenges

December 2021

Expatriation and emotional difficulties

Living in a changing environment, living away from family and friends and constantly challenging our safety and confort zone, our emotional balance is tested.

Working with people who live expatriates by choice or by necessity I see the same pattern repeating itself: People armed with will and desire for what they do, often in a well-paid profession, who at some turning point in their lives bend over and ask desperately aid.

About one in three people will need counselling, psychotherapy or other help as they go through this transition time in their lives and my goal is to accompany them to a safer and happier life.

Bruno Calatano

Who is asking for help?

The people who come to see me, usually move from country to country for a better life mainly professionally and financially but often emotionally too.

This movement is often accompanied by emotional problems such as:

  • family tensions, separation, extramarital affairs

  • anxiety and depression, social phobias

  • burn-out, job loss

  • addictions (alcohol, drugs, electronic games, etc.)

These problems begin with the intense changes that occur in their personal, social and professional lives, and intensify when unresolved issues from the past come to be added to the already burdened list of problems.

Other times they come to help someone of their own, for example their teenage child, who they feel is losing their way in communicating with others, at school or elsewhere.

My experience abroad

I have been living abroad with my family for the past 21 years. I have changed three countries, learnt three languages and adjusted to three different cultures. The challenges were many but I am happy to say that I managed to overcome most of them and finally feel satisfied, contened, strong and proud.

As a consequence I can identify with the people who come to see me and feel the emotional pressure of expatriation at every turning point in their lives:

  • with the social isolation resulting from the absence of friends and relatives

  • to the difficulties and stress of studies, the pressure of exams, a difficult cohabitation

  • a demanding profession that sometimes leads to burnout

  • by adapting to the new culture and civilization

  • with the creation of a family

  • by dealing with health problems, mental and physical, pregnancy or childbirth difficulties

The people who come to see me are usually people who find the courage to recognise that there is a problem but struggle to deal with it on their own.

Expatriation and teenagers

The above problems become more intense in teenagers who go through a demanding phase while understanding their own identity and the world around them. When this world changes then this process becomes more challenging.

According to modern research, 10-20% of children and teenagers suffer from some mental illness. Youth mental illnesses show a 10% increase since 2000 according to recent research [5] [6]. Constant mobility and especially the important emotional challenges associated with it have been identified as factors that accelerate the above developments.


My approach

The first goal I set is to accompany the people in an honest relationship where they can feel safe and not alone. Understanding that there are others who go through the same or similar situations gives them strength and relief.

step 2

During the course of the sessions, the therapeutic relationship gets stronger and the discussions and analysis of their work deeper. As a consequence their self-awareness is improved and their identity, which is often lost is redefined.

This process results in the gradual improvement of their self-confidence, which is a prerequisite for their smooth and effective integration into the new social reality they experience (family, work, studies).

step 3

Creativity, relaxation and trust create an environment where people understand better the new facts of their lives.

The therapeutic power of the reflection 'mirroring' either through their work or through the comments and ecnouragement of the therapist help them rediscover their inner strengths (their strong points and talents) and draw energy to redefine their lives.

How online therapy helps

In particular, online treatment is offered because it "follows" the person since no physical presence is required.

From the safe space of their home with basic painting materials, the therapist as an experienced companion, can act as the young person's lighthouse while moving from a country to another.

It should be noted that there are cases where online treatment is not appropriate, especially when there is a risk to the safety of the person or others around him. The therapist evaluates the conditions and makes the appropriate decisions.

Art therapy groups help a lot in dealing with social isolation!

What I miss from my old life ..., M.K 17 years old, 2018

E.S. 26 years old, What I see from my window

Art therapy uses all the senses, while both sides of the brain are active.

Case study

Eleni, 26 years old, made the decision to move abroad to follow her partner. Without her family and friends, in a country whose language she did not know, she began to live isolated for a long time. This situation soon led her to depression.

When she came to the art therapy group, Eleni had no interest and motivation to do anything, and she could hardly get out of her house. She started the group with the excuse of her art-related studies. At first she was quiet and very withdrawn, listening carefully to others and participating little in the discussions even though the group was very small. But she painted with great concentration and enjoyed the creative process very much.

Little by little Eleni began to trust the group and share with us her difficulties in this new life. Her self-confidence was very low and she lacked identity. Am I worthy to do anything in this place? Can I; She wondered...But she didn't feel alone any more and understood that there were many people in the same position. This gave her strength and courage to continue, while she began to make her first social openings, in principle with people from her own social group.

Creativity, the most interesting element of art therapy, helped her every week to unfold her soul and talent, to improve her self-confidence and to better understand who she is and what she wants in life.

When the depression began to subside, Eleni realised that she finally wanted to seek work on the field of her studies. She realised that her desicion to move to a new country was not only for following her partner, but also for escaping from her previous family and work situation.

Liberated from repressed emotions and situations after a year of art therapy, Eleni began practicing on the area of her studies and spread her wings to fly...

Further reading

  1. Kieling, Baker-Henningham, Belfer, Conti (2011), Child and adolescent mental health worldwide: evidence for action, The Lancet

  2. Meltzer, Gatward, Goodman, Ford (2003), The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents in Great Britain, International Review of Psychiatry

  3. Mok, Webb, Appleby, Pedersen (2016), Full spectrum of mental disorders linked with childhood residential mobility, Journal of PsychIatric Research

  4. Morris , Manley, Northstone, Sabel (2017), How do moving and other major life events impact mental health? A longitudinal analysis of UK children , Health and Place

  5. Oishi, Schimmack (2010), Residential mobility, well-being, and mortality, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

  6. Stubblefield (1955) Children's emotional problems aggravated by family moves, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry

  7. Susukida, Mojtabai, Murcia, Mendelson (2015), Residential mobility and risk of major depressive episode among adolescents in the National Survey on drug use and health, Public Health

  8. Tunstall, Cabieses, Shaw (2012), The characteristics of mobile families with young children in England and the impact of their moves on neighbourhood inequalities in maternal and child health, Health and Place