Immigration and National Identity

This is an interview I gave to a Romanian magazine:

Q: What are the problems that immigrants come to you with?

A: In general, feelings arising from loss and dislocation. Loss, because they are usually struggling to come to terms with losing the relative comfort and familiarity of the place in which they grew up. Dislocation, because they are often feel isolated, lost and unable to cope with making their life work here. Even the most basic things of life, not just the big things such as work and relationships, can become a source of anxiety. This is often connected to the difficulty of living and working in a foreign language, which can be particularly painful and disturbing for some. The original dream of a better life here in the sun of Spain can quickly turn into a nightmare. Some immigrants over-assimilate and need to reconnect with their home culture, others under-assimilate and need to work on becoming more actively engaged with local culture, e.g., by learning the language.

Q: Do they face depression?

A: Depression is a common symptom. Some people leave the lives they had before in the hope that it will help them get over their depression. However, their mental health difficulties do not take long to resurface here, usually after the sense of being on holiday has gone away. For others, for whom depression (usually mild) has arisen because of their lives here, some work in therapy often quite quickly helps them feel better.

Q: What is the therapy for them?

A: I can only tell you about my approach. I offer people a safe and confidential space to talk about what is bothering them, to talk at their own pace, openly and honestly exploring and reflecting upon both the origins and possible solutions to their difficulties. This might be time-limited or on-going individual therapy or group therapy. If it seems that some form of medication might help them make better use of the therapy, I will refer the person to an English speaking psychiatrist here.

Q: Have you had many Romanians in therapy?  What are their specific problems?

A: Although I have worked with people from over 30 different countries, I have only had one Romanian client. As I’m sure you know and understand, I cannot go into detail about her specific problems. I have also had a number of Romanian students. One of the issues I have noticed is connected to feelings around not being welcome here, often on the basis of deeply entrenched stereotypes or ignorance of Romanian people and their history. Whilst the local economy here is driven by crisis and high levels of unemployment there is also clearly the issue of local people feeling threatened by outsiders who compete for the few available jobs.

Q: Is national identity and keeping it a psychological need?

A: I would say that we begin to think about our national identity when we feel that it is in some threatened. This is similar to our lungs, we probably only begin to think about them when we have a cold, flu or chest infection. We notice that in places in the world where national, territorial, ethnic, religious or cultural identity is under threat, that national identity forms a more essential part of who we are and as such can be thought of as a psychological need. More so, when we consider that national identity is about belonging, language, culture, place and many other aspects which we share with many others. Also, we turn to national identity when some collective traumatic experience (as in the case of war, unemployment, colonization, terrorism, etc.) has threatened a large number of individual identities.

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