an interview with
counsellor & therapist in sydney, australia
The effects that moving away from family can have on mental health
Thoughts from a therapist
Q: It is common for clients of JS&A move away from family to live abroad. What are some of the common challenges that people face?
Jill Schmidt-Lindner: The challenges of moving away from family and living abroad on mental health are significant. There can be lack of support and loneliness. And if there is a language barrier, the difficulties are compounded. It’s really important to recognise the significance of feeling different, like you don’t belong.
It can be seemingly little things, like crossing the road differently, eating a different way. You can feel alienated, not a part of things. And it can lead to difficulty in relationships.
A clash of cultures and difference in values are further challenges, the role of women being a common issue. People are often having to walk a tightrope between cultures.
Young people can feel embarrassed by their parents and their parents’ customs. And if parents are strict and demanding in a way that is different to the culture of the young person’s growing up, it can be very
Of course at the same time, there are good things. People who have lived abroad have a wider knowledge of the world and when they have managed to integrate, they have a huge appreciation for this accomplishment.
Q: Sometimes young people settle a long way from family for good reason. Do you have some thoughts on that?
Jill Schmidt-Lindner: Sometimes people want to get away from parents who are too strict, or there are serious or complex difficulties in families. Or that they are too cloying, too involved.
Young people may overcome this in part by leaving. They may be escaping family, family patterns, and the expectations on them.
It’s common for there to be unspoken rules in families which limit them and push them into a certain way of being, and it’s a matter of conformity. So moving away can be about differentiation and individuation — about working out who they really are and want to be, to become yourself.
Therapy is hugely important in creating a space where people can have a voice, and express parts of themself that were perhaps not acceptable, or unable to be expressed. To have a space where you can explore things you haven’t been able to previously, what’s not possible in the family.
It can be hard to have your own voice, to find and nurture your own individuality and identity. Therapy can help and support this.
Q: Having lived abroad yourself, how does your perspective help in your role as a therapist?
Jill Schmidt-Lindner: I’ve experienced the difficulty of finding language a huge barrier to communication, the challenge of values different from my own, and how it is to feel different. I understand the feelings of loneliness.
But I can also appreciate and relish in witnessing people find their way. Perhaps develop their own voice, and become more assertive, rather than only meeting the expectations of others.
My own experience of moving away from family and living overseas has opened my world up to a whole new perspective and confidence in myself as a person. It has opened new horizons I would never have been exposed to, a much broader perspective on life and the world. It has been hugely beneficial to my understanding and my tolerance of difference.
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"Things going wrong can still be annoying and that’s life but It’s not long and drawn-out now and doesn’t have to ruin a whole weekend! If I do start feeling that physical anger or anxiety, I recognise it. I can acknowledge it and say to myself ‘I’m having one of those moments’ and I can talk myself out of it.
I can turn my mood around much faster. I just cope better now!"
– AB, 35, Business Owner & Mother of two