Today’s lifestyles offer many occasions for new experiences, one of which is living in foreign countries with their various languages and cultures. These life shifts represent challenging opportunities for people to discover new working and living situations that can be stimulating and rewarding.
However, such transitions can also bring major changes to one’s professional and social environment and to one’s partners and children. These adaptations may entail the loss of accustomed daily life rhythms as well as geographical distance from family members or friends, and the loss of work for one partner.
Sometimes, rather unexpectedly, culture shock can occur even for persons coming from neighbouring countries. Cultural differences can be larger than expected. Also, the euphoria felt at the beginning of a new life will slowly disappear to make room for daily routines and demands of the new environment, demands that can prove, over time, to be unfamiliar and exhausting to handle.
Important and delightful changes can occur while living abroad, such as marriage or the birth of a baby, but more difficult ones can happen, such as the separation from a partner or spouse, illness and so forth.
Some people find new friends and leisure opportunities easily; for others, assimilation and socialisation in a new society may represent a more challenging process and might even lead to feelings of lonelines.
Depending on a person’s individual resources, such life changes, together with possible previously existing issues, may be experienced and dealt, either with ease or less so. In worst cases the struggle may even lead to health problems.
In the case of continuously experienced stress or unhappiness, some people may experience states of anxiety, sleeping problems, irritability or develop conditions such as depression or addictive behaviour (excessive food, drugs, alcohol, medication, new media).
A number of healthy, interesting and fun activities can help adjustment to a new situation, and can also help to improve and maintain one’s own (and possibly that of one’s partner or children’s) quality of life.
While it is easier said than done, we all know – and research shows – that regular exercise can help to put one’s mind at ease, something which has a direct influence on the physical body as well as possibly developing a generally more balanced outlook. Many big organizations and companies offer various sports-related classes or clubs where it is easy to participate. Linking physical activity and pleasure is a healthy and enjoyable way of aligning one’s personal and professional life. Sport allows one to meet new people, make friends, and provides a way to unwind, relax and sleep better.
But another activity that can bring a lot of pleasure, aesthetic and personal stimulation and satisfaction, is art. To my knowledge there are no social groups on this planet who do not express their feelings through art, be it related to joy or to sadness. Art seems to be an integral part of us humans – of our existence. Who does not listen to music, enjoy the cinema and the theatre, or visit museums, perhaps in the company of other art lovers?
More actively, by expressing themselves individually in artistic ways, some find pleasure with others, in creative writing or painting classes. The importance lies in feeling at ease and confidant so that joy, and maybe even sorrow, may be shared and expressed verbally, or artistically, and new ties can be created.
All these possibilities offer ways of finding oneself and getting in touch with others, and can represent ways of making new discoveries and experiences and thus may be helpful in adapting to new life situations.
However, for some people, such recreational activities may not be sufficient. If their mental health starts to deteriorate and permanent distress, sadness and physical suffering appear, it might be advisable to seek medical support. If physical health is evaluated and no particular illness can be found, a psychotherapeutic or art therapeutic accompaniment might be helpful.
Sometimes it may be difficult to find the right words and to express them. One might not know what and why something is bothering them or what the origins of their suffering or crisis are. Art therapy can provide a way of creatively communicating, of helping to discover what an image or sculpture is telling us, within our personal confines and where the client-therapist relationship is of great importance. No prior experience or knowledge in the arts is necessary for anyone wishing to undergo an art/therapeutic accompaniment.
Art plays a crucial role in human existence for various reasons. It has served, and still does in some cultures, to express and accompany people in phases of grief and transition, but also in moments of joy and celebration; it allows one to live and communicate points that cannot be expressed otherwise.
Art therapy may be seen in the light of that tradition. It allows people to express their inner worlds in creative ways through painting, writing, music and other media and may, as a consequence, strengthen them by enabling them to become more active against their suffering. Notions of the psyche can be approached through artistic means and expressed even where words may be hard to find. The emerging images, texts or sculptures are subsequently addressed (but not analysed) between the client and the art therapist, leading to a better understanding of his or her personal issues and hopefully leading to personal growth.
During therapy, changes and inner shifts can occur and the client’s self-confidence may increase, allowing them to distance themselves from earlier unhelpful behaviour. This may also help them to more deeply understand their past and present occurrences in life and thus find new ways of being with themselves and with others.
Occasionally, after completion of their sessions, some clients may find that artistic expression has become part of their life and remains an aesthetic resource and response to life that accompanies them during difficult, as well as during better times.
In my view, the goal of psychotherapy, including art therapy, is to lighten clients’ burdens, so as to make sense of what is happening, or what has occurred in one’s life, to identify unhelpful personal habits, and progressively to implement behaviour in order to provide more leeway for joy and play!
For further information please find below, links to several professional organisations of psychologists, psychotherapists, and art therapists, serving adults and children. The members of these organisations are obliged to fulfil formal criteria in terms of their education and practice.
Silvia Wyder, is an internationally trained and recognized professional art therapist. www.silviawyder.com