In 1990, Barker named five phases of culture shock that are explained in more detail below. Although the process of adapting to living in a new place doesn’t necessarily follow the linear path 1 to 5, the descriptions of cultural transition in Barker’s work do provide us with an appreciation of the significant challenge inherent in the process of re-integrating ourselves into a new setting.
ABOUT CULTURE CHANGE
PHASES OF CULTURE SHOCK
Barker’s five stages describing the culture shock associated with cultural transition are as follows. As mentioned above, it is possible to go through each of the phases several times over in any order as the path is not necessarily a straight line.
We first arrive in the new place and are fascinated with how things are done, excited about what lies ahead and curious about the differences we encounter. Thoughts of home are still fresh in our memory and provide a layer of protection during this time.
2. Disintegration (or “positive disintegration”, Dabrowski, 1964)
We experience the unfamiliarity more keenly and this makes it difficult to enjoy life. We may feel lonely, notice that small problems seem overwhelming, or feel confused or inadequate at times when cultural differences impinge on us and familiar supports are not to hand. We may feel homesick or want to be elsewhere.
We feel annoyed and frustrated with everyday things and compare everything to how it is done back home. We idealise things from our own culture and reject everything new as inferior. This is a sign that we are re-connecting with ourselves again and rediscovering what has meaning for us and what doesn’t.
After a while, we notice that we can actually live with some of the differences. Things are not so bad. As our acceptance increases and we gain experience we start to feel something like ourselves again. Our confidence improves and we are better able to cope with problems.
We settle into feeling more integrated into the community. We can stand back and appreciate the similarities and the differences. As we trust ourselves in more situations, we are able to enjoy life more and make decisions based on what we prefer. We are no longer isolated and we begin to feel at home.
(Source: Orientated for Success, M. Barker, 1990)
THERAPEUTIC APPROACH TO CULTURE CHANGE
We need time to adjust to the change and to work through the grief associated with the loss.
The process of culture shock is similar to grief in that it may involve experiencing a wide range of emotions in no particular order, This may include feelings of anger, anxiety, becoming obsessed with cleanliness, confusion, depression, disorientation, feeling lost, feeling out of control, feeling shy or insecure, feeling vulnerable, grief, doubt, homesickness, loneliness, loss of confidence, over-concern for one’s health, sadness, uncertainty – as well as physical complaints such as: allergies, headaches, insomnia, pains or sleeping too much.
Therapy provides us with a safe, private and non-judgmental space in which to simply “be” without the strain of having to fit in. It is a place where we can be free to express ourselves, our emotions, feelings, sensations and thoughts. We can discuss our cultural experiences and try to make sense of them. This can lessen the chance of becoming overwhelmed and help us to cope in our day to day living as we adapt to new circumstances. Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know and having a place to discuss our practical needs can be supportive too.
"She is a very calming, understanding and nonjudgmental person and it is so nice to have the space she creates each week to go to where I can feel"Client J
accepted and supported
"Jane helped me learn more about myself and to find a self-compassion that helped me in my relationship with myself and others"Client C
"Jane helped me to understand my own feelings and how I could deal with them"Client N
"I've been attending sessions with Jane on and off for a few years now and I have found her to be really supportive and helpful during this time"Client J
"She always makes me feel comfortable enough to speak openly in our sessions"Client N
"Jane helped me through some very tough times and her compassionate and nonjudgmental attitude has allowed me to feel more comfortable in myself when I'm out in the world"Client J