We are exposed to a high level of helplessness in the therapeutic profession. A counsellor not only must witness but also bear her client’s suffering when they feel the most exposed, lonely, ashamed, and scared. In cross-cultural counselling, feelings of loss of the homeland and ambiguity about starting out in Canada permeate the lives of newcomers in profound ways. I remember a recently immigrated family when they had their first appointment with me. At that time, I had a very small office with a sink in it – I would try not to pay attention to it as I was slightly ashamed I had a sink in my office. It was, after all, the sink in the counselling room.
Soon after they arrived, the father glanced at the sink, then back at me and by the time he sat down, we were all laughing about this displaced item in my office.
Sometime during the session, the father said he missed having a good laugh. In the midst of trying to settle into the new life in Canada, he had become really busy and there was no space or friends yet to share a good belly laugh with. He asked if I knew what he was talking about. I shared with him that I remember it being a while after I came to live here that I had that kind of experience. I was not only consumed with trying to understand how things worked most of the time, but was also dealing with my own feelings of loss.
I find there is something very touching about a family who unties from their cultural context and sets out to start over in a new country. As they go about everyday tasks, the ‘everyday’ is so foreign that all that is left are the ‘tasks’ – the space of leisure may become forgotten or delayed until things get organized. As I sit with such clients, I am always reminded of how delicate the work of re-planting a whole family in new soil is. But it is the powerful, resilient force of life they bring that will fertilize it and bring the laughter back.
Bianca Buteri, M.A., M.Ed., is a Child and Youth Mental Health counsellor, working with diverse and mainstream clients in Metro Vancouver, BC. She became a Canadian citizen and busy mom in 2010 and shares her time with her husband and 11-month-old daughter.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA