Immigration and Acculturation

  • Are the effects of your family’s immigration or refugee traumas still with you?
  • Are your family’s expectations clashing with American values?
  • Do you see yourself as too-American or not-American-enough?
  • Do you have anybody you can really talk to about your feelings and experiences?
  • Is turning to counseling acceptable in your culture?
  • Are you expected to manage your issues by yourself or in the family?
  • Are you feeling depressed or having trouble adjusting to your new environment?

Immigration and Multicultural Issues

Culture plays an extremely relevant role in counseling and psychotherapy. Immigration is a dominant event in a person’s life, shaping and distorting everything that comes before and after. Changing countries results in unique challenges at any age. Neighborhood relationships are particularly critical for new immigrants because many aspects of the new environment can be disorienting. Living in ethnic communities protects immigrants from cultural isolation and benefits their initial psychological adjustment. However, pressure to assimilate may be strong outside their ethnic group and result in discrimination and its negative consequences. New immigrants often have limited direct, regular and intimate contact with Americans, which affects their opportunities to hear and use English and their access to desirable jobs.

According to, humanitarian crises around the world have displaced more people than WWII. By the end of 2016, over 65 million individuals and families were affected by violence. With an unprecedented number of people displaced from their homes, the terms refugee and immigrant are often used interchangeably. But their differences have important legal implications. And while refugees and immigrants share certain aspects of resettlement, such as the pressure to assimilate to Western expectations, over 50% of refugees experienced one or more traumatic event. Refugees also experience significant prejudice and discrimination that exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. Psychotherapy is helpful in not only addressing the individual and relational effects of displacement but also resettlement and other challenges.

Differences Between “Refugees” and “Immigrants”     explains that “despite being used interchangeably, there are important legal differences between refugees and immigrants. A refugee is someone who has been- or is in risk of- being persecuted in his or her country without an option to return. Grounds of persecution include: race, religion, nationality, and membership of a particular social group or political opinion. By extension, an asylum-seeker or asylee is a person who has left his or her country but not yet obtained refugee status. An immigrant, also referred to as a permanent resident alien, is a person who left his or her country voluntarily and entered another country (e.g., United States) legally for a better life or to join family.”

“In contrast to immigrants, asylum-seekers experience considerable instability and uncertainty from waiting for approval of their application. They may not feel comfortable resuming their life in the United States without certainty of not being deported. This sentiment is not unique to asylum-seekers. Refugees are uncomfortable because growing nationalism, combined with a recent shift in policy, threatens their presence.” 


Acculturation involves changes in many aspects of immigrants’ lives, such as language, cultural identity, attitudes and values, ethnic pride, types of food and music preferred, media use, social and ethnic relations, cultural familiarity and social customs. Acculturation may occur in stages, with immigrants learning the new language first, followed by gradual participation in the new culture. While some settings, such as workplaces or schools, are predominantly culturally American, others, such as an immigrant’s ethnic neighborhood and home environment, are predominantly of the heritage culture. Keeping one foot in each culture provides access to different kinds of resources and can lead to positive mental health outcomes.

Acculturation Stresses

Even immigrants who have lived in the United States for a long time and who appear to have adopted the American lifestyle may continue to maintain strong identification with, and hold the values of, their culture of origin.  The process of integrating the social and cultural values, ideas, beliefs, and behavioral patterns of the culture of origin with those of the new culture may lead to acculturation stresses if these conflict. These stresses can cause or increase mental health difficulties, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and others.

Discrimination and Prejudice states: “Sociopolitical instability, fueled by violence and persecution, contributes to rising anti-refugee sentiment around the world. Discrimination is attribution of incorrect beliefs and attitudes to a person or group of people. Prejudice, on the other hand, is acting on these beliefs and attitudes. Research suggests that both are associated with inadequate living conditions and limited opportunities.” Religion-based prejudice has increased both in frequency and intensity over the past ten years in the United States. Simple religious acts can be misconstrued, leading to identity confusion and exhaustion with assimilating to mainstream cultural values.

Therapy with Elaine Korngold

I understand multicultural, immigration, and acculturation challenges and have experience counseling immigrants and refugees on a variety of issues, such as anxiety, depression, relationships problems, or career adjustments. We can explore ways to help you acclimate to a new culture that meet your goals and develop alternatives as we anticipate and work through potential problems. I am certified in trauma therapy and integrate it with Brainspotting therapy and Internal Family Systems therapy in my practice. Psychotherapy addresses presenting problems, such as the effects of trauma, while leveraging people’s strengths and rebuilding their capacity to trust others. During assessment, I take into account people’s cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes. I also evaluate how contextual factors (e.g., sociopolitical climate) worsen the effects of trauma. I embrace not only complexity, but also instability and uncertainty, and help refugees and immigrants overcome insurmountable obstacles. Text or email me for a free 20-minute consultation.