My experience as an immigrant and bilingual therapist in the United States
Hey everyone! Anna here!
This week I wanted to talk about my experience as an immigrant and bilingual therapist working in the United States. While I have found there are both benefits and challenges, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives, including my particular ability to empathize with and give help to cultural outsiders, multicultural couples, and anyone else who feels different, or that they have trouble “belonging” in their communities.
Let’s get the challenges out of the way first:
While I of course faced many challenges in getting to where I am now, I think the main adversity I still face in my work life today is when people stigmatize me for my Russian accent. This accent of mine isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – or ever – and while many people have no problem with it, or might even find it refreshing, there are definitely times when I can tell I’m being judged negatively for it; and when this negative stigma around how I speak effectively serves to negate all of my counseling credentials and long history of professional experience in the eyes of that person, it can feel very frustrating indeed.
Facing stigma like this is unavoidable in some cases. So the challenge for me is, how do I transcend something that should be non-consequential professionally, yet compromises my ability to reach certain clients? How do I show certain people that I am fully credentialed; that I have years of experience and the positive feedback to show for it? Perhaps some people are just going to see what they see, and sometimes you just have to accept it and move on.
Now, on to the benefits:
To start with, as a native Russian speaker, I am able to access, understand and help an entire community of people in a way that most counselors native to the United States cannot.
But the advantage isn’t just in knowing a foreign language. There is something about coming from another country that gives a person a certain cultural sensitivity and awareness, which, I think, aids me immensely in my work. As someone who knows from personal experience how hard it is to come to the United States as an immigrant with little or no support network and figure out how to get by, I can now empathize with ALL people or communities who have ever felt like outsiders—not just those immigrants within my particular ethnic background.
As a bilingual, immigrant therapist, I find it easier to relate to diverse viewpoints, even when they are not my own, and I can help my clients learn to take their unique outlook and make it work in their new communities, without asking them to compromise their values or self respect.
I see this a lot in my work with couples, many of which come from different cultural backgrounds and often struggle to understand their partners’ viewpoint. The love and emotional support might be there, but during the day-to-day grind there can be confusion and misunderstandings. For me, coming from another culture and knowing how hard it can be to understand someone else’s viewpoint, I appreciate working with couples like this, helping them to better understand the rationale behind each other’s opinions and behavior, and learning how to transcend these differences and make the relationship work.
Everyone is welcome at Solutions Mental Wellness:
While I want to welcome anyone and everyone to try my counseling, I think my approach could be especially attractive to those who have ever felt different, felt like outsiders, or felt unaccepted in their communities. For those among you who might feel like you don’t completely belong, I’m here to show you that there are strengths and advantages in being different. There is love and community out there for everybody; you just have to find it. I have overcome so much adversity in my life, and as someone who is different myself, I can say with confidence that these differences have given me the strength to persevere in the face of just about anything. And I can help you do the same.