Immigrants and Resilience After Trauma

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Immigrant evaluations often focus on how the client has been harmed and experienced a series of traumatic events. While this is a critical aspect of the evaluation, it’s also important to pay attention to the client’s personal resilience throughout all their hardships. What have they done to beat the odds and show strength through adversity?

The idea of resilience after trauma has piqued the interest of clinicians for centuries because it reflects how individuals can adapt to life-changing situations and go on to live prosperous lives. It’s also a reminder that therapists can play a critical role in helping clients to identify their moments of resilience and tap into their inner strength when necessary.

What is resilience?

In mental health, ‘resilience’ is the process of overcoming trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. In the case of an immigrant, these circumstances are often related to culture shock, familial problems, and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves persevering through these challenging experiences, it can also involve making long-lasting positive changes.

The typical characteristics of a resilient person include:

  • Having a sense of self-awareness and the ability to exercise self-control.
  • Identifying as a survivor instead of a victim.
  • Maintaining a positive attitude.
  • Allowing themselves to be vulnerable and ask for help when necessary.
  • Problem-solving and coming up with realistic, actionable solutions.
  • Building meaningful relationships.
  • Finding their purpose and embodying that purpose each day.

Most people in this world have had to exercise varying degrees of resilience to get to where they are today.

The complexities of being a resilient person.

Being resilient doesn’t necessarily mean that a person never has troubles or distress. Any immigration evaluation therapist will tell you that even their most happy and prosperous clients have probably dealt with many hardships. These difficult times often result in forced resilience, especially in children.

Children represent a significant portion of the global migration population, especially among refugees. According to a 2016 UNICEF report, 1 in 8 migrants worldwide are children, and more than 50% are refugees. Resilience is a character trait that these children usually develop at a very early stage in their lives.

There are also specific factors that might make some people more resilient than others. However, resilience isn’t necessarily an inherent personality. It involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop.

Clients must recognize their resilience and how they can keep on nurturing it. In most cases, this will help them adapt to the changes that might come with migrating to a new country. We often overlook the complexities of being somewhere foreign and how that might make someone feel isolated, afraid, and overwhelmed. These experiences have an undeniable impact on one’s mental health and overall wellbeing.

If immigrants don’t tap into their resilience, trauma may become a never-ending cycle. In many ways, acknowledging and celebrating their resilience is a crucial aspect of their therapy. Most importantly, they need to remember that they’re not alone on the journey. It’s impossible to control everything that happens in life. However, they can enact positive change with the support of loved ones and trusted professionals.

Cecilia Racine: Immigration Evaluation Therapist

I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.

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