"Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them." Epictetus
The term culture shock refers to a series of psychological responses to living in a cultural and linguistic enviornment significantly different from your own. It results from losing all of the familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse that constitute your culture and which allow you to navigate your everyday life with a degree of predictability and ease. When you arrive in another culture, most, if not all of these signs have been replaced by others which are now unrecognizable. As a result, one is often confused and frustrated and can suffer from a number of psychological symptoms including:
Low mood and/or irritability
These symptoms are a normal response to living in a new culture and correspond to a four stage assimilation process. Often, failure to succuessfully work through these stages results in long lasting and increasingly pronounced psychological symptoms that could significanly interfere with daily life.
There are four stages of culture shock:
Honeymoon: This stage is marked by exhilaration and you enjoy all the sights and sounds of your new culture.
Rejection: Problems of daily living begin to arise. Buying food, asking for directions, finding a plumber, communicating on the phone in a foreign language, understanding your legal rights as a tenant, now require considerable effort and can result in feelings of hostility and anger toward the new culture.
Regression: You begin to speak only in your native language, isolate yourself from the larger culture and surround yourself only with other expats. Those who haven't physically returned home by this point, have often done so mentally.
Recovery: This stage is marked by improved language competence, familiarity with local customes and the ability to move about with less effort and anxiety and with more confidence.
Psychotherapy can help a person suffering from culture shock in several ways. First, therapy provides a supportive enviornment in which an expat can openly express their frustrations and feelings about the Italian culture with a professional who not only shares their expat status but more importantly, their language. The therapist also helps the individual to understand the phenomenon of culture shock, to examine those negative feelings associated with the cultural transition and to identify maladaptive coping strategies which are contributing to his/her distress. Finally, psychotherapy helps the expat to develop more productive coping strategies which help to facilitate the assimilation process.