One of the greatest losses a Hispanic immigrant experiences is the loss of their homeland. Ignoring this loss could have negative consequences on their adjustment to a new country and their assimilation into a new culture.
My book, Counseling Hispanics through Loss, Grief, And Bereavement: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals, addresses this loss among others, and explores the Hispanic experience of grief, which is simply the response to any greatly perceived loss. If the professional counseling a client through the loss of homeland has never himself been away from his native country, he may lack the awareness or sensitivity to consider this kind of loss. To an immigrant, however, this loss can be debilitating, and can turn into grief. So, how can we, as mental health professionals, help such a client?
One of the best things to do when working with such clients is an assessment to better understand the context in which they feel this loss. These are some of the questions you may ask:
- When did you arrive to the United States?
- How do you feel when you think about your native country?
- Do you have a support system?
The value of doing this assessment is that many times the Hispanic may not be aware that he or she is grieving. They may feel lack of motivation, feel an inability to adjust, or even say things such as, “I do not like this lifestyle,” “I miss my country so much,” or, “In my country, people….” The person may not realize this kind of thinking does not allow them to embrace their new life and feel grateful for a new opportunity. Instead of appreciating where they are and who they can become, they regret it and may perpetuate their inability to adjust to and ultimately find meaning in their new life.
In such cases, the goal is to help the client go through the grieving process, and then, to empower them to transform their loss into a growing experience. I remember a webinar I did based on my system of loss transformation, The Eleven Principles of Transformation™ (included in the book). Gisela, who was from Venezuela and one of the participants, stated she would never accept her new reality. Her life changed, however, when she learned to embrace her situation. This is an excerpt from Counseling Hispanics through Loss, Grief, And Bereavement:
[I]…coached her to accept her new circumstances. She had a very difficult time accepting the loss of her homeland because she thought emigrating meant she would lose her native country completely. When we discussed the fact that by accepting her living situation she was taking the first step in the transformation of her loss, she could see the bigger picture, reframe her perspective, and get involved in local Venezuelan organizations in Miami. She aims to write a book on her experience as an immigrant— transforming the “loss” of her beloved Venezuela (p.197).
As a mental health professional working with Hispanics, it helps to see their perspective, understand their story, and then work with clients to reframe their experience from challenge to opportunity.
Have you ever counseled a Hispanic who grieved the loss of their homeland? What was your experience?
Ligia M. Houben, MA, FT, FAAGC, CPC, is a Fellow in Thanatology: Death, Dying, and Bereavement and a Fellow of the American Academy of Grief Counseling. She holds a BA in Psychology and Religious Studies from the University of Miami, MA in Religious Studies and a Graduate Certificates in Multidisciplinary Gerontology from Florida International University and in Loss and Healing from St. Thomas University. Ligia M. Houben is an adjunct professor at Florida International University, Miami Dade College, and Kaplan University, where she teaches courses on Ethics, Religion, and Death and Dying. Ligia offers consulting services to individuals and organizations, and her private practice is based in Miami, Florida.