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Relocation Joys and Blues

Dr. Patricia Kopstein examines common coping strategies for relocating.

When relocating to a new country, culture, job, or school, it takes a careful approach to minimize the stress and maximize the joyful aspects of beginning a new chapter in life.

Whether you are moving into or out of Hong Kong, when you relocate, everything changes. Not only is your location different; the closets and cupboards are different, the career expectations have shifted, the language (even subtly) defines you, the clothing styles are new, the weather is unfamiliar, public manners are challenges and mysteries that need to be quickly and successfully addressed.

In addition to acclimatizing to a new locality, relocations affect and are affected by the family dynamic. Whether you are relocating for work, for a spouse’s work, alone, or for the nth time, each move presents a unique dynamic.



Relocating brings a long list of new questions: where can I find a good doctor, a dentist, good market, where do I buy clothes, get my hair cut, how do I find a helper / maid / cook / driver / nanny that is a good match with my needs?

If you have relocated with children, the questions increase geometrically. What about: good schools, finding good playmates, safe transportation, all sorts of tutors for everything from dance to rugby, physics to reading skills?

Career changes, when added onto relocation, are a challenge. Not only does one wonder how handle the new job situation, but also workplace decorum and work-related entertainment in the new culture.

There are many ways to address relocation anxiety and emotional overload. The first step is to figure out what is the best strategy for you and your personality. While therapy will not give you a handy list of good doctors, tailors, or social clubs, therapy can empower you to address relevant anxieties and adjustments.



Normal strategies for approaching change are replication, absorption, determination, or exploration. Depending upon your situation, your personality, and your options, some approaches work better than others. Most of us try a few strategies as we relocate. All of us want relocation to work for us and be successful and pleasant.

If you choose to try to replicate your old situation you will try to continue to act the way you lived before. Sticking with familiar routines is often appealing because it is easy and pleasant. We all seek the familiar, sometimes blinding or cutting ourselves off to new options around us. A mindset of replication may have short-term benefits, but the benefits are often superficial and present a hindrance to optimal integration.

Absorption is to try to simply fit into the new situation, and to not make changes in the job or home environment that are presented to us. You can become “one” with the new move. This can be exciting, but at the same time you can feel the loss of your former life styles. Essentially the opposite of replication, absorption allows you to fit into the new environment with the goal of adjusting quickly. However, this response is not dissimilar to jumping into cold water rather than going in slowly; the shock may be unpleasant.

When we approach our relocation challenges with determination, we try to change our new reality, in work or home. There are certain things that cannot be changed and this may be vexing, or we may change something that is more significant than we could foresee. We try to make relocation fit us, rather than fit ourselves into the new situation.

If we approach our relocation with a strategy of exploration, we allow ourselves to be influenced by our new situation, and we also seek to influence our new situation. This is ”give-and-take”. We manage the changes between our own sense of self and our new environment.

These four tactics are the most common approaches to major relocations. The merits of each depend on the relocating individual or family as much as the destination or departure point. Relocation support and therapy is a structured, client-centered approach to improving the well being of the relocating individual or family. It explores the best ways to address the changes that come with one’s relocation. Therapy provides support while one learns and works through the inevitable and unpredictable difficulties.

If you have recently relocated or are facing a daunting move, please contact us by e-mail at The Family Development Center provides eTherapy for relocation support. eTherapy allows you to have therapy, or support sessions via Skype or other VoIP software , from your home, your office, your new location, or while you are in transit. eTherapy is completely confidential and may be covered by your insurance.

Written by Dr. Patricia Philo Kopstein

Dr. Kopstein is an FDC psychotherapist and psychoanalyst who has worked with countless relocation clients, and specializes in mid-life and mid-profession issues. Additional information on Dr. Kopstein is available here.