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. It’s a loss that 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 the person 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 contribute to their struggle 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. Gisela, who was from Venezuela, stated she would never accept her new reality. Her life changed, however, when she learned to embrace her situation. This is an excerpt from my book, Counseling Hispanics through Loss, Grief, And Bereavement:

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).

Have you ever counseled a Hispanic who grieved the loss of their homeland? What was your experience?

Ligia M. Houben is the author of “Counseling Hispanics through Loss, Grief, and Bereavement. A Guide to Mental Health Professionals.” www.ligiahouben.com

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Ligia Houben

Ligia Houben is a speaker and educator in the area of life transitions. She works with the bereaved, the person who needs to face a new stage in life, children of aging parents, or people searching for more meaning in their lives. She consults with individuals and corporations on life transitions and spirituality with the purpose of providing tools to transform losses and challenges. Ligia obtained her B.A. from the University of Miami in Psychology and Religious Studies and a Masters Degree in Religious Studies and Gerontology from Florida International University. She also has a graduate certificate in Loss and Healing from St. Thomas University, a certificate in Thanatology and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Grief Counseling. Besides being a speaker, she is an author, coach, counselor and consultant. She is an adjunct professor of Kaplan University, Florida International University and Miami Dade College where she teaches courses on Ethics, Religion and Death and Dying. More... Ligia is the author of the self-help book, "Transform your Loss: An Anthology of Strength and Hope." This book contains "The Eleven Principles of Transformation™" which is a system that involves the emotional, spiritual, and cognitive aspects of the person as they face a transition or loss. Ligia created this system of transformation to help people transform their losses and change their lives. Reach her through her website, http://www.ligiahouben.com.

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