Our previous series of texts was devoted to the topic of emigration.
For many Belarusians, moving became a difficult ordeal.
The “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” team talked to the psychologist Alyona* and the coordinator of the Center “Free Belarus” Polina Brodik about how to cope with stress in a new country.
Alyona, crisis psychologist: “Often a person has moved physically, but mentally remains there. And the main task is to bring the mental and physical together”
– Is there such a phenomenon as an emigrant crisis?
– When you talk about the emigrant crisis, I primarily think of people who are forced to leave. I don’t use this concept in my work. I work specifically with people’s crises.
If we talk in the context of Belarus, Ukraine, it is when I am thrown out to another country. And I need to orient myself very quickly. No one told me what to expect? What will happen to me there? And that’s already the context I’m working with.
Emigration, in principle, even if it is prepared, is not easy. And even more so if it’s forced.
– What psychological problems do people in emigration most often face?
– Recognition that I am here now, the process of accepting the I-Come. This is the main problem with which people turn and which the psychologist helps to discover. In professional terms, grieving. Loss of home, loss of connections. This is the most difficult stage of forced emigration.
Often a person has physically moved, but mentally remains there. And the main task is to connect the mental and physical, to bring all of yourself to this emigration.
Realize that the place I have come to is my new home. At least for tomorrow/the day after tomorrow. And the home I remember after the events of 2020 is no longer there. It has become an illusion.
– With which difficulties do Belarusians apply? Are there any special features?
The first is the grief from the loss of home. And this grief is comparable in strength to mourning. We are used to mourning when someone dies. But losing a home can also be mourning.
Many people turn around and don’t understand why it’s so bad? Everything seems fine. And the place you came to is safe. But it’s still bad. And the main request is how to cope with the fact that I lost everything.
The second thing is adaptation. This is a very important point, to look for what I like here, not to remember what I liked at home and look for exactly the same thing here. It’s impossible.
These are the two main questions that people ask.
– What can you advise people who are going through a crisis in emigration? Maybe there are some techniques or methods?
Yes, there is a specific exercise. It’s considered a first aid technique. And we use it in body-oriented therapy. It’s called “Orientation”. A person sits on a chair and starts looking around. Asking the question, “Where am I now?” Looks to the right, looks to the left, names the objects he sees. You can say the date and time, country, city. And noticing what’s happening. Many people, when they realize really where they are, start crying or get lost. This is where the foundation for bringing yourself to emigration begins. To connect the mental and the physical. Being in the time and place where you are now. There is no time in trauma.
The second is finding a resource, “What is there here that can support me?”. Here you can start with the simplest things: choose a cup from which it is pleasant to drink tea or coffee. You can find something pleasant in the place where you live. Building positive new connections.
And this only happens if one reaches: physically and mentally to the place where one has arrived.
It also helps to gather with like-minded people. There is such a phrase: “Grief shared decreases, joy shared increases”. This can be given by any groups: psychological, support groups or community. The main thing is to try not to close yourself off.
– Many people are embarrassed to admit their problems or procrastinate to the extreme. What alarm bells are there to turn to a psychologist?
When a person needs help, support? When the challenges of the outside world are greater than the ability to cope with them. And then you need support in the form of self-regulation. In fact, the whole work is crisis support. It’s about a person exploring themselves with the help of another. What do I have? What skills can I learn to cope with this life?
In our culture, I would call this post-Soviet culture, to go to a psychologist, “you have to have a very weighty problem.” Going to a psychologist like going to a dentist is not preventive. To continue with the dentist analogy, it’s better not to wait until you have a flux and go straight for treatment.
I think that if a person notices that he or she starts to forget something, or is poorly oriented in time and space, or is haunted by memories in the form of flashbacks, disturbed sleep, eating… All these can be considered as symptoms. The body is telling you that something is not right. So it needs help. There are trained people who can help with this.
As a practitioner, I will tell you that any strong change or shock in life, especially one like emigration, is good to have psychological support. Maybe in a one-time counseling format, maybe in a short-term work format of 5 – 10 sessions.
These are the main points to look at for your health and seek help. But to go to therapy, you need a resource, you need motivation. Sometimes a person is in such a state that everyone gives him addresses and numbers, but in a crisis he can’t do it. And that’s the problem with psychological help. You can’t force a person to go to therapy.
– In the last year, that is, since the beginning of the war, have people started to seek psychological help more often?
– Yes, of course. It’s been a remarkable fact. From February 24, 2022, there has been much more work.
– Any wishes or advice for our readers?
– Psychologists don’t give advice. You have to be on your side. If it seems like support is needed, it is not. If a person thinks they need help, that’s the start of doing something. Go talk about it in a close circle of people, ask friends, see if anyone has had a similar experience. Search for answers. For some, the answer may be therapy, and for others it may be enough for someone to share their problem with them. It’s also important to look after yourself and navigate time and space!
Polina Brodik, FBC coordinator: “Most often people turn with a feeling of hopelessness from the situation they found themselves in after leaving Belarus.
– Tell me, where can I turn for psychological support in emigration?
– The Center “Free Belarus” from the very beginning of its existence has been providing psychological assistance as part of the humanitarian direction of supporting Belarusians. It took place in our country at different stages, in different formats. Today there are two main ones: offline and online.
The online format is one-on-one meetings with a psychologist who has long specialized in the problems of refugees and people affected by political persecution. We give 10 free consultations. After that, we continue to provide the person with information support or refer them to other services or organizations that also support refugees. Or, hopefully, after 10 counseling sessions the condition normalizes.
The offline format takes place in groups, usually up to 10 people. To date, the meetings are held in Warsaw. You have to sign up for them, because you can’t turn up at any time: recruitment takes place in mature groups, and then work with psychology begins. Most often people turn with a feeling of hopelessness from the situation they found themselves in after leaving Belarus. No doubt, for many people the departure from Ukraine was a great stress and a great trauma, especially for those who were exposed to some (military) actions or saw how cities were destroyed. For example, Belarusians who lived in Buchа or Irpen.
Of course, many people face burnout: those who work in NGOs and in other spheres. Especially if you are trying to focus your work on helping Belarus and improving the political or social situation. Because the immediate results of work are not visible. And this affects the psychological state. We want to see a positive result, but today we are in a difficult situation. Nevertheless, it is good that these servers are there and we can provide them. They are really in demand, and I am glad that we can support people in this way.
-Are the offline groups that take place at FBC tied to any specific topics?
The topics are general: crisis emigration, emotions, feelings of anger, shame, how to cope with loss. And also the theme of adaptation – resources and reproduction.
– What other psychological help programs are there for Belarusians?
Also, as far as I know, psychological help is provided within the framework of the “Phoenix” project. It works mostly online. I know that they periodically organize retreats, for example, in Poland. During one week in a group, there is intensive work with a psychologist and a little rest.
– I know that when FBC was still working in Kiev, in the most difficult situations you could consult a psychiatrist once for free. Does this opportunity still exist?
– Usually we just refer people to specialists, and people meet with them themselves. But, if a person has absolutely no possibility to cover these expenses and at the same time there is a very significant need, we will definitely try to solve this issue.