10 Tips for Systemic Work with Immigrant Families

There are many reasons immigrant families come to America; whatever the reason, they often face challenges that may bring them to therapy. It is important that we, as Marriage and Family Therapists, are competent in dealing with this population. Cultural competence involves being able to provide therapy that addresses the problems faced by clients in a multicultural context.

Taking the philosophical stance of a collaborative therapist is helpful, as this stance is strength-based, non-pathologizing, and considers families within their socio-political and socio-cultural contexts.

When working with immigrant families, it is helpful to consider the following:

  1. There is no one immigrant experience. Even immigrants coming from the same country have different experiences and different issues to deal with.
  2. Although the client/client system appears to speak English, that doesn’t mean they understand the English language and its nuances.
  3. Get to know your client or client system outside of the problem that brings them to therapy.
  4. Be curious about their beliefs, traditions, values, life experiences and worldviews.
  5. Encourage dominant narratives.
  6. Assess for trauma and its impact.
  7. Be an appreciative ally.
  8. Be aware of your biases.
  9. Immigrants face many cultural stressors that complicate their cultural adaption, such as poverty, racism and prejudices.
  10. Children often acculturate faster than their parents, creating a cultural generation gap.

Join me on Friday, April 6 at the Annual Conference workshop Immigrant Narratives: Stories of Transition. This presentation will focus on four immigrants, students of mine at William James, who will share their stories of immigration, transition to life in the U.S. I will then guide a conversation regarding the impact of immigration on the families of these students, and, as a team, we will reflect on the narratives and conversation between the narrators and myself.

Jacqueline Gagliardi, M.Ed., LMFT, is Director of the Couples and Family Therapy Program at William James College.

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