THE DIFFICULTIES OF CHILD AND ADOLESCENT IMMIGRANTS: AN APPROACH TO THERAPY AND PREVENTION
Spokoinyi Natalia – Director of IIS Berlin (International Institute of System Constellations), WCP and EAP therapist, INFOSYON and DGfS master trainer, international level instructor at PPL, systemic sex therapist, master theologian A.Men Uni, Berlin, Germany
Keywords: Systemic Constellations, Child immigrants, Social Deprivation
Using real client examples, we reveal the key problems of child and adolescent immigrants in Germany and the causes of their social deprivation. The advantages of systemic constellations and the integral approach for their integration into German society are shown. The article describes the reasons for the acute shortage of professional psychological assistance to immigrant families in Germany and the need for urgent measures to attract Russian-speaking specialists to therapy and prevention.
Emigration is not easy for a person, and it is even harder for children and teenagers. I came to Berlin because of my husband’s job in 1993. The children are quite sociable and German became almost their native language after a year, but in Berlin, during all the time they went to kindergarten and school, the boys never had any friends. Only at university the first friendships manifested. Only my very sociable daughter had two friends in high school in the 3rd and 4th school she went to. The children experienced acute social deprivation. For a long time, I could not understand what the reason was. Later the situation repeated itself with my three youngest, born in Germany.
At that time there were about 300,000 Russian speakers living in Berlin; today that number exceeds 400,000. And many families have the same problem. For a long time, I worked with children and teenagers in the Orthodox community in Berlin, where teenagers often died from drugs and parents did nothing (about that below). Later I realized that the root of the problem was the lack of real friends. When teenagers don’t find them, they seek company where everyone is welcome. There they tend to get hooked on “needles”, after which many quickly die from laced drugs.
Our family didn’t entirely escape this fate either. At age 15 our eldest son was lured to the house, accused of stealing marijuana and forced to sell it. He tried to resist, but they beat him. He fought alone, didn’t tell me or my husband anything, and eventually he gave up. I saw that something was wrong with my son. But I found out the truth only five years later, when he quit. Alas, it was already too late: the consequences were devastating. All the same, we were very lucky, because my son survived.
Later, in 2010, I attended a course on “Addiction Therapy” with the famous German psychotherapist Roland Schilling. In his opinion, marijuana is one of the worst drugs. Because the concentration has become 10 times higher. But personally, it’s easier for him to work with clients with heroin addiction: after 25 years of use, the body is completely destroyed, but the head is fine. And those who have used marijuana for 10 years have psychosis and almost completely destroyed their memory. My son, thank God, did not become psychotic after 5 years, but his memory is heavily damaged and he is severely neuroticized.
A little later I took my three children (16, 14, and 10) to a Christian camp near Moscow, where they all immediately made friends with whom they corresponded for a long time. Interestingly, my 10-year-old son was born in Berlin, but with friendships he has the same patterns as the older, Moscow-born ones.
Then I wondered why it was so hard to make friends in Berlin. And I realized that immigrant children have a different mentality: there is no resonance with German children. That’s why friendships are not formed. Moreover, sometimes there are Russian-speaking children in one class. But I noticed that even German children from Kazakhstan had a different mentality than mine. The situation is similar with children from other regions of the CIS. Culture affects the mentality. But the situation with German children is particularly critical. We have been to many countries in Europe and the US. And everywhere the situation with friends looked much more optimistic. I understood the reason later, when I gained enough experience in psychotherapy and systemic constellations and comprehended, that mentality is formed in the subconscious [ (1), (2), (3)].
Our intellect directs at most 3-5% of our behavior. Programs in the subconscious are responsible for the remaining 95-97% of our behavior. That is why a person wants, for example, to give up drinking and cannot. And so, it is with any addiction and even with a bad habit.
This phenomenon of subconscious confrontation is observed not only in children, but also in many adults. Adults are simply better at hiding their feelings, sometimes even from themselves. What is the main reason for this difference in the mentality of Russians (in the broad sense) and Germans: both adults and children?
Many times, I have watched my compatriots standing in line for groceries, telling their friends how good it is to live in Germany. And then, when they hear at the cash register that the selected product costs more than they thought it would, they walk away and say one word through their teeth: “Fascists“. And the same reaction can be observed with similar trivialities. And Germans say words like “russische Schweine” with clenched fists when they see a person of Slavic appearance littering in transport or throwing plastic in the waste paper bin.
It seems that subconsciously the Germans remain aggressors to us, “fascists“. And we are “russische Schweine” to them. The dynamic is embedded in the subconscious and comes out rarely. Among the creative and scholarly intellectuals, it only comes out in critical situations. Ordinary people usually do not think about etiquette and directly express their negativity. Therefore, the inhibition level of their children is much lower than those of the intelligentsia.
These given examples show how ridiculous, sometimes even absurd, our behavior is when a seemingly innocent trigger unexpectedly opens the “Pandora’s Box” of our subconsciousness. And we usually do not notice it. What to say about children and teenagers! They do not understand what is happening. They just suffer [ (4), (5)].
In case of serious problems, parents are sent to a psychologist. German psychology and psychiatry are at a very high level, specialists should be able to cope with their task successfully. But unfortunately, from the experience with my son and many other children I can attest that German psychologist often weren’t able to correct the situation. Sometimes they even made it worse. This is exactly what happened to my youngest son.
He went to kindergarten at the age of three. At first, no one noticed anything unusual. But after three months, he stopped sleeping at night. Much later I realized that the children were making fun of him because he did not know German and was acting oddly. Being sensitive by nature, he withdrew into himself and could not sleep from overexertion.
I went to a psychiatrist, later to a psychologist: a bunch of tests, but they could neither diagnose nor help the child. The tests revealed only a very low IQ. Even though the child spoke two languages, knew a lot of poems and started to read. Much later I realized that he was afraid of the German psychologists who were doing the tests, and was just blocking. He was getting worse and worse.
A mother’s intuition helped me take my son away and seek help elsewhere. I went to an occupational therapist, who immediately expressed a suspicion of ASD, started working with him and made serious improvements within a year. He also advised me to switch kindergarten to one with an integration focus. The child felt calmer there. Unfortunately, the picture was spoiled by the German psychological center, which took the child for therapy. The diagnosis was never made. Again, a lot of tests with bad results, and that is why he was not accepted to the integrative school. And in the regular school the story repeated itself: severe mobbing. But my son finished elementary school with honors thanks to a sensitive teacher.
In gymnasium the story with mobbing repeated itself, but this time with the teachers. Only when my son turned 19, I managed to find a good psychiatrist on the recommendation of my colleague, a psychotherapist and systemic constellation therapist. Finally, he was correctly diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
One could assume, our family was just unlucky. But, unfortunately, similar stories can be found in many families of emigrants from the former Soviet Union: they do not find a specialist to help their children, and the children then die from drugs [ (4), (5)].
Thanks to many examples, I uncovered the main reason for such a difference in the mentality of Russians (in the broad sense) and Germans, both adults and children. Let us remember that in the twentieth century alone there were two major wars between Russians and Germans. And the Victim-Aggressor dynamic is still firmly embedded in the subconscious of descendants. This is an enormous field for the work of psychotherapists and especially systemic constellation therapists.
So how can we deal with this phenomenon in order to effectively help both, ourselves and our children? Let us remember that, sooner or later, almost all nations were at war with each other. And our subconscious has far more divisions than positive connections. And it is the systemic constellation that works most effectively with the subconscious: a kind of X-ray, or rather even MRI, of the subconscious [ (1), (3), (6)]. With its help we can see which loyalty programs are controlling us from there and what is really going on there.
Modern science confirms that we inherit unexpressed feelings and traumas of our ancestors. Often a person unconsciously experiences not his or her own feelings, but the adopted feelings of the representatives of his or her Family System. This leads to the described phenomenon. Systemic constellations allow you to quickly see these hidden subconscious dynamics and effectively transform them into positive ones [ (1), (3)].
But systemic constellations have their limitations even in the classical version. Let me give you an example. During my training our course was taught by the famous German therapist M. In the constellation for the student N. the dynamics of her grandfather were uncovered, who died near Moscow in 1941. However, to my surprise, M. did not cope with the constellation. N. understood very little and asked me, also a student, to redo her constellation. We did it successfully. Since then N. has become a regular client of mine.
To understand why M. failed, just look at N.’s family history, which she told us during the module. Her father was taken into Russian captivity when she was only 5 years old. For her, our soldiers are the aggressors. Apparently this is why she could not cope with the usual constellation in which the aggressors were the German soldiers, who killed N.’s grandfather. During the constellation the subconscious started transference. M. again felt like a little girl, deprived of her father for many years, stuck in Russian captivity. I note that I have often observed Russian formators failing in formations in which our soldiers raped German women. It is the same picture as that of M.
After gaining enough experience with systemic constellations, I realized how I could get around this limitation. It is necessary to push the national and cultural boundaries by working in an international group, where representatives of both sides, victims and aggressors, gather in the same field. This makes it possible to enter the meta-level, to look into the depths of the subconscious and to shed light on its dark corners and labyrinths, discovering hidden negative dynamics and successfully dealing with them. In this case, it is possible to take control and deal with subconscious hostility [ (1), (3), (6)].
Any theory has to be tested in practice. And I began to gather mixed groups, including special groups for troubled children and their parents, working in two languages at once. It is important that there should be several representatives of each side. This creates a kind of balance in the group.
The effect exceeded all expectations. Not only were we able to see the true causes of problems and conflicts, but we were also able to work with them very effectively. It is interesting that in the beginning there is some tension, including among the children. And at the end it is a joy to see representatives of both nations warmly hugging each other goodbye and exchanging contacts. Moreover, some reported that their children’s communication problems were in the family, kindergarten, school, etc. went away on their own. Even German parents observed positive changes in their children [ (1), (6)].
In a number of cases I worked only with the mother, however, the psychiatrist and psychologist noticed serious improvements in the child. That’s one of the wonders of the work! In the Family System, everyone is strongly connected. Positive changes in one of its members lead to positive changes in their immediate environment, especially children. I am convinced that the systemic constellations in an international group in combination with other methods of psychotherapy is precisely the tool that can be exceptionally effective in solving the problem at hand.
How can we help our immigrant children? For a while I brought children and teens together at church: Sunday school, youth club… so they could grow together and support each other. But that was just a drop in the bucket. We need large-scale government programs, backed up by a serious research base. But as we know, in any business, “the leadership decides everything”. A community of good psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, etc. is needed.
There are wonderful specialists in Germany, but, unfortunately, they don’t understand us and we don’t understand them. As a result, the most important component – good relationship between the therapist and the client – is missing in therapy. That is true for both, adults and even more so with children. There are many Russian-speaking psychologists in Germany. But their diplomas are not recognized here. With the rare exception of Moscow State University and Pushkin Leningrad State University. This is why Russian-speaking families hardly ever go to psychologists, although health insurance pays for therapy. This issue needs to be put before a panel like the WCP and EAP. I see the only way out is to organize a training center in Germany to provide additional education to Russian-speaking psychologists in order to certify them in Europe. In that case Russian-speaking families will have a chance.
In this article I have only posed the problem. In order to solve it, it is necessary:
- To develop and introduce into practice modern, effective methods of psychotherapy that work at the subconscious level, for example, systemic constellations.
- To raise the problem to the government level, organize special programs and educational retraining centers at appropriate universities.
- To provide an opportunity for emigrant families to receive therapy from a compatriot in their native language; to find an opportunity to pay for such therapy for children and teenagers, especially for poor families.
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