Aliyah Adjustment/Culture Shock

By Sharni Brodesky, B.Sc.(Psychology)(Hons.);M.Sc.Med.(Psychotherapy)

Immigration is rated as the second highest life "stressor" according to the DSM, after death of a spouse. This means that life’s general difficulties can become exacerbated for Olim who move to Israel. In fact, there is a high rate of return to country of origin for new Olim (approx. 30%) in the first three years of making Aliyah. Research shows that there is a natural settlement/acculturation process that takes approximately 5 years to pass through before immigrants feel more successfully settled and fully functional in Israel. During this process, there are predictable periods that immigrants are more likely to experience feelings of depression, disillusionment, incompetence, low self esteem, overwhelm, frustration, disappointment, isolation, homesickness, despair, and in general, the experience that life is a struggle. It is during these times that Olim who decide to return their countries of origin, often make these decisions.

For example, they arrive in a country that is essentially a war zone, which can be a traumatic experience, along with entering a society with different coping mechanisms, where locals are quite hardened to their reality and provide little comfort; they find themselves in a new place, without their old friends, family, home, work, social network, a new language, and a whole set of life-long skills that may be experienced as lacking value in the new environment, etc.

These external variables are only the starting point. Olim also have emotional lives; they bring with them their own personality and coping mechanisms. Depending on levels of stress experienced before/during/after the migration period, various issues, new or reoccurring, may be triggered. They may also bring previous/existing mental health issues (e.g. anxiety, depression, personality issues, etc), marital/familial/ relationship issues, etc, that immigration may exacerbate. They also have fresh experiences of separation and loss from family left behind. When they face a lot of difficulties in their settlement process, it can cause problems in the family unit, marriage, relationships, learning difficulties, along with social/emotional issues in children, depression, high anxiety, dysthemia, adjustment disorders and more. Prolonged stress and struggles with mental health have a negative impact on integration/acculturation, including levels of productivity.

Adjustment therapy aims to assist Olim through Aliyah experiences, by helping people to deal with these problems at a deeper level before they get out of hand, to reduce the overwhelm and before they make reactive decisions, for example, to leave Israel. It also aims to give them opportunity to work through issues that may be obstacles to settlement, and once processed, will hopefully open up their potential and capacity to make positive contributions to Israel and their own lives.

It also aims to assist Olim that have invested so much in the process of making Aliyah, to feel understood and supported, and as a result, more contained, less anxious and relieved, knowing the option for professional therapeutic intervention is available when the need arises. Receiving specialized treatment and intervention for adjustment issues, culture shock, transitions, etc. makes a vital difference in helping Olim integrate better. As research shows, emotional health is the basis on which a successful immigration/Aliyah process depends upon.

Aims of Service We Offer at The Place:

  1. To facilitate the resettlement process for Olim, towards a state of being fully functional and bi-cultural in Israel, so that their spiritual, personal, emotional, social, relationship, community, professional, familial, etc needs are met in Israel equal to their country of origin, via the model of therapeutic intervention when the need arises.
  2. To help Olim make the best decisions for them, during times of overwhelming stress that is often experienced through a sense of isolation, helplessness and despair that may be avoided through access to a therapist that allows for processing and dealing with the issues. This will include some normalization and psycho-education around the process of immigration.
  3. To give Olim the emotional support and therapeutic tools to work through the stresses that come with making Aliyah, if necessary, in order to prevent further mental health issues from developing.

Sharni Brodesky is the Places’s expert on Aliyah Adjustment. To make an appointment with Sharni please contact us at info@theplace.org.il or call 02-581-8299.