Eleni left Greece nine years ago to study abroad. Her plan was to return once she had completed her studies – or at least that’s what she hoped. In the midst of the country’s economic crisis, however, she was unable to find employment back home. She applied for a job in the United Kingdom and started working there.
She married an Englishman and, along with her job, started her doctorate. She felt everything was going well until, one day, about three and a half years ago, she started having panic attacks.
She saw two psychologists in the UK but was not happy with the treatment. Perhaps it was the language, or perhaps the psychologists were just not the right fit. Eleni went through a difficult time because she felt she really needed to talk to someone and couldn’t find support.
Finally, she contacted a psychologist in Athens. They spoke on the phone a few times and then met in Greece while she was over for a visit. Since then, they have been conducting regular sessions by Skype.
“It helped me a lot that we spoke the same language. It feels more intimate, you can express yourself better, and the other person understands your inner self better,” she explained to Kathimerini.
Through this process, she realized that the experience of migration had had a much bigger psychological impact on her than she had thought.
“[It was] the sense of where I belong, as well as the problems that arise in a foreign country even though I know it well. Mainly, it was the lack of contact with the people I’m close to. I have plenty of acquaintances, but few friends – most of them are in Greece. I am thinking of having a family here, but it’s not an easy decision. All of that was creating conflicting feelings.”
When she began to decode what she felt through therapy, she started to discuss it with others with similar experiences. She was relieved to find that others were experiencing similar thoughts and feelings. Soon, most of these people started having Skype appointments with Eleni’s psychologist in Athens.
Evita Kalofonou had a similar experience when she followed her husband to Brighton where he found a job. Working as a psychologist in Greece, Kalofonou was worried about whether she would be able to practice her profession in another language. She needn’t have worried. After a brief search she discovered that there were many Greeks abroad in need of counseling.
“Of course, in big cities it’s easy to find Greek psychologists, but now there are Greeks even in smaller towns, where there had been a vacuum before,” she explained.
Today, 90 percent of her clients are Greeks living in the UK.
The cost of a session with Kalofonou is the same as a visit to a doctor but prices remain closer to those in Greece than the norm in Britain. “I think most of us realize that these people were forced to leave the country in search of better living conditions, so there is understanding,” she told Kathimerini.
Ilias Kourkoutas, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Crete, was initially against the idea of Skype sessions because he felt that face-to-face contact was necessary – not just to observe the client’s movements, facial expressions and body postures, but because the first meeting in an unknown venue is very important.
However, he understood the need of those who had approached him and decided to participate in a program offering counseling to teachers and new emigrants in cooperation with the University of Brighton.
Kourkoutas believes that a great deal of the concerns and inhibitions concerning the technical difficulties and limitations of online counseling have been overcome by many psychologists.
Indeed, an internet search brings up dozens of webpages of doctors offering similar services. There is even a startup called Melapus which allows users to select a psychologist or psychiatrist from any of several areas of Greece and have an online session.
According to Melapus’ founder, Nikos Gouvas, people in Sweden, England, Serbia and Turkey have already found a therapist using his site.
Two psychologists with experience in online therapy who spoke to Kathimerini have found that many new expats experience the same issues: “Mainly anxiety disorders and panic attacks. A large number of people experience a ‘split identity’ due to migration,” said Kourkoutas.
“Very often, when they have a family, there are issues relating to raising children, while they inevitably bring to the new country the unresolved issues that already existed and which usually seem bigger when the social networks that have helped them attain balance in the past are absent in the new environment.”
Such problems, of course, are not unprecedented. “I’m sure that previous generations of migrants dealt with the same issues, but at least this generation has technology on its side and, most importantly, is not afraid to ask for help,” he adds.