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Immigrants' Adaptation: Multi-Level Approaches

Xenia J Kozlov


Immigrants who have arrived in the United States over the last 4 decades represent a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, and races. This diversity provides a challenge to the science and practice of psychology. Clinicians also carry their own sets of cultural attitudes that influence their perceptions as they encounter those who are culturally different (APA, 2013).

Immigrants demonstrate a remarkable pattern of strengths – they are are highly motivated

to learn English, have very high levels of engagement in the labor market, and the children of immigrants go on to outperform their parents. Although immigrants face many risks, e.g. poverty, discrimination, social isolation etc., they do better than expected on a wide range of outcomes. New immigrants’ optimism, greater family cohesion, and availability of community supports contribute to their resiliency (APA, 2013).

However, the challenges which immigrant have to face with make them one of the social groups that are most in need of psychological help. As the immigrant population grows and changes, specialists have to re-evaluate existing practices and search for new methodologies of treatment imigrant clients. This reaction paper observes three studies devoted to three approaches on the topic. All of them argue, that methodologies of immigrants' adaptation should be complex and multi-dimentional.

Immigrants’ Adaptation To Different Cultural Settings (Titzmann & Fuligni, 2015)


The authors emphasize the growth and development of immigration processes, partially, as they are no more dependent on special events or issues (such as war, political crisis etc). Also, affordable transportation and telecommunication made simple models of immigrants' adaptation, where the only one process was assumed, like gradual behavioral movement to complete assimilation, unsuitable for professional use. Authors argue that multi-level approaches should be used and suggest the developmental ecology perspective of Bronfenbrenner (1977, as cited in Titzmann & Fuligni, 2015) as a framework for the research. According to Bronfenbrenner the development is the result of constant exchange between individual and environment, and the environment could be of several types, depending on type of interaction. Thus, the directly linked environment is called microsystem, the interconnection between microsystems is called mesosystem, the system which affects individual without direct contact is called exosystem. The macrosystem refers cultural, social, legal or political system which affects other systems.


Using the Bronfenbrenner's development ecology perspective, authors review five studies which potentially can fit that approach. Author have founded that two of five studies have focused on immigrants' microsystems, such as cultural adaptation of transracion adoptees and immigrants' interaction with peer in school or work. The third study could illustrate the investigation of mesosystem, as it focuses on intersection of family and early education institutes using a mixed method approach. The fourth study is researches the impact of bicultural identity integration method on adolescent first-generation immigrants, so it fits the category of the cross-research of micro- and mesosystem. And the final study in a sence proceeds the previous one as it investigates the longitudinal outcomes of bicultural identity integration (in several generations). Although none of the studies addresses directly to exo- and macrosystem, the useful information could be retrieved as they use the data from different countries.


Though authors have revealed no special researches illustrating Bronfenbrenner's approach to immigrats' adaptation completely, they emphasize that they've provided a useful framework for further multi-level investigations. This sounds really challenging, especially in the conditions that authors have described: the growing multinationality and diversity in modern societies, which certainly require new methods of research and further practical use.

Working With Immigrants (Chung, 2009).


Working with clients who are immigrants or come from immigrant families can become really challenging because immigrant might come from the culture which is not familiar to the therapist. Immigrant client also might feel out of control in new culture, not to understand how systems work and where to get help, and therapist should keep these factors in mind.


Dr. Chung has presented an educational video where she demonstrated practical usage of her method which is called Multilevel model of psychotherapy, social justice and human rights (MLM). This approach gives a culturally sensitive framework for behavioral, cognitive and affective interventions.

The foundation of the MLM is Multicultural Competency, which assumes that therapist is aware of, understands, respects, and appreciates the historical background, sociopolitical experience and psychological challenges experienced by an immigrant client. Therefore, the therapist should adapt the counseling skills and techniques to clients' specific requirements.

MLM consists of five levels that interrelated and may be applied concurrently:

I: Mental Health Education – educating clients about existing mainstream psychological practices, informing client about basic procedures and discuss the role expectations for professional and client.

II: Individual, Group, or Family Psychotherapy – traditional Western techniques and interventions are applied in culturally sensitive manner. Can include CBT, existential counseling, gestalt intervention, relaxation, psychodrama and the use of metaphor, imagery, myth, ritual, and storytelling, which are effective in working with immigrant clients.

III: Cultural Empowerment – the frustration and anger about not understanding how systems work, together with educational, job, health and other issues, may be the main concern which should be resolved before other issues.

IV: Indigenous Healing – the combination of Western and client's traditional healing methodologies, establishing “treatment partnerships”. Providing client with rich range of healing sources, both from native culture and culture of resettlement.

V: Social Justice and Human Rights – addresses potential injustices and human right violations. Psychologist must be active and proactive, educating client about her rights, assist to stand up for equal treatment and access to resources and opportunities.


The approach suggested by Dr. Chung connects several disciplines to provide culturally sensitive framework for immigrants' adaptation counseling. It seems to be really effective in practical use, avoiding specialist from misunderstanding or bias, which could be harmful for the client, and giving better understanding of the challenges which immigrant client have to face with.

Social Anchoring: Immigrant Identity, Security and Integration Reconnected? (Grzymala-Kazlowska, 2016).


Along with the globalization and migratory processes, modern societies face with significant multiculturalism and sometimes super-diversity. From this point, the settlement and adaptation of immigrants seem to be key concerns in modern Europe. Researches and policies have a huge gap in understanding these processes because they don't consider adequately the psycho-social adaptation issues. The author suggests a tool that may increase effectiveness of adaptation processes – the concept of social anchoring.


The concept of social anchoring is a new theoretical approach to analysing the understanding of identity and social integration in contemporary societies. The conceptual framework of anchoring links the issues of identity, security and integration. It gives an opportunity to limit the subjective definition of identity and to allow to include some objective aspects. Social anchoring focuses on the role of identity for adaptation and ways in which immigrants establish essential bases in their lives in the new society. Instead of usual complex integration theories, the social anchoring approach involves the parameters of safety and stability, which are important for settling and adaptation processes.

The anchoring as psychological technique is used, in particular, for treatment of people who experience huge life changes, serious crises and traumatic events. It refers to seeking some stable points of reference. In case of immigrants' adaptation, anchors may be found in family obligations, job relationships, or or take the form of complicated class-ethnic identities, as a sort of defensive mechanism. Different types of anchors can be analitically distinguished and differentiated as subjective/internal and objective/external. Thus, subjective anchors are related to individual's self-concept, personality traits etc, while external anchors can be represented through documents, place of residence, appearance etc. Some anchors may be retrieved from immigrant's native country and others should be created. Social anchoring is a mutual process, where finding an anchor for individual means establishing social connections, and at the same time existing social connections strengthen the infividual's feeling of stability and safeness.


The article proposes the new concept of social anchoring, based on a metaphor of anchor but overcoming its limitations. The concept of social anchoring reconnects the issues of identity, security and integration and adds value to existing concepts. The social anchoring seem to be very promissing concept both in further researches and practical work because it provides the perfect reference point to start the adaptation therapy and a deep symbolic methaphor to be loaded with different meanings and, hence, a wide field of research.


All three researches emphasize the growing meaning of immigrant adaptation for modern society. As the world becomes more and more culturally mixed, spontaneous and mobile, the boundaries between cultures, ethnic groups, information fields become more and more blurry, which makes an affect of “fluent”, unstable environment. From these points, immigration issues turn out to be more common and close to our everyday life than it used to seem. So, there is no surprise that our society experiences growing interest and demand for effective multi-level adaptation procedures of immigrants. The three approaches, presented in this paper, show how different could be the methodologies: while the first study focuses on different levels of environment of the immigrant, the second study puts forth the role of the psychotherapist who needs to involve extra competencies in her practice. Finally, the third approach claims to be universal for everyone who needs the feel of stability and safety, addressing individual's qualities and life parameters.


American Psychology Association (2013). Based on Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century. The Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration. Retrieved from

Chung, R. C-Y. (2009). Working With Immigrants. Multicultural Counseling Video Series (DVD). Description retrieved from

Grzymala-Kazlowska, A. (December, 2016). Social Anchoring: Immigrant Identity, Security and Integration Reconnected? Sociology. 50 (6), 1123-1139.

Titzmann, P. F., Fuligni, A. J. (2015). Immigrants' Adaptation to Different Cultural Settings: A Contextual Perspective of Acculturation. International Journal of Psychology, 50 (6), 407-4012.

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