Moving away from home brings us face to face with ourselves and issues we may have been ignoring in comfortable surroundings. It’s easy to get into patterns and ignore issues when going about a routine and surrounded by family and old friends. Moving to Shanghai can be an amazing opportunity to break those patterns and discover more about one’s self, though for some this can be a shocking process.

Shanghai expats often take the opportunity to embrace the experience of living here and in Asia. This may include adventurous travel, exploring Chinese language and culture and even personal reinvention. On the flip side, many clients come to me because this transition has brought them into crisis. It is easy to be tempted into destructive ways of dealing with discomfort and change here in Shanghai. Problems that already existed often become more obvious and for some people, being away from home frees them to face these issues.

When preparing to come to Shanghai, most expats seek out the practical tools they’ll need to manage. Expats can easily find great groups to join, online forums, and apps to assist with the transition and daily life. However, an expat can be equipped with all the best external resources and still have great difficulty handling life in Shanghai. Without the internal resources, the Shanghai experience will be colored by the individual’s perception and limiting patterns.

One of the most effective tools I use in counselling Shanghai expats is the family tree technique. Through exploring the family tree, clients gain awareness of the origins of their perceptions and patterns. The family acts as a mould and humans tend to fit into to feel accepted, whether consciously or not. In this way, we may be limited by inherited toxic patterns. The study of the family tree uncovers the unconscious dynamics that drive one’s life, creating distance from authenticity.

Even in the early stages, clients gain a lot simply by becoming aware. For example, Jean shares: “Before I met Bibiana I was convinced my life was ok and the reason why I repeatedly seemed to have the same experiences at work, in relationships, and with my family or friends was simply because that’s how life is.” With a willingness to change, clients such as Andreas begin to experience personal growth: “Bibiana helped me to become aware of my emotions, to understand the sources of my frustration and my sadness. This helped me to release a ton of prejudice and harmful ideas that had me trapped in a mold.”

When these patterns have been driving so much in one’s life, they almost take on a character of their own. For example, one common pattern that many clients have developed is ‘the victim’ character. Someone being guided by their victim character will complain often, say “I cannot” or “I won’t be able to”, procrastinate, allow negative situations to happen and associate abundance or prosperity with suffering.

Lucia shares her experience after confronting her particular patterns: “Thanks to what I learned I am more aware and able to identify the catastrophic emotions that overwhelmed me and didn’t let me achieve anything. My priorities have changed unexpectedly and I am a person free to make decisions and live my life without the burden of trying to fit into ideals of success determined by family history or environment.”

I consider myself an ‘awareness consultant’ who works with clients on a short-term basis to help them gain the tools to deal with life and its many changes. “When I face a problem, I just need to remember what Bibiana taught me and the answer to what it is all about comes to me,” shares Jean.

Your time in Shanghai can be a great opportunity to embrace positive change. With a little help, those who are struggling can develop responsibility for their emotions, reduce the need to control and find finding daily peace within.


Bibiana is a holistic psychologist with Body & Soul – Medical Clinics. She combines clinical psychology, psycho genealogy (family tree) and alternative techniques to treat her patients. She also specialises in solving work-related conflicts and offers individual and couples therapy at various Body & Soul locations.

Shanghai | Body and Soul | Expat Essentials

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