What Working In A Rehab In Thailand Has Taught Me About Reverse Culture Shock

I wondered how tough it would be this time around…

Reverse culture shock I mean.


After spending four months working as an addictions therapist  at the luxury resort, facility DARA. A boutique rehab perched atop a craggy hillside, overlooking the gulf of thailand’s sparkling emerald waters and nestled in a snug of the national park on the island. A tempting tropical, jungle, paradise, if ever there was one.

I thought I might be fine when I came home.

Mostly I have been.

Yet at the same time, I am aware that I have adapted to the culture I found myself immersed in, both within its community and outside in its beautiful location. The culture of the rehab is something which I had to get used to – at the same time as adapting to the culture of thailand and the way of life on the island. It was challenging but as I connected with the people, which was mainly positive, it helped me to adapt and adjust. Sometimes I felt alone but this was mainly on my weekends off – yet there was a joy in just going to the beach and laying in the sun, without any troubles or challenges in my thoughts for the weekend apart from what beach shall I lay on today and which massage is my choice for the next hour. Mental bliss.

All my senses were stimulated.

In fact kicked into overdrive, as I learnt new things and ways of being minute by minute. Connecting with a diverse international clientele and facility team in the process. As my busyness increased, so did my level of joy and for a short while, my anxiety.

It literally took my breath away and in those moments I’d look to the heavens and take my overwhelmed self to sit on the bench – looking out over the warm blue waters, undulating and shifting below.

To breathe deeply.

To mindfully take a moment, to consciously connect with my body and scan for any dark spots. What was the point of me using this therapeutic tool to assist the clients in dealing with their addictions, if I didn’t have the honesty to utilise it when optimizing those moments needed of self care.

So here I sat this time.  Now at home.

I was still using the mindfulness method I taught and shared in those moments with clients, before moving from one class to the next. A tool of self recognition and acknowledgment. The question to be asked, ‘how am I?’

The patterns I discovered were already kicking in.


I had been stimulated holistically, in such a way which allowed my mind to be flooded with dopamine for an extended period of time. Dopamine plays a major role in reward motivated behaviour.

This chemical acts as a messenger between brain cells. Dopamine is important for many of our daily behaviors. It plays a role in how we move, for instance, as well as what we eat, how we learn and even whether we become addicted to drugs.Science News 2017

I’ve lost weight.

A side effect noted which happens to me when I am happy, engaged and yes-motivated and stimulated. When my stress level drops and I feel more in control of what is going on inside me and around me. Also the constructed meal time, swimming pool which I took advantage of a couple of mornings a week, as the sun was starting to warm up the sky around 6:15 am and the sense of community building, within the staff and clients I was seeing and attending to everyday. I was learning the ropes, beginning to understand what the program offered and engaging fully in the ongoing learning and clinical framework I found myself residing within.

But at home yesterday. There was a point when I realised that I all I wanted, was to go into my kitchen and eat.

I wasn’t hungry.

I  was bored and as I recognised the emotional squiggle which arrives internally with this level of boredom, for the first time, I realised how the drop in dopamine also plays a part in reverse culture shock, because you lose the stimulation provided by travel and newness. Which are all important parts of life.

The new smells. The jungle noises. The monkeys on opening my room door!

The dopamine levels dip and you can be left looking for that dopamine spike somewhere different. Like in the cupboard, which is where I normally keep my biscuits and chocolate. Yet it is only through the psycho-education, counselling I had delivered and the conversations had with my colleagues and clients did my insight grow in leaps and bounds with the knowledge.

Now this isn’t just a part of reverse culture shock, but for me personally when bored – my emotional response to bury the boredom, the lack of stimulation and fulfillment which arrives with it, is to reach out for food – to replace that high I’ve gained naturally from travel, somewhere else.

Reverse Culture Shock Signs and Symptoms:

  • Feeling alienated from your native culture
  • disorientation
  • Boredom
  • Apathy
  • feeling low/depression
  • Overwhelm
  • Isolation
  • Reverse homesickness

I’ve not been able to reflect and recognise the patterns as they’ve come into play in the past but recognise now with the education and elevated awareness I’ve personally received, whilst participating in delivering the DARA program, I too have learnt, developed and grown in a process enough to help myself out. Even though the urge I am experiencing is telling me something different. I’m trying to figure out if it’s willpower which is stopping me but I don’t think so. It’s something else.

A desire to continue reinforcing internally what I have learnt externally and am taking forward, building new neural pathways in the process.  I can’t guarantee I’ll be good forever, especially with christmas knocking at the proverbial door but now I have armour, which I imagine I wear around me like a knight.

So although I may not have kicked the reverse culture shock fully into touch. I understand it a lot better now – being kind to myself in the process, keeping myself moving (especially in the cold) and thanking my own personal god for giving me the opportunity to experience the physical, intellectual, experiential and emotional connection which has enabled me to discover the answer I’ve always wanted to know.

Thank You DARA



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