Professor and Clinical Psychologist
Specializing in Families and Emigration
Emigration preparation and emigration preparation talks.
Psychotherapy to assist with the relational losses following emigration of family and friends.
Support for expats returning to South Africa.
General psychotherapy for adults and families.
Psychotherapy in Italian.
BA Humanities (cum laude)0%
BA Honours Philosophy0%
BA Honours Psychology (cum laude)0%
MA Clinical Psychology (cum laude)0%
D.Litt. et Phil Psychology0%
Practice #: 8618291 - HPCSA #: PS0028401
Maria Marchetti-Mercer was born in Milan (Italy) and moved to South Africa in the mid-seventies. She studied at the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) where she obtained a B.A. (Humanities) (cum laude), B.A. (Hons) (Philosophy), B.A. (Psychology) (cum laude), MA (Clinical Psychology) (cum laude) and D. Litt. et Phil. in Psychology with a thesis on the Milan School of family therapy.
She worked as a researcher at the Human Sciences Research council in 1990 where she was part of the National research team on Family Murder and then at the University of Johannesburg as a lecturer until December 1994. In 1995 she moved to the University of Pretoria as a senior lecturer. She was promoted to associate professor in 2000 and then to full-professor in 2004. She was appointed as Chair of the department of Psychology (the first woman to hold this position in the department) in October 2001 and she served in this position until December 2011. In 2012 she moved to the University of the Witwatersrand where she served as the Head of the School of Human and Community Development until December 2016. She is now a Professor in the department of Psychology at Wits.
She has been involved in the training of professional psychologists for nearly 20 years and has a special interest and expertise in family therapy. She has also received advanced postgraduate family therapy training in Italy under the mentorship of Proffs. Mara Selvini Palazzoli and Maurizio Andolfi.
She is a C2 rated National Research Foundation scientist attesting to her standing as a researcher. Her most current area of research is the impact of emigration on South African families. She has published widely in this area and has presented her research at a number of conferences both nationally and internationally. She has also presented her work at a number of universities abroad such as Yale, Georgia State University, the University of San Francisco, the University of Western Australia and the Auckland University of Technology.
She is a fellow of the Oxford Symposium of School-based Family counseling and in 2008 she received an award from the Institute for School-Based Family Counseling and the University of San Francisco Center for Child and Family Development for outstanding international contributions to School-Based Family Counseling presented at Brasenose College, Oxford University. In 2010 she received an award for the Best poster for her work entitled, “Relational bereavement in emigration: Those staying behind,” at the 7th European Family Therapy Conference, Paris, 30 October 2010.
Articles & Media
Hearts in Exile
Enigrations and SA
There's being "dead and gone" and there's being "gone but not dead"....
'Death' of relationships has far-reaching effects.
Emigration isn't just an historical part of South African culture...
Frequently Asked Questions
Often, people planning to emigrate are very focused on the practical aspects of the move such as – among others – selling their house, packing up their belongings, finding a new job, obtaining visas, finding new accommodation and finding a new school for their children. This leaves little time to focus on the more interpersonal aspects of emigration.
There are, however, a number of issues that should be explored before you leave. First of all, it is important to make sure that everyone in the family is equally committed to the move and to identify any underlying couple/family issues that need to be resolved prior to the emigration. The stress of the move and the unfamiliar new environment may trigger these issues at a later stage, at which point they are exacerbated by the unfamiliar new environment. Children are particularly vulnerable as they are often not involved in the decision-making process and it is important to help prepare them for the move.
Communicating your decision to family and friends is also crucial and may affect how relationships will be maintained later. This may involve issues such as how you will stay in touch, what kind of media will you use and how often, will there be regular visits, and what will you do in times of crisis?
If you are leaving elderly parents behind it is important to decide who will take care of them and negotiate their care with with siblings/other family members. It may also be important to discuss possible financial issues re caregiving.
Every person and family will experience the move differently. Research has shown that generally people move through different phases of adaptation once in a new country. Initially you are likely to be quite excited about the new country and all the new things associated with it. Coming from a country like South Africa – where issues of personal safety and restricted movement are prevalent – you may enjoy your newfound freedom and sense of safety. For example, many people comment on how happy they are to see their children walking to school and being able to play in the streets.
However, with time, you may experience more feelings of homesickness and missing your family and friends. This may take place at certain times of the year such as religious festivals or birthdays. You may have to deal with the hurt or anger of the people you have left behind which can be difficult to understand and manage. You may also start missing certain things perculiar to South Africa such as your favourite foods (although many overseas stores carry South African products!)
It can be incredibly difficult for older people with children and grandchildren living abroad. Life can be very lonely and you may watch your friends spending lots of time with their families watching their grandchildren grow up with great sadness.
The new technology available to us is useful to maintain contact, although, some may tend to find it alienating. It is, therefore, important for people to process their feelings of loss and find new ways to build social connections which will help combat the loneliness.
Many of us have had friends and colleagues emigrate and it is normal to experience a range of negative feelings under these circumstances. You may find that your friend shared the news of having decided to emigrate in an excited manner which left you feeling hurt as he or she did not take into consideration your feelings of loss.
Many people, when leaving the country, may “badmouth” the country – over-idealizing the country of destination and making you doubt your own decision to remain in South Africa. This may put you at odds with your friends as you have to negotiate different world views.
It is important that both members of a couple be equally committed to the move and both see themselves benefiting from the emigration. If one partner is not committed or undecided problems may arise later.
Therefore, these issues have to be discussed in depth so that a mutually beneficial decision can be made.
Most medical aids provide cover for psychotherapy and I charge Discovery medical aid rates. It may be a good idea to check with your own medical aid before you begin with psychotherapy. Rates for specific workshops / presentations may be negotiated depending on the number of people attending but these will typically not be covered by medical aids.
I offer individual/family therapy focusing on addressing the psychological challenges mentioned above. This can range between two to four sessions of 60 minutes each. Alternatively, I can offer a three hour workshop for a family or groups of individuals/families planning to emigrate.
I also offer general psychotherapy services for individuals and families who are looking for psychological support. I work from an interactional/systemic perspective trying to understand the individual within the context of his/her relationships and social systems.
Psychotherapy to assist with the relational losses following emigration of family and friends. I offer individual/family/group therapy focusing on addressing the issues of loss associated with family emigration. This may be more of a long-term psychotherapy with sessions of 60 minutes each.
Return Immigration Support
Psychotherapy with individuals / families returning to South Africa after living abroad. I offer individual / family therapy focusing on addressing the issues of returning to South Africa. This may be more of a long-term psychotherapy with sessions of 60 minutes each.
Emigration Preparation Talks
Available for specific groups of people who may have a specific interest/ need in terms of any psychological aspect related to emigration.
Sessions In Italian
Psychotherapy for Italians living in South Africa wanting mother-tongue therapy.