Therapist Diane Epstein quit her private practice in San Francisco a decade ago and moved to Rome with her husband and their two small sons. Having swapped “The American Dream” for “La Dolce Vita,” Epstein began “creativity counseling” in Italy. She expanded her interests to photography and teaching cooking. Born in New York City, Epstein moved to the West Coast and founded the California Institute for Healthy Living in 1979, later practicing personal and family therapy for over a decade. She is founding director of CALM (Center for Creativity and Life Mastery) where she assisted artists, professionals and entrepreneurs “to clarify and reach greater goals and feel calmer and more creative.” Epstein has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show with her husband, author Alan Epstein (“As the Romans Do: An American Family’s Italian Odyssey”), and lives in an Aventine Hill apartment, where she chatted with Elizabeth Wahn. These are excerpts from their conversation.
Why did you and your husband forego successful careers to move here?
Not forego, reshape. Alan and I both love Italy. We came to Rome on our honeymoon and dreamed of living here permanently. When we felt ready, we took the leap.
Was it easy to pick up and move?
No, but people can flourish wherever their dream takes them, and we felt passionate about making it work. For me, being so far away from family was the hardest part, but communications — the Internet — make things easier. Also when we moved here, our sons were three and six years old, the perfect age to bring them overseas with minimal culture shock. Some of the problems I deal with in my practice are the collateral effects of uprooting a family or handling long-distance commitments like caring for aging parents. Or cross-cultural differences — especially American and British women, married or involved with Italian men, who leave home and careers, hoping to recreate their lives in a more soulful, creative fashion. Making a commitment to yourself that carries you through long-lasting shifts is one of the keys to realizing your dreams.
What are the British and Americans seeking here?
I think that they — we — are trying to escape pressure and looking for a gentler lifestyle. When I was a child in the United States, the pace was slower. I used to bicycle around the neighborhood, play in the park, and feel safe. Most adults had time for their children and enjoyed the small pleasures that enrich the quality of life. Nowadays it seems that work has taken over. People feel the need to keep up what I call the “corporate image” syndrome.
The lifestyle here is so enticing — the food, the weather, the daily interchanges. Italians are charming and Romans particularly warmhearted. Shortly after 9/11, I went to my local cappuccino bar, and the owner took my hands and said, “Signora, if you ever need help, please know you can always find a free meal here.” I was genuinely touched.
You’ve prospered here. What about the people you counsel?
Some arrive here with unrealistic expectations. They bring their anxieties, self-sabotaging habits, or old wounds with them. When their dreams fail, it becomes a crisis. I teach people how to direct their energy toward positive action. I believe that action is the antedote to anxiety just as negativism destroys happiness. I’m not talking about simply controlling anger or dealing with frustrations, my approach is to reprogram thinking, alter the very words people use, and target different results. I teach people to loosen up, relinquish their desire to control, cut through negativity, learn to laugh and smile more, and discover their wealth of creativity.
But foreigners do run into plenty of external flack.
Yes, we do, but so do the locals. It’s a part of the culture, but it’s also true that Italy has become more user-friendly, with fewer bureaucratic nightmares. A positive attitude is indispensable in learning how to adapt. For instance, take the people who don’t learn Italian. They undergo undue stress because they’ve disempowered themselves. It’s hard to master a new language, and it can seem daunting, but it’s another opportunity to grow. It’s how you learn, and it helps if you develop a sense of humor. People who make the effort eventually make friends and feel more connected. Italians are very forgiving, they won’t judge you if you stumble. You have to get up again as a small child would. Successful people take risks. When they fail, they try something different. It means letting go of your ego and developing a more flexible attitude even if you make a fool of yourself.
More about Diane Epstein at [email protected] and