Contributed by Christine Forte, LMHC

“What if rather than being disheartened by the ambiguity, the uncertainty of life, we accepted it and relaxed into it?” – Pema Chodron

Wherever you are in the world, you have likely been keeping track of the news about the unfolding spread of novel coronavirus. There are so many questions: how dramatically will it spread across the world? How serious is it? What can be done about it? Exactly how worried should we be right now? A cloud of uncertainty swirls around the spread of the virus, the epicenter focused on China.

Having just returned to the US after ten years living in Shanghai, currently my practice focuses primarily on working online with clients in China. All of them have been impacted by this public health crisis, in a multitude of ways. Even though for the large part the expat community in Shanghai has not been directly impacted the virus, life has changed. For those still present in the city, work and school have been cancelled or moved to online, restrictions set on going to public places, masks are mandatory, apartment compounds are closely monitoring who goes in and out. For those who had been traveling for Chinese New Year outside of China as the illness escalated, many have been unable to return to their Shanghai homes.

Life overseas, and really life in general, is riddled with uncertainty. In fact, we could say that some of the only guarantees we have in life are that we will have to face times of change and uncertainty. There are the more mundane moments of uncertainty: will my visa application be approved, the work contracted renewed, the products that I’d like to have for my new baby found? And then there can be more dramatic moments, when someone is in an accident, or arrested, or conflict breaks out in the area, or in the case of coronavirus, a new illness is identified to be spreading.

It may feel manageable to overcome the uncertainty in the smaller moments, to acquaint ourselves with it, to find ways to calm our anxious thoughts, to relax, to engage in self-care, to, in Pema Chodron’s words, relax into it. But how, when the uncertainty becomes so loud and dramatic, do we manage to do this? How can we manage to quiet the panic that wells within us with each new piece of information or at our lack of control over the situation?

In this time when the uncertainty is so much louder than usual, it is not uncommon for people to have moments where they feel overwhelmed by fear of the coulds and the maybes. This fear that wells up can contain different narratives: it may relate to a fear of the virus itself or it may center around fears related to the measures being taken to contain the virus. Governments and airlines have taken dramatic action to contain the virus, which are themselves great sources of concern for the dramatic impact that they have on daily life and coping, but then on top of this rumors abound for what there could be to come. For example, for many expats still in china, hearing that flights from China to the US had all been cancelled was a strong trigger of anxiety. Even for those who were not planning to leave, hearing that options to do so would be extremely limited was unnerving. Likewise for when consulates have recalled staff. And then there are the internal dilemmas, the moments of wondering if the right decision has been made: for people who have chosen to stay they likely had good reasons for doing so. But it can be hard to stand by these choices when others in their lives are encouraging them to do otherwise.

A first step that can be helpful for those experiencing anxiety around all of this uncertainty is to try to connect to the fact that they are not alone in their experience. Even if they may be physically alone in their apartment at the moment, trying to connect to the knowledge that they are not the only ones who are struggling or suffering. Connecting in mindfulness or in meditation to the fact that there are many others in the world who are struggling or who are afraid or who may doubt their decisions can be a source of comfort and solidarity. We can never accurately compare our struggles or suffering to anyone else’s but we can know that all human beings have times of suffering at some point in their lives.

Another strategy that can be useful in coping with the ups and downs that come with experiencing either the daily life impacts of the lockdowns or fears of the virus itself can be to do some journaling exercises. While I would not presume to say that these offer an immediate resolution to anyone’s situation, I do find that they can be helpful for reducing distress. Writing can be useful to help us to commit more strongly to a new or different way of thinking. When we are trying to reshape a particular mental narrative it can reinforce it. There are a few different ways to approach this.

One can be that in moments of feeling encouraged, write a letter to yourself to read when you’re feeling discouraged or afraid. What would you want that version of yourself to be able to keep in mind? Commit to reading over this for encouragement when you are feeling afraid.

For fearful moments, another strategy can be to write down the things you are afraid of. What exactly are they? What do you fear they could lead to? Get as much to the heart of these fears as you can. Then, with the attitude of a curious scientist, examine them more closely – how likely are they to happen? What are some reasons that you feel pretty certain that they wouldn’t? Or if you do genuinely believe that there’s a chance they could, how would you cope? How do you know that the situation would be temporary and you would get through it? Mentally anchor yourself in this, knowing that you now have thought through how you can and cope with each day, one at a time.

As with any time in our lives we have no way to fully know what will happen next. And so instead of seeking security in certainty about the future, we keep taking the next steps that are needed to care for ourselves and our loved ones, planning for tomorrow where we can. Knowing that overall our certainty lies not in anything external but in our own abilities to cope with each challenge that may arise.

Author: Christine Forte, LMHC

Christine Forte is a counselor and coach to the globally mobile. She works mostly online with a focus on seeing clients based in China, as she lived and worked in Shanghai for 10 years.

Her main areas of specialization are relationships, life transitions, motherhood and finding career purpose.

Contributed by Dr. Jana Jenkins

For most of us the end of each year leads to reflections and evaluations of the past year and thinking about what the new year will bring. This is no different for those of us who emigrated to a different country including myself.

Perhaps you have always dreamt about relocating to a different country and idolised what the ‘new life’ is going to be. On the other hand, your circumstances may have dictated the move which may mean that your move was not necessarily within your control.  The latter could make your adjustment to becoming an expatriate more challenging psychologically.  However, if you over-idealised the international move, that brings about its own challenges such as language and cultural barriers, leaving the loved ones behind, missing familiarity in multiple contexts and in my case buying a sour milk instead of semi-skimmed!

Adjustment to any life changing events could be stressful and may even lead to clinical depression for some.

Perhaps you are someone who has been putting off therapy for some time and your New Year resolution is to make changes in your life.

I would encourage anyone who can benefit from talking, to give it a try. Everyone and anyone can benefit from therapy, just think of it as a safe space to talk and explore what’s going on for you. 

One of the most damaging preconceptions is that therapy is a sign of vulnerability. I always say to my clients that it is the exact opposite, it takes a lot of courage to be in therapy, look at your fears, hopes and discuss your wish to change. Therapy can be helpful for people from all walks of life.

Thinking about entering therapy can feel daunting, especially if you have no previous experience of seeing a therapist. Many questions may surface in your mind, such as “What if I do not like a therapist?, What if they are unable to help?, What if they do not understand or judge me?”

Please be assured that these worries are very common and understandable. Therapists understand and respect that you are letting them into your internal world and you may be a private person who does not find talking about your difficulties and feelings easy. You may feel embarrassment or even experience shame about asking for help and if funding private therapy, feel guilty about spending money on yourself.  You may be blaming yourself for ‘not coping’ and feeling ‘overwhelmed’.

Good therapy involves treating you as a unique individual with a therapist helping you to making sense of your difficulties in a collaborative way. It may be helpful to think that you are the expert on your difficulties and how they impact on your life whereas your therapist is an expert on how to identify your needs and help you. In therapy you are an active participant and your motivation for change is important.

Good therapy can also increase your self-awareness and provide you with a better understanding of the causes of your distress and which factors maintain or sustain it. It can also teach you coping strategies to manage your distress and build resilience.

In this process, a good therapeutic relationship is paramount, therefore if you are not comfortable with your therapist, you should not hesitate to choose another therapist you feel more at ease with.  My key message is to persevere and find a therapist who can facilitate change.

Another observation that I would like to share with you that sometimes people feel that they do not deserve therapy as they believe that other people are worse off or it is selfish to talk about oneself. What might help you to challenge this belief is to know that human distress lies on a continuum and comparing the intensity of suffering is not helpful.

Many people I meet are initially ambivalent about starting therapy and there are people who “do not believe in therapy”.  However, how do you know that therapy is not for you? Understandably, you may have certain preconceptions and feel unsure or even fearful. My advice is to try one session and see how it is for you.

Author: Dr. Jana Jenkins

Dr. Jana Jenkins is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. She runs her private practice in Correze, south west France and works with English and Slovak Speaking expats. 

Jana had lived in the UK for 25 years after relocating from Slovakia in her mid twenties and also lived in South Africa before moving to the UK.

Contributed by Robert Oleskevich, MA, LMFT

3 truths and 3 misunderstandings about what it’s actually like to go to therapy.

Written by a licensed psychotherapist, here are some common truths and misunderstandings about what actually happens if you decide to see a mental health therapist.

All too often as I’ve traveled around Asia, and especially here in Vietnam, one of the first reactions I get from people when I tell them I’m a psychotherapist is: ‘oh, so you know what I’m thinking right now?’ Of course the answer to that question is: ‘no! I’m not a mind reader.’ I still wonder how that became such a common belief. This is just one example of the different stigmas (negative beliefs) about counseling or psychotherapy. Another stigma in some parts of America, for example, is more about being embarrassed or ashamed of the idea of going to a stranger for help.

I hope at least part of what this article might help to do is bring some awareness to these populations about the realities of therapy. Let’s break this down and take a look at what therapy is, and is not.

In some places, therapy is trendy and cool (eg. California and Argentina). In many other places, not so much.

THERAPY IS NOT READING YOUR MIND:

1) Okay, this one is kind of obvious, but apparently needs to be said: Therapy is not about reading someone’s mind. If you choose to go to therapy, the only things your therapist knows about you are the things that you have already shared. Your therapist is not trying to manipulate you or trick you in any way. Your therapist wants you to feel better and the relationship is transparent (open and honest). Once the relationship between you and your therapist develops, over time, your skilled and qualified therapist will begin to understand more clearly your values, why you make the choices that you do, and how these choices are impacting your relationships. One of the cool things about therapy is your therapist does gain access to your inner world, eventually understands you and your values, and can help you keep things in perspective when you feel lost. One thing you don’t have to worry about is your therapist being somehow inside your head and knowing what you’re thinking. If your therapist could read your mind, would this be such a terrible thing? Yes, ok, you’re right, it would! Anyway, your therapist is on your side and wants what is best for you.

YOUR THERAPIST IS A REAL (FLAWED) PERSON:

Therapy should feel like a safe space to open up and be vulnerable.

1) A good therapist is authentic, real, and human. Your therapist may make mistakes. Your therapist won’t know everything. Your therapist shouldn’t hide behind a wall of diplomas. Your therapist should know how to say ‘I don’t know.’ or ‘let me think about this.’ Your therapist should be very cautious about giving advice, because what they would do in a situation isn’t necessarily what’s best for you. A qualified therapist will have good intentions and acknowledge their limitations. They won’t ask you to put yourself in a situation that might be harmful or dangerous, and there is always professional boundaries between the therapist and the client. So a therapist likely won’t be attending your wedding (although exceptions are often made), or there won’t be a therapy session over dinner and drinks. The relationship should feel like a professional partnership. Two people authentically navigating this crazy thing called life. Certainly, your therapist should never bargain with you for payment (offer therapy services in exchange for something you might provide), nor should a therapist ever suggest any type of more intimate relationship. If something like that should happen, the client should strongly consider terminating the relationship immediately. It seems like a no-brainer, but just like in any profession, there are some good therapists and some that are not. For example, in California, it is suggested at the beginning of therapy that the therapist give the client a pamphlet entitled ‘Therapy Never Includes Sexual Behavior.’ Crazy!

THERAPY IS NOT ELIMINATING YOUR PROBLEMS:

2) Therapy is not about eliminating a client’s problems. For many therapists, there have been times a client has come to therapy and immediately stopped coming, even after only one session, because they leave the session and nothing has changed. Recently, a client of mine came into the first session and went through the list of things that are wrong, and when it became clear to the client that I had no ways of eliminating these problems, I received the surprised and bewildered look of a deer in the headlights. I can only imagine the client’s inner dialogue in that moment: ‘I’m paying this much money for this and he isn’t going to fix these problems?!’ A therapist doesn’t have a magic potion or isn’t able to snap their fingers and make your problems disappear. What they can do, is help you understand how you’re interpreting these problems, what you’re doing to manage them effectively (or ineffectively), and then help you acquire new perspectives, skills, and tools so you can start feeling better. Freud once said something like: ‘The best possible outcome of therapy is normal human suffering.’

THERAPY IS A LIVING THING:

If you are down for adventure, give therapy a try.

2) Therapy should feel alive. Sometimes the most helpful moments are ones that are highly charged (emotional), intense (strong feelings), or thought provoking (gaining insights) . If your therapy experience feels boring and shallow and you’re just talking about your day, or even worse, talking about your therapist’s day (haha), then that’s a problem. A good therapist does much more than just listen with a blank face and ask ‘how does that make you feel?’ Although there is a time and a place for this question (for example, if a client is avoiding certain feelings), a therapist is often more concerned about how you’re functioning than how you’re feeling. In other words, what is at the heart of your relationship challenges? What is beneath your questionable choices? What is this experience bringing up in you? A good therapist should feel like a partner who collaborates with you on how to best deal with life’s challenges. A therapist can be like a guide, offering a roadmap on how you might approach your difficulties. Therapy should feel authentic, raw, vulnerable, and alive!

THERAPY IS NOT EASY:

Therapy ain’t easy bro!

3) Therapy ain’t easy bro! A skilled therapist will likely challenge you with difficult questions that require you to be brutally honest with yourself. In addition, therapy will probably bring up painful feelings and emotions that you would rather not deal with. It is learning how to work with these difficult feelings that is one of the biggest benefits of therapy. Therapy requires work. The therapist may give homework and suggestions that need to be practiced. If a client comes to therapy expecting the therapist to do to the work, the client will likely end therapy too soon and be disappointed in the result (or lack thereof). Some of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves are very simple in nature, but not easy. One of the most healing things that can be done is allowing oneself to be completely vulnerable in the presence of another. This brings up all kinds of things, not the least of which is feeling the vulnerability of intimacy and the fear of rejection. When we can practice acknowledging and learning about these fears and difficulties with a therapist, it allows us to gain the confidence and skill to do it with others.

THERAPY IS PARADOXICAL:

This photo is taken by a great artist: @thuw.beoo (Instagram). It feels like it speaks to the possibility of acknowledging the different parts of ourselves.

3) A paradox means the opposite of what we think to be true is actually true. In other words, a paradox is a statement (or assertion) that is true, even though it seems to be false. An example might be: to become whole, one must empty oneself (spiritual paradox). Or another example: The way out is through (psychological paradox), which means the way out of the pain is to allow it to move through you (turn towards the pain instead of avoid it). What we’ve learned so often in life is that so many things are out of our control. We try to control our conditions (find the right relationship, get the right house, and the right job), and then we still end up dealing with pain, dysfunction, and relationships that suck. We seek therapy to learn how to surrender to life as it unfolds, instead of clinging to how we think it should be. So it is often in surrender (this doesn’t mean giving up), that we find freedom as opposed to control. Similarly, it is in turning toward difficulties instead of avoiding them that finally opens us up to the parts of us that need attention. Paradox can mean doing the opposite of what we initially think we should do. One of my favorite quotes about paradox is from Carl Rogers: ‘ The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.’

I hope this article is of some use or benefit to you. I am a licensed psychotherapist in California and Vietnam. Please email me if you want to explore how psychotherapy might help you feel better.

[Note: This piece was originally published on Robert’s Blog and has been re-posted with permission from the author.]

Author: Robert Oleskevich, MA, LMFT

Robert is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and an on/off member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). He has a B.S. degree in Psychology and an M.F.A. (Masters) in Clinical Psychology. He incorporates Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) into his approach.

Living in Los Angeles, Robert has had the benefit of learning from, and influenced by, some of the most well respected people in the fields of Mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology. Many of those who he considers his teachers are the people who brought Mindfulness Meditation from the East to the West and made it their life’s work to introduce it to the mainstream. He has been fortunate to be part of some of the communities in Los Angeles where Mindfulness and therapy are recognized as powerful and extremely beneficial avenues for relieving suffering and acquiring more happiness.

For more information, his website is www.herosjourneytherapy.com.

Contributed by Daniela Tomer, MA

The International Therapist Directory was born to serve the needs of the internationally mobile, TCK, and expat community. Not surprisingly many of us, as therapists, are part of this internationally mobile community. Many of us believe that our own stories are powerful bridges which can help us better understand our clients experiences. We help our clients to overcome the challenges that frequently come with this lifestyle but as the wise saying goes: ”The shoemaker always goes barefoot.”

When I left Israel as a well-established clinical psychologist I had to reinvent myself in many ways. One experience I was not prepared for was that of losing both my professional identity and professional affiliation. I was still a psychologist but was no longer part of my local professional communities, which I had established over the years through my studies and the years I worked in different institutions. As a result, I was very much on my own in navigating this new professional life in a new country.

Our need to belong is universal and this need is not any different when it comes to our professional life. I was very lucky to find FIGT (www.figt.org) at this time because I wanted to connect with other people who were in a similar position to me. FIGT, for those who don’t know about it, is a welcoming forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those who work with them. It also promotes cross-sector connections for sharing research and developing best practices, which continue to support the growth, success and well being of people crossing cultures around the world.

Discovering FIGT resulted in an immediate feeling of finding my personal tribe, and it was also the right platform for me to create my professional tribe. With the support and assistance of Dr. Kelli Sanness, Dr. Tami Nelson and Shellee Burroughs, we launched the online FIGT Counseling and Coaching affiliate in 2018. Our affiliate mission is to create a secure place to learn, share, support and encourage each other in our niche, regardless of our geographical location. In many ways we are aiming to create a degree of stability in our globally mobile life; our location might change but our global network will always stay with us.

We were thrilled to accept the invitation of Josh Sandoz to share with you some of our initiatives :

  • We meet once a month for a Zoom online ‘virtual coffee’ session during which we discuss relevant topics.
  • We usually have a guest speaker who is willing to share their knowledge but it is an open non-formal conversation.
  • Previous guest speakers have included Ruth Van Reken and Lois Bushong.
  • These sessions are recorded and can be seen after the event if the time doesn’t fit with your schedule or time zone.
  • We also have a Facebook group where we post different articles, conferences, and questions, which are all related to our specialist areas.
  • Our affiliate is involved in the annual FIGT conference program and as a result, a variety of mental health sessions are provided by presenters who currently work in the globally mobile community.

If you relate to any of this and would like to join the conversation, please subscribe to our mailing list by sending an email to: counseling@figt.org and join us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/429869267542130/)

We are happy to welcome you to our globally mobile network of mental health professionals.

And if you are interested in presenting at the FIGT conference please see the details here: https://www.figt.org/2020-Conference

We will be happy to meet you in person!

Author: Daniela Tomer, MA

Daniela Tomer is the Co-Founder and Director of GNW Global Nomad’s World. She is an Israeli and Belgian licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Mediator, Coach and Trainer and serves as FIGT- Families in Global Transition Counseling and Coaching affiliate chair.

Contributed by Robert Oleskevich, MA, LMFT

A great trip overall, however there was one little thing that kept happening…

Recently, I had the amazing good fortune of going to the Ha Giang mountains in Vietnam, on a motorbike adventure with my cousin. The views and terrain were seriously spectacular and breathtaking. This was the second time I was able to explore this part of the country. The winding rivers, lush green mountains, and magical misty views were even more incredible this time around.

However, while on the trip, I found myself several times thinking back to the comforts of my own home and neighborhood. I imagine part of this was because I had a cold and was feeling a bit under the weather. Yet, it was also interesting to notice how during an amazing trip many people only dream of, my thoughts often drifted to how much I wanted to sleep in my own bed, have access to all the foods I’m familiar with in my neighborhood, and not deal with sleeping/lodging in new and strange places. The thing is, this thought train wasn’t just about dealing with the inconveniences of traveling… sometimes my mind really wanted to convince me that I would be better off at home. This might be just me getting old, but I think there’s a bit more to it than that.

Now that I’m home and reflecting on the trip, I’m missing the scenery and the adventure, but more than that I miss the camaraderie and companionship of hanging out with my cousin Paul. There were a lot of jokes and silliness. Like any good adventure, we met many great people, saw a lot of unique beauty, took roads we weren’t sure about, had some very scary moments and a lot of belly laughs! Imagine in the midst of all of this, wanting to be somewhere else!

I bring this up because this trip has confirmed something about my thinking habits that I believe I already knew. Sometimes, regardless of where I am, it can be very challenging to remain present and truly be in the moment. It’s kind of crazy to think that even when I am doing something I love to do, like riding a motorbike in the Vietnam countryside, my mind can simultaneously try to convince me that I belong somewhere else.

My cousin Paul and I in Vietnam.

No matter which moment we find ourselves in, it is the only moment that exists. To not be present for this moment is kind of ridiculous, yet that’s exactly what our minds do: fantasize, remember, dwell, lament, wish for something different, or want more/less of whatever we’re experiencing.

This was all a very good reminder for me. I’m going to spend this upcoming week coming back to my breath as much as possible. It is this simple (but not easy) practice that keeps us tethered to the present. When at least some awareness resides in the body, and not lost in incessant commentary from the monkey mind, we are much more likely to LIVE and experience this moment fully.

So, I leave you with this question: Are you able to reflect on a moment when you’ve been lost in next week’s meeting, or in last years break up with your ex, as opposed to being present in that one precious moment? By practicing noticing when we aren’t present, we are more inclined to be able to let go of unhelpful thinking patterns, and return to the the one and only moment that actually exists. I challenge you to come back to your breath and body at least three times a day this week, for 30 seconds each time. In doing so, you are much more likely to let this moment be alive within you.

[Note: This piece was originally published on Robert’s Blog and has been re-posted with permission from the author.]

Author: Robert Oleskevich, MA, LMFT

Robert is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and an on/off member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). He has a B.S. degree in Psychology and an M.F.A. (Masters) in Clinical Psychology. He incorporates Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) into his approach.

Living in Los Angeles, Robert has had the benefit of learning from, and influenced by, some of the most well respected people in the fields of Mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology. Many of those who he considers his teachers are the people who brought Mindfulness Meditation from the East to the West and made it their life’s work to introduce it to the mainstream. He has been fortunate to be part of some of the communities in Los Angeles where Mindfulness and therapy are recognized as powerful and extremely beneficial avenues for relieving suffering and acquiring more happiness.

For more information, his website is www.herosjourneytherapy.com.

Contributed by Robert Oleskevich, MA, LMFT

You’ve heard countless times about fight or flight and we all think we know what that means… but did you know that as a culture, going back generations, our nervous systems have been wired to be in fight/flight almost continuously? Our ancestors were always on guard to protect their clan from dangers, whether it be another tribe or a wild animal. This adaptive response has been passed down from generations, except now it’s often maladaptive. It’s not always the dramatic and intense way of being that you may think of it. It can be low levels of feeling ‘something’s not right, I need to do something, this needs to be fixed, or I need to get rid of this feeling/experience’…We don’t typically think of these modes as fight/flight, but that’s what they are. We are anticipating danger and prepping for it (even if the ‘danger’ means someone is insulting us, we are trying to appear competent, or we are defensive and clinging to our stories of how things ‘should’ be, etc.).

Each of our bodies have an individual story. Yes, our ancestors had to constantly be on alert for survival, and that has been passed on, so we do come into this world wired to be on alert. So, the nervous system is scanning for reasons to fight or flee (or freeze). Yet, each individual body has a story that also contributes to this stress response. Especially if you have trauma and conditioning that has solidified this as an adaptive response. I mean, it is a highly intelligent response, right? Our nervous system detects danger, and sends messages for our heart rate to increase, our muscles to contract and the blood pumping, so we can defend ourselves appropriately… However, this response, if there is no danger, is problematic.. and often there isn’t any danger! When we are defended but no real danger exists, we can feel combative, disconnected, and separate from those we are engaged with.

Because we are typically living from the neck up, being so identified with and consumed by the stories we tell ourselves, we can actually trick ourselves into thinking there is something wrong… There’s something I need to defend, avoid or engage with aggressively, even when this is often not the case. However this is our habit.. fight/flight/freeze. What we want to practice is: as Tara Brach says, Attend and Befriend. This is the way to activate the rest and digest part of our nervous system.

The limbic brain, or the oldest part of our brain (reptilian) is responsible for the fight/flight reaction. It detects the danger (real or imagined) which triggers fight/flight. The most recent evolution of our brain is the frontal cortex, responsible for emotional regulation and wise/skillful reasoning. If our frontal lobe is communicating effectively with our limbic brain, we can usually manage stressors with some degree of effectiveness. However, for many of us, these two components of the brain don’t communicate well, because of our family/cultural conditioning and past traumas. So, if you’re always reactive, and defensive, it’s not really your fault. This is your nervous system doing what it thinks is best.

It can be helpful to know that you are not to blame for your angry, aggressive, withdrawn, avoiding, defensive, and disappointed reactions. This was adaptive at one time. This is how we handled our fears. However, it is your responsibility to learn how to work with them. When you’re living in your limbic brain (you’re wrapped up in your stories, your conditioning, and your habit reactions), there are ways to shift and train yourself to activate your frontal lobe and your rest and digest response. From this place, you are able to choose a response (different from a reaction) that is much more compassionate (towards yourself or others) and skillful. When we are in fight/flight, we are unable to connect with others and unable to feel integrated and whole within our own being. This is why we must learn how to work with it. When we are grounded, centered, and responsive (not reactive), we are much more able to connect in loving and compassionate ways to others and ourselves.

So, 1st), recognize and become aware of gravity. How do we know that gravity is doing what gravity does? We become aware of the feeling of our feet touching the ground, our butt on the chair, our glasses touching the nose, or the way our shirt feels against our skin. This is part of getting grounded and out of your head.

2nd) Exaggerate you exhales. I mean, reallllly extend them. A deep inhale for an in-count of 1-2-3-4, and then a much deeper exhale for an out-count of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8…Doing this 3 or 5 or 10 times sends the message to our brain that everything is ok, because once again, who breathes like this if everything is not ok? This is activating your rest and digest (parasympathetic nervous system) and deactivates the fight/flight (sympathetic).

3rd and finally, engage in some self-talk. You can ask yourself, is this really a crisis? Is this really danger? It can be helpful to remember that our thoughts are not always facts, and they certainly are not always true. More supportive self talk: ‘I’ve been through this before, I can do it again.’ ‘This is just anxiety, I know how to manage this.’ Nurturing, compassionate self talk allows you to soften into the moment, respond flexibly, and choose to respond in ways aligned with spirit over ego.

[Note: This piece was originally published on Robert’s Blog and has been re-posted with permission from the author.]

Author: Robert Oleskevich, MA, LMFT

Robert is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and an on/off member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). He has a B.S. degree in Psychology and an M.F.A. (Masters) in Clinical Psychology. He incorporates Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) into his approach.

Living in Los Angeles, Robert has had the benefit of learning from, and influenced by, some of the most well respected people in the fields of Mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology. Many of those who he considers his teachers are the people who brought Mindfulness Meditation from the East to the West and made it their life’s work to introduce it to the mainstream. He has been fortunate to be part of some of the communities in Los Angeles where Mindfulness and therapy are recognized as powerful and extremely beneficial avenues for relieving suffering and acquiring more happiness.

For more information, his website is www.herosjourneytherapy.com.

Contributed by Jennifer Patterson, MA, LMFT

The first few months of living in a new country are full of excitement, discovery, and most likely a healthy dose of frustration. Adaptation, the act of adapting, is also known as adjustment to different conditions, and sets in around 6–12 months after The Big Move. Some things are no longer as difficult or frustrating, or you’ve given in to the idea that even though you show up when the office opens to get your ticket, you’ll probably still be there for a few hours (if not all day). You probably understand cultural norms a little better and are feeling more connected to the language and local community.

Maybe you’ve started nesting with more intent; you’ve switched to local products and are no longer wishing someone would come visit to bring you that thing you can’t live without. At the one year mark many people have a pretty good idea of whether or not they are starting to set down new roots. Do you still think about yourself as an expat, or have you started to identify as an immigrant? There is a lot of discussion about what these identifiers actually mean… many people see the term expat as referring to people who are transient, on specific job contracts, digital nomads, professional gypsies, or people who are planning to return to their home country. Immigrants are seen as those who plan to become permanent residents of the country they are living in.

No matter how you identify, the fact is that if you are still feeling like a bit of an outsider, you’re probably experiencing the growing pains of Year One. The flurry of visitors has died down, but people still pop up and you get a little annoyed that you have to explain that even though you live in this “exotic” locale, you are not on perpetual vacation. You still have work and rent and bills to pay attention to. Perhaps it feels confusing when people come to visit, because after living outside of your home country for a year, you see things with a different perspective. Sometimes when our lens changes it makes us feel unsettled and caught between different worlds. This can have a big impact on our sense of who we are and where we fit.

Life abroad is a constant balancing act between approaching things in a practical or matter-offact problem-solving way and waves of nostalgia or longing. Luckily for this writer, here in Portugal there is a word for this type of longing, called saudade. Saudade has no actual single definition, but refers to a collection of feelings that induce heartfelt melancholy, wistfulness and yearning for something that may or may not exist. As a therapist I fully embrace a word that essentially describes all the feels. But experiencing all the feels while missing your crew and feeling like your language skills are one step forward, three steps back even when you’ve been studying and going to class can be really hard.

The best way to manage this type of complex homesickness of being happy where you are but still missing something is to do your best to embrace it. The things and people that you miss are a part of who you are and it’s completely normal to feel sad and lonely. Finding a way to meet yourself where you are at and practice self-compassion is essential to your mental health and well-being. BUT HOW? That’s also complicated, because everyone is different and has different needs.

Some things you can do include celebrating any and every accomplishment, no matter how tiny. Take the time to reflect on these accomplishments, make lists of what you have done and try not to get stuck in what you haven’t done. Find out your language learning style, do your best to not compare yourself to other people (ugh! So hard!), and attempt to remember that trying is so much better than not trying. Keep up with the hobbies that you loved in your home country. Finding the supplies or places could be a hilarious adventure, and you might connect with like minded people. Make the time for the things that make you feel good, are grounding, and foster your creativity.

No matter where you live, being human is hard. Feelings are hard. But these things are also wonderful all at the same time. Feeling like you are in a struggle for balance and identity and having a schedule when you aren’t living a traditional life is a real thing. Do your best to embrace it all. And if you need help, ask for it. Talk to your fellow adventures, we are all full of stories and resources. And if you need a little more than a buddy to talk to, there are English speaking therapists and counselors in most major cities around the world, as well as a handful of online therapy sites.

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from the Jennifer’s website with permission from the author.]

 Author: Jennifer Patterson, MA, LMFT

Jennifer Patterson is an American trained and licensed psychotherapist and board-certified art therapist living in Lisbon, Portugal. Information about her practice can be found at www.jenniferpattersonlmft.com.

 

 

Contributed by Robert Oleskevich, MA, LMFT

Often frustrated, disappointed, or angry? Learn how shifting your expectations can create more peace and well-being.

Let’s talk about expectations. You’ve recently moved to a new country, or perhaps you’re an expat already well adjusted to living abroad. Do your expectations influence your day to day experience? Do your expectations impact how you respond to the daily difficulties and joys of being human in a new culture? The answer is probably, yes, of course they do.

When people in a new country stare at you because you look unique or different, does that bother you? Did you expect this not to happen? When you get asked 10 times a day about your job, or if you’re married, how do you respond to that? Were you expecting people to act differently towards you? Where did that expectation come from? Maybe you are a student, and your peers are relating to you much differently than they did back home. Can you adjust your expectations to make room for this new reality?

I think it’s important that we examine how our expectations are playing a part in our daily responses. Another way to frame this is looking at our reactions versus our responses. When we react, we are operating from our past conditioning and our expectations that people/conversations/events play out a certain way. When it doesn’t happen like that, we can become frustrated, angry, or disappointed. Is this response beneficial? Maybe yes, probably no.

On the other side of the coin, when we respond, we are taking a moment to choose how to proceed. The response is usually more thoughtful, skillful, and wise. Taking a moment before responding allows us to consider how our expectations might be influencing how we perceive this moment. Thus, one might even decide that not responding is the best response in this situation. We might think about this through the lens of becoming a ‘pauser.’ Taking that extra moment to pause, soften, and relax around this experience, so as to make emotional room for it to exist just as it is, not how you think it should be. In fact, if you notice yourself often using ‘should’ as you think about things, this is your red flag that your expectations may be ruling your experience.

William James, who some consider the founder of American psychology, has said that ‘the art of being wise is the ability to know what should be ignored.’ This connects neatly to how we might think about expectations, and that is the key- thinking about/being mindful of our own expectations.

So here are three simple (but maybe not easy) things we can do to play around with how our expectations might be influencing our experience:

  1. Notice any patterns related to people, events, or situations that seem to trigger feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger, or any other feeling/emotion. This includes ‘should’-ing. Often just noticing that pattern can be enough. For example: Ohhh, I often get frustrated with the teenage girl on the motorbike cuts me off in traffic without looking where she’s going. She *shouldn’t* f-ing be driving like that! This is one of mine, but you can think about what triggers you in your life.
  2. Reflect on your expectation. For example: I believe that the person/event ‘should’ be other than it actually is. Is that realistic? I grew up in America, where people are taught to drive cautiously, and more often than not, yield to others in the name of safety, and certainly look over our shoulder when driving to check the blind spot. However, in Asia, at least in Vietnam, people don’t drive that way. Can I make emotional room for that reality? Can I expect to be cut off when driving, and adjust my driving style accordingly (more defensive driving)?
  3. Practice shifting your expectations once you’ve noticed and reflected which expectations are impacting your sense of peace and well-being. You might take a moment each morning to set the goal to become a ‘pauser,’ or to respond instead of react when your triggering event inevitably takes place. For example: Ok, when I get cut off today, I’m going to take a deep breath, try to remember that is the norm here in Vietnam, and that this teenager wasn’t taught how to drive safely and considerately.

In psychology, this is called ‘response flexibility.’ We are training ourselves, when appropriate, to think about things and respond to people and situations that are more beneficial for ourselves and others. William James said ‘The art of being wise is the ability to know what should be ignored.’ This can mean having the ability to mentally reframe a situation, by noticing the ‘should’ thought, and learning how to choose to let that thought go.

One final note, it is not suggested here that we need to learn how to let go of all expectations surrounding events and people that make us uncomfortable. Sometimes the wise and skillful choice is to take appropriate action so that our (or other’s) health, well-being, and safety is the priority.

Thanks for reading!

[Note: This piece was originally published on Robert’s Blog and has been re-posted with permission from the author.]

Author: Robert Oleskevich, MA, LMFT

Robert is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and an on/off member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). He has a B.S. degree in Psychology and an M.F.A. (Masters) in Clinical Psychology. He incorporates Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) into his approach.

Living in Los Angeles, Robert has had the benefit of learning from, and influenced by, some of the most well respected people in the fields of Mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology. Many of those who he considers his teachers are the people who brought Mindfulness Meditation from the East to the West and made it their life’s work to introduce it to the mainstream. He has been fortunate to be part of some of the communities in Los Angeles where Mindfulness and therapy are recognized as powerful and extremely beneficial avenues for relieving suffering and acquiring more happiness.

For more information, his website is www.herosjourneytherapy.com.

Contributed by Daniela Tomer, MA

I should probably begin by explaining where am I coming from.

I am a clinical Psychologist who worked for many years as a therapist in an “in person” traditional psychodynamic setting. Ten years ago, I started my second global nomadic adventure at the time where online therapy was just an experimental idea. While this idea continued to grow, I couldn’t imagine myself working without sitting in the same room with my clients. It took me years, numerous life experiences and, most of all, overcoming my own resistance to dive into the developing world of online coaching.

Still, until not so long ago, I had my inner preference of meeting people at the same place, in the same time zone, getting a closer look, reacting with all my senses and not being nervous about losing the internet connection in the middle of an emotional session. Therefor it was very natural for me to ask clients, at the first session: “So why would you like to do the sessions online?”

The most common answer is related to language. Most of the global nomad clients who choose to work online are doing so because they can’t find a professional who can speak their language in their location. It is very understandable, crossing cultures is complicated enough; so seeking for the comfort of communicating in your mother tongue is very natural.

During this last ten years, I was forced to challenge many of my basic assumptions about the nature of helping people and the cycle of adjusting to a new culture. The language barrier was one of them.

But, what do we really mean by language?

Some time ago, during a first meeting with a potential new client, as usual, I asked about their online service preference. The client was a native English speaker, living outside of her passport country but in a place where professionals in her native language were available. As English is not my native language, it seemed to make sense to offer to connect her to some colleagues in her location. It was here, in that moment, that I learned a very meaningful lesson.

Following my offer, she explained: “ I am a ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). I moved around during my childhood and as a result, I chose an adult lifestyle that forces me to move around very often. Everywhere I went, if I felt the need, I contacted a professional to help me cope with my challenges at the time. They were all good but I couldn’t take them with me and they didn’t really understood my culture.” When I asked her to clarify what does she mean by “ my culture” she said: “ I want to have an emotional home that I can take with me wherever I am; one that speaks the language of the ones who cross nations and cultures, that understands what it means to transition. I picked you because you work online, you moved around and according to your bio, you know many of the places I lived in. So we speak the same international  language.”

She was very convincing and she was right. A language is more than a vocabulary  of words; it is a vocabulary of emotions and experiences. For her, knowing that wherever she will be, I will be available and that we both speak the language of a third culture; the language where all the commonalities of those living a global nomadic life is shared. This is our “mother tongue”.

When using the term “third culture” I refer to the term that was coined by Ruth Hill Useem, a sociologist from Michigan State University, in the late 1950’s. Useem called it “third culture or “interstitial culture”. In her work the term first culture refers to the home or passport culture of the parents. The term second culture refers to the host culture to which the family has moved. The term third culture then refers to a way of life that is neither like the lives of those living back in the home culture nor like the lives of those in the local community, but is a lifestyle with many common experiences and feeling shared by others living in a similar way.

This moment was one of many learning moments I had from a TCK. In her wonderful book: “Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere”, Lois Bushong lists her top tips for counseling TCKs:

“Listen and learn for they have much to teach you.

Do not assume anything about their world.

You are closer to their world if you view them as internationals”

I learned my lesson that day and we embarked into a meaningful journey for both of us.

An international professional path can be challenging at times but one of the big clear advantages is that you never stop learning. I embraced the online technique as the leading one in my practice as oppose to my former preference of “in person” coaching. And, when occasionally people seem to be confused with my accent and I am asked about my mother tongue, I answer: “It is complicated…. How much time do you have?”

If they insist I say: “ I speak four languages but I am most comfortable in the common language of the third culture, the language of the ones that moved around.”

Author: Daniela Tomer, MA

Daniela Tomer is the Co-Founder and Director of GNW Global Nomad’s World. She is an Israeli licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Mediator, Coach and Trainer and serves as FIGT- Families in Global Transition Program Chair leading their global annual conference.

Contributed by Jennifer Patterson, MA, LMFT

You’ve up and done it! You’ve moved away from your home country to shake things up, follow your dream job, pursue a romance, have a great adventure, and see the world. It’s an awesome, awe-inspiring, bold move, and quite unfathomable to some people. As you settle into your new home and start nesting, it’s exciting to realize that you aren’t on vacation, and you don’t have to leave. You meet the days’ challenges of buying groceries and finding your favorite treats with enthusiasm. You start language classes with loads of energy and come up with a study schedule. Everything is new, and exciting, and this is exactly how you wanted it to be!

And then after the month or two, you might find yourself a little cranky. Maybe you feel a little more frustrated, you’re annoyed with yourself because you aren’t picking up the language as quickly as you think you should (more on that later). Going to the butcher shop and the market down the street feels hard and exhausting so you just order a pizza – online, so you don’t have to talk to anyone. You’re tired of not understanding how things work… you finally figured out that you have to take a ticket when you go somewhere that involves a line and waiting, but how do you know if it’s the right ticket?!?!?!

This is the culture shock phase of adjusting to life in a new place. There is a specific cycle of ups and downs that people experience as they adjust to their new home country. Even if you think, “I can handle it, I’m adaptable, I know what to expect”, there is a pretty high chance you will still in some way feel like a fish out of water. Communication issues and feelings of isolation are the most common challenges that people experience, and because we aren’t always good at paying attention to our emotional well-being, these stressors can show up as anxiety and depression. Physical symptoms of these potentially overwhelming feelings include headaches, insomnia, upset stomach, muscle pain, and exhaustion.

So you’ve figured out that you’re stressed out from being exactly where you want to be. Now what? Self-care is the most important thing you can do to help yourself feel more grounded in a place where you are most definitely not grounded. What are the things that you like to do? How can you adapt them to your new home? Find the neighborhood yarn store, and ask if they have a knitting group. Join the local gym and connect with locals there. Use the internet for good, and find the English bookstore in your city and see if they have a book group or other events. It’s important to find out what’s happening in your neighborhood, so you can create opportunities to click with the local culture. It’s hard and scary to put yourself out there, especially when you don’t have a lot of conversational skills in the native tongue. But the more you show up at the local watering hole, café, or restaurant, the more you will be seen by those around you.

Most people who work in the local shops, once they’ve connected that you are living here too, are very kind and patient with your attempts to speak their language. Honing your charades and pantomime skills go a long way and can be a great icebreaker. Don’t be afraid to feel silly! Have a sense of humor about your attempts! And that idea mentioned earlier, that you should be further along in your language skills? Put that to rest. Meet yourself where you are at. Understand that every day is different. Yesterday you may have been really proud of yourself for how well you managed with the language, and today is really hard. That’s okay.

Learning to meet your frustrations with a sense of humor is like accepting the grammar rules in a different language… sometimes it doesn’t make sense, but you agree to remember it and move on to the next lesson. Embrace the quirks, the charm, the quaintness, and the things that are different from what you are used to. And if you need help, ask for it. Every other expat is in some stage of their adaptation and is a great potential resource. And if you need a little more, there are English-speaking therapists and counselors in most major cities around the world.

 Author: Jennifer Patterson, MA, LMFT

Jennifer Patterson is an American trained and licensed psychotherapist and board-certified art therapist living in Lisbon, Portugal. Information about her practice can be found at www.jenniferpattersonlmft.com.

Contributed by Daniela Tomer, MA

Identity formation, is the development of the distinct personality of an individual, it includes a sense of continuity, a sense of uniqueness from others, and a sense of affiliation. From research we learned that it is complicated enough to get a comfortable sense of who you are even if you live in one place, but what if you are exposed to several cultures and influences?

Cultural identity is the identity or feeling of belonging to a group. It is part of a person’s self-conception and self-perception and is related to nationality, ethnicity, religion, social class, generation, locality or any kind of social group that has its own distinct culture. Many of us thought that if we keep globalizing our economy and liberalizing our politics we would create an ideal world. The political debates and changes around the world are telling us that the current divide is shifting to Global vs. National, or Global  vs. Local. We are experiencing growing divisiveness.

Nationalism comes with the expectation of loyalty. We expect loyalty in order to own this identity and by that being recognized as part of the group. Nationalists believe in a single monolithic identity. It does create a problem with people who want to divide their loyalty, people who feel loyal to more than one nation. In a world that is divided by nations you are born into a community that immediately gives you a strong identity just by the act of being born in a certain geographical location. You are being recognized as part of the group. But why do we adopt it? What need does it serve? The need of belonging. The human need to be an accepted member of a group. This desire is so universal that the need to belong is found across all cultures and different types of people.

Abraham Maslow was one of the pioneer thinkers who wrote about it in his pyramid of needs. Other theories have also focused on the need to belong as a fundamental psychological motivation. All human beings need a certain minimum quantity of regular, satisfying social interactions. Inability to meet this need results in loneliness, mental distress, and a strong desire to form new relationships.

Human beings are social creatures, we need to belong to our group, we are given an easy immediate identity by the physical place in the world we were born, we immediately cover to some extent some of the need to belong. But all this comes with a price: The expectation of loyalty. Nations differ in the level of expectation, and the level of pride.

What about Globalization? Globalization is the main drive of global mobility, and the number of people who live out of the country of birth is constantly growing.

Prior to WWII, most people grew up and lived in stable, not highly mobile, monocultural communities. Now days, we are exploring a growing number of people around the world that are living out of their country of birth. The United Nations released data showing that 244 million people live outside of their countries of birth. Migration became much easier than decades ago. This change is the main driver for the creation of complex cultural Identities.

In other words: More globalization means more complex identities.

What are complex identities in this particular context? These are identities that are shaped by multiple cultural experiences.

Who are these 244 million people or more? Are they all the same?

They are immigrants, refugees, Global Nomads, SIE self initiative expats, CCKs, TCKs, What do they all share in common?

They are living or lived part of their life out of their country of birth. Which means that by definition their complex identity was shaped by more than one culture.They are very different in the number of passports they hold, the number of languages they speak, the type of cultures they were exposed to and the nature of the experiences they went through. And yet, because of the one dominant shared experience they can find a common ground with each other. They share the common language of global transition. The circumstances and locations can be very different but they share the psychological experience and cycle of the transition.

When the world was opening up embracing the idea of globalization, to be a citizen of the world could be describe as a desirable wish.Through the globalization of the economy we saw a growing demand to bring diversity into big corporates and organizations, and this kind of complex identities seemed to be welcomed .

Why were they welcomed? One way to look at it is to look at the TCK characteristics:

Researchers and writers like Ruth Van Reken and David Pollok have shown that this lifestyle can be a natural laboratory to grow people that will have:

•           Cross-cultural skills

•           Observational skills

•           Social skills

•           Linguistic skills

•           Adaptability

•           Expanded Worldview, thinking “outside of the box”

•           The capability of mentoring others because life experiences have been varied

•           The potential of being less judgmental, less prejudice

•           The ability to being independent and autonomous, blending in

All these are qualities that support the needs of a growing global society.

At the same time they are also considered to have these challenges:

•           Might have complex identity or less strong typical feelings of national affiliation

•           Confused loyalties

•           Painful awareness of reality

•           Unsureness or ignorance of the home country culture

•           Different sense of nationalism

•           Different integrated cultural identity

•           The potential to be rootless and restless

These challenges are typically in conflict with high expectation of loyalty in more nationalist environment.

Political changes can influence our identities or the way we feel about them in certain circumstances. Having complex identities can put you in a constant risk of not representing well enough the nationality you are living in.

TCKs have the ability to act as a chameleon with guilt and emotional instability. The way they tell  their life story can give a hint on the hierarchy of loyalty they hold. But is this hierarchy stable? After all, the story can be told differently according to the geographical location or political situation. How do people with complex identities solve the psychological conflict and need for belonging? Can we offer becoming a Global citizen?

Can global nomads become a nation and provide the sense of belonging?

As it is seen in the news: for leaving the EU, British Prime Minister Theresa May declared: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” Or as Trump told on a rally in December 2016: “There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship.”

But,

We are witnessing some attempts to do so, groups on social media, organizations around the world. We hear TCKs saying they feel “at home” with people that they never met but share the mobile lifestyle.

In order to become a Nation you have to be recognized by others, you can not belong to an entity that has no boundaries or recognition. We need it for communication.

For communication purposes being a global citizen is not yet well understood; neither are terms like TCK or CCK. So we tend to still summarize our complex identities by nationalities.

We are crossing countries, nations and cultures taking our identities with us. When we thought we achieved the right balance things may change again.

One thing we do know about history: it is constantly changing. It is possible that future generations will have a different cultural identity, more complex and vague.

From the news it might look like we are moving toward Nationalism, but as we can see, we are also moving towards Globalism. If this is the case, and the 244 million will keep growing in numbers, we might find the national cultures as we know them today will change too; we might be moving toward what can be seen as one global culture.

As therapists, we should be aware of this very particular growing population of people who feel that they own complex identities. In times when the political divide may challenge even more the unstable balance of multiple cultural identity we could consider them a culture of their own that is worthwhile to study and explore.

Author: Daniela Tomer, MA

Daniela Tomer is the Co-Founder and Director of GNW Global Nomad’s World. She is an Israeli licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Mediator, Coach and Trainer and serves as FIGT- Families in Global Transition Program Chair leading their global annual conference.

Contributed by Steve Vinay Gunther

People generally seek therapy is as a result of some kind of disatisfaction with their life. Something is uncomfortable, unworkable, painful or stuck, and they come wanting help. International relocation often creates dislocation internally, and also in relationship. Lives that were previously relatively stable become disrupted, and cracks in marriages often get bigger in the process. Even if incomes increase and there is more help available, unfinished business and resentments tend to come to the surface.

There are many different approaches in therapy to providing help for people. Some are goal oriented, and involve an analysis of ‘what is the problem, what is the solution, and how can we get there’. This seems straightforward, and can indeed be of value.

The approach I find useful takes a different tack. Gestalt therapy is based on is based on the Western philosophy of Existentialism, and the Eastern philosophy of Taoism. In this orientiation you dont get to the goal of change by pointing directly at it. This is because often the reason you are stuck is not through lack of effort of trying. Think pf diets – many people try hard to lose weight – and it seems very straightfoward: eat less, exercise more. But people can get caught in cycles of ‘trying to change’: making progress, then slipping back, ‘despite oneself’. In that sense, good intentions and powerful techniques are not enough.

The Gestalt approach that I favour utilises awareness; more specifically, awareness of ‘what is’. In ordinary terms, this means a focus on who you are – not who you could be, should be, might be, or want to be. Who you are is about your uniqueness, incorporating both your strengths and limitations. Who you are also includes the unique personal context you come from – the family and culture you were raised in.

Helping you to know yourself more deeply makes you more available to yourself (strong self support, a clear inner compass), and clearer on being in relationship. You are able to know and express your boundaries – what you are and are not available for. You are also able to step into deeper intimacy, as self awareness results in having more to offer in relationship.

This leads to an increased capacity to live authentically. The result is a greater sense of meaning and purpose, self direction, and inner power. Living more fully with awareness can be understood as the goal of the Gestalt orientation. Change may occur as a result; however, it happens naturally, as an expression of ‘who you are’ rather than coming from the outside.

Another aspect of this  Gestalt way of working is that the therapy process is not so much about the therapist ‘working on’ helping the client improve. Its a journey which involves deepening relationship. The therapy relationship reflects the experience of other relationships, and through the clarity and steadiness of the therapist, this can be a healing process. Familiar road blocks are likely to arise; in this case, they can be worked through, clearing the way for this process to occur in other relationships in the client’s life.

This requires self knowledge and awareness on the part of the therapist, and a willingness to also be transparent. The therapist is not a receptacle of expert knowledge, as much as a companion and guide on the journey. This is challenging for therapists – to not just facilitate and ask questions, but to also reveal themselves in order to bring the experience of shared humanity to the process.

In this work with awareness and relationship, I also bring to bear a kind of ‘creativity of the moment’. Rather than using preset ideas, techniques or formulas (great as they might be), my interest is in developing unique ‘experiments’, where we explore new ways of doing things in the session itself. This moves us beyond ‘talk therapy’, into experiential learning. The therapist’s role is to balance support and challenge, to maximise the opportunity for client learning.

I also pay attention to ‘the field’ – the larger systems that we are all embedded in. Understanding interconnectedness (for instance, the influence of generations of family patterns) helps to make sense of current behaviour, feelings and thoughts. Most of us lose our balance at times, behave strangely or inappropriately for the circumstances. When you look at context, such behaviour makes sense. So Gestalt therapy addresses not only individual expreience – I also want to understand the ways in which family, culture and religion might influence a person. This is also a component of the awareness approach to self development.

I also apply this orientation to working with couples. A couple is not just two individuals, its also a system, with its own history, and ‘personality’, including unique strengths and limitations. So I pay attention to the ‘how’ of a couple in terms of their interaction, much more than the ‘what’ of the content of their issues. In this way, I can help increase awareness of their process, which takes the focus away from individual tendencies to blame and point the finger. It removes me from the role of judge and jury, or expert advisor, and instead allows me to work with the couple in terms of understanding their uniqueness, and exploring together ways to strengthen the undeveloped aspects of their interactions.

I find this orientation constantly refreshing – I never get bored, tired, or lose interest. I feel like I am on the journey with clients, and their discoveries are just as delightful for me. This is a result of another aspect of Gestalt: the ‘creative void’, or in Taoist terms, the ‘Wu Wei’, the ‘effortless effort’. Whilst this sounds somewhat mystical, in fact it simply refers to an ability to be still, to be with things as they are without the need for change or reform. It requires me to be open, interested and attentive, without trying to fix or solve anything. It frees me to enjoy the process, and frees the client from any kind of pressure to change. I find this approach takes us very deep, very quickly, and the resulting explorations involve us working together as co-explorers of awareness.

Author: Steve Vinay Gunther

Steve Vinay Gunther is an international Gestalt trainer, teaching in Asia (Japan and China),  South Africa, Mexico and the US. He ran a professional Gestalt program in Australia for several decades, and now offers the training in China.

He wrote a best selling book for men about relationships with women (Understanding the Woman in Your Life). He works as a therapist in the fields of Gestalt, Family therapy, Career Coaching and Family Constellations.

Steve has practiced and studied meditation, spirituality and psychotherapy over a 40 year period, and has brought these topics together in a integrative meta model. He is currently Professor of Spiritual Psychology at Ryokan College, Los Angeles.

With his wife, he has pioneered an arena of relational psychology termed The Unvirtues. He is currently enrolled in a doctoral program in Social Ecology, researching the topic of the interpersonal psychology of power.

Contributed by Kim Roberts

If you’ve spent time living abroad, you have probably experienced some level of culture shock. Life as an expat expands your horizons, and also exposes you to new ways of being in the world. Culture shock is a well-known phenomenon that occurs when our existing set of beliefs clash with the current environment. It takes time to adapt to strange customs. But not as readily discussed is the trauma many experience after coming home—reverse culture shock. Returning to our country of origin can be more challenging than leaving home in the first place.

As an American, I experienced this acutely on my return from my first trip to India. For some inexplicable reason, I chose to visit a friend in Arkansas just a few days after I landed.

I remember looking into the eyes of one shop clerk, then watching his mouth move, trying with all my focus to hear what he was saying. My ears had become accustomed to South Indian pidgin English, and his Southern country drawl was absolutely incomprehensible.

This is a superficial version, but many features of reverse culture shock are far more deep rooted.

You’ve moved on, while others have stayed put.

You’ve moved on to live a different lifestyle, but your friends and family have stayed in the same place, so they cannot understand what you’ve been through. They may not ask questions, or may appear bored when you share stories. It can feel alienating.

You’re on your own.

This can be lonely experience. I remember at a certain point I realized that no one human would ever completely understand me, because of all the time I’d spent as an expat, and in so many different countries. Each experience leaves its imprint, and we are the fruition of all of our imprints. But this also means that what your view is unique.

Reverse culture shock is disorienting.

You might start to question reality and wonder what is true. Learning to get along in a different culture expands your repertoire and sometimes we bring back habits and customs that resonate. Then we get back home and realize people may be looking at us funny. We wobble our head sideways to mean yes, instead of no. Or we place our dinner roll directly on the table instead of the bread plate and take to cleaning our teeth with a toothpick at table or, heaven forbid, start eating with our hands. We cringe when someone points their feet toward us, or offers us food with their left hand. We get half way through a turn at an intersection and forget which lane we’re supposed to be driving in. Suddenly “appropriate behavior” seems completely random and unfathomable.

Here are 6 tips to handle the transition:

1.  Give it time.

This too shall pass. Slow down your need to fit back in to your homeland society. This transition period can be rich with insights and in my experience, it is where most of the learning happens. When we get some distance from the unique experiences we’ve lived, we are finally able to digest and integrate the lessons learned.

2.  Become an observer.

Become selective about what you share, and don’t look for any particular responses from people. Rest in the knowledge that you have experienced something they might never understand.

Make it a practice to listen to people and hear what they have been going through. Their lives may sound mundane to you after having seen so many new things, but for people who have stayed home, this is still the fabric of their lives. Give them the respect of listening, as you would also like.

3.  Release expectations.

People may not listen with interest to the stories you bring home. For a variety of reasons, people may not be wired to acknowledge that life may exist differently, elsewhere. Rather than judging or trying to understand why people are behaving the way they are –even if this behavior once upon a time made perfect sense to us—try adopting a new mantra. The mantra? “Well, isn’t that different!” It can actually be quite humorous to realize that what we once held to be hard facts about existence are actually just fabrications of our cultural mindset.

4.  Forgive people for not understanding.

It’s not their fault, nor is it a downfall. The fact is that some people are simply not interested in seeing the world, and have no desire to hear about it. As hard as that may be to understand for those of us who thrive on international travel, if you want to facilitate your re-entry, it is important to recognize and respect this.

5.  Find a creative outlet.

One of the best ways I’ve learned to process my experience and the sometimes lonely phases of re-entry is to write. I have kept a journal for decades now. I journal every day to remind myself of events, places, and people. But especially after my return from a journey, I journal to refine the story. We humans thrive on good stories. Stories inform how we make choices in our lives. By envisioning your adventure from the perspective of a good story well told, you elevate the experience to art. And then it may become more palatable to people, allowing you to share the experience.

6.  Keep in touch with friends from your overseas life.

One of the beautiful things about the internet is that we have access to friends across the globe. You might want to schedule a weekly Skype call with a colleague you left behind, or commit to writing on a regular basis.

Fortunately, reverse culture shock is a temporary phenomenon. You may have permanent shifts that result from your overseas experience, but the shock eventually wears off. Until that happens, be gentle with yourself and do what you would do in any extreme health situation: take lots of rest, drink plenty of water and eat nourishing foods. Go for walks in nature if you can.

Remember all the positive experiences and know that they will lead you to new and exciting adventures, perhaps in your own motherland.

Author: Kim Roberts, MA

A graduate of Naropa University’s M.A. Contemplative Psychology program, Kim Roberts has been a devoted student of Ashtanga yoga and Dharma since 1992. She spent 15 years living in South Asia and now divides her time between Crestone, Colorado, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she offers live and online counseling. She writes a weekly blog sharing tools and practices for managing emotions. Learn more at KimRoberts.co

Contributed by Cécile Buckenmeyer, Jungian Psychotherapist

The interview

On a September morning, in suburban Manchester, I meet Yoko and her two-year old son. We sit in a conservatory furnished with plain, Ikea-style table and chairs; I accept her offer of a glass of water. I came to interview Yoko about her experience of moving to the UK. She arrived four months ago. “My husband was sent to the UK for two or three years”, she says. When I ask her what helps her cope with this transition, she explains that food is very important for her and that, as long as the food is OK, she feels that she can live here: “If I can eat, I feel OK”.

A month later, at our second interview, we discuss what helps Yoko feel comfortable in the UK. She replies that she switches the Japanese TV on in the morning and listens to the news: “I don’t fall behind; I keep up with the Japanese news.” She also uses Facebook, which gives her a sense that she is in touch with friends. She does these things mindlessly, knowing that “they don’t serve any purpose for her life in the UK”.

When, two months later, I go for a third and last interview, Yoko is more confident speaking English and asking questions. She has been able to have short conversations with her daughter’s teacher. As we say goodbye, Yoko tells me that she has appreciated my visits: “I don’t have contact with people from outside the house. So, one week is long. I find myself waiting for Saturday when I can be with my children and husband. It was good to have a bit of change in my daily life. ”

Gaman vs resilience

Yoko’s story reflects interviews that I conducted with six Japanese women who recently moved to the UK ; it describes the experience of many spouses of Japanese expatriates. I was amazed by the level of gaman that these women show. Gaman is a typically Japanese attitude which combines patience, endurance, tolerance and self-denial. When a child feels cold waiting at a bus stop, his mother might say “gaman shinasai” – be patient, the bus will soon arrive. Equally, when a young employee is doing well but is not rewarded or promoted, their boss might say “gaman shinasai” – be patient, you will get a promotion in a few years time. When a Japanese trainee comes back to exactly the same domestic job after one year in Europe, they may also be told “gaman shinasai” – you had a nice time abroad, what are you complaining about?

Yoko is not told “gaman shinasai” by anyone. Her husband is very supportive and would listen to any concern she has, but like many people in Japan, “gaman shinasai” has become part of her personality. She has a strong capacity to be patient – to wait until the next Saturday or until she goes back to Japan. She is able to convince herself that as long as her very basic needs are fulfilled – as long as she can eat – she feels OK.

Expatriates and their families need to be tolerant when in a foreign country. Often, they just need to “get on with it” (another good translation for gaman): an expat in Japan needs to swallow the odd sea slugs; a Japanese expat in Europe needs to bear the occasional sight of people blowing their nose in handkerchiefs… They need to have reasonable expectations – there are always difficult moments and disappointments.

But it can be counter-productive to have too much gaman, especially if it stops people wanting to improve their situation. In addition to the stoical tolerance of gaman, expatriates need (and can never have too much) personal resilience. I define resilience as ‘what you still have when you feel that you have lost everything’. It is made of self-esteem, self-confidence and a capacity for self-care and self-development (Al Siebert, The Resiliency Advantage). Whilst people with gaman readily sacrifice today for the sake of (a hopefully better) tomorrow, resilient people are able to make today as tolerable and as enjoyable as possible, despite difficult circumstances.

Gaman helps people survive, which is sometimes all they can do: eat, drink, find shelter. But too much gaman can mean, like for Yoko, locking oneself away from “people from outside the house”, holding on to old habits that “don’t serve any purpose” and living a shallow, unfulfilling life. Developing resilience involves recognising a broader range of needs and recognising one’s own skills, strengths and many other resources that can help people make the transition from gaman to enjoyment.

インタビュー

9月のある午前中、マンチェスター郊外にあるヨウコさんのお宅を訪ねました。ヨウコさんは、2歳の息子さんと一緒に私を出迎えてくれた後、イケア風のシンプルな家具が置かれたサンルームに私を通してくれ、お水を出してくれました。ヨウコさんを訪ねた理由は、駐在員の妻としてイギリスに来た経験について話を聞きたかったからです。渡英は4カ月前。イギリス赴任は「2、3年の予定」と言われて来たそうです。この環境の変化にどう対処しているかを聞いたところ、一番重要なのは食べ物で、食べ物さえ何とかなれば生活していける気がするとのことでした。「食べられれば大丈夫です」とヨウコさんは言いました。

それから1カ月後、2度目のインタビューで、イギリス生活を過ごしやすくするうえで何が役に立っているかを聞いたところ、朝、日本のテレビを入れてニュースを聞くのだと話してくれました。「遅れないように日本のニュースを聞いています」。フェイスブックも、友達との距離感を感じないようにする効果があるとのことでした。でも、単に気を紛らわせるためにしているのであって、「私のイギリス生活にとって何の意味もないことは分かっているんですけど」と話してくれました。

2カ月後に3度目のインタビューに行くと、英語で話すことや質問することに対し、以前よりも少し自信ができた様子でした。娘さんの先生と短い会話ができるようになったというのです。そして、別れ際に、私の訪問に感謝している旨を伝えてくれました。「家の外の人と話すことはないんです。なので1週間が長くて。土曜日が来るのを待っている感じなんです。土曜日になれば子供や夫が家にいますから。そんな毎日の生活に少し変化ができて良かったです」。

我慢とレジリエンス

この「ヨウコさん」とは、イギリスに比較的最近引っ越してきた日本人女性6人にインタビューして聞いた話を私が総合して作り上げた典型的な人物像です。つまり、多くの駐在員の妻の体験談を物語っています。この女性たちの我慢のレベルに、私は驚かされました。「我慢」は典型的な日本の態度であり、忍耐と辛抱と寛容、それに自己否定が一緒になったものということができます。バス停でバスを待っている時に子供が寒いと言えば、お母さんは「我慢しなさい」と言うかもしれません。もう少し待てばバスが来るからと。同様に、若手社員が良い成績を上げているのに昇給や昇進がない場合に、上司は「我慢しなさい」と言うかもしれません。あと数年すれば昇進するからと。また、研修生という身分でヨーロッパに駐在した日本人社員が、日本に戻って以前とまったく同じ仕事に戻ったならば、やはり「我慢しなさい」と言われるかもしれません。海外で楽しい時間を過ごしてきたんだから、何の文句があるのかと。

ヨウコさんは、誰かに「我慢しなさい」と言われているわけではありません。旦那さんはとてもやさしく、ヨウコさんの悩みにも耳を傾けてくれます。でも、日本人の典型に漏れず、「我慢する」が性格の一部になっているのです。ヨウコさんの辛抱強さは感心に値します。次の土曜日まで待てば、日本に帰るまで待てばいいことなのだから。そして、ごく基本的なニーズさえ満たされていればいいのだと、自分に言い聞かせているのです。それが、「食べられれば大丈夫」なのでした。

駐在員とその家族は、外国にいる間、寛容を余儀なくされます。多くの場合、単に「慣れるしかない」のです(これもまた「我慢」の別の言い方です)。日本にいる外国人の駐在員は、気持ち悪いナマコのようなものを飲み込まなければなりません。ヨーロッパにいる日本人の駐在員は、ハンカチで鼻をかむ人の光景に耐えなければなりません。そこで、穏当なレベルの期待を持っている必要があります。耐え難い瞬間やガッカリすることは必ずあるからです。

でも、あまりにも我慢をしすぎるのは、建設的ではありません。特に、状況を改善したいと思わなくなってしまう場合に、それが当てはまります。我慢というストイックな寛容に加えて、駐在員には、しなやかな強さが必要です(これはいくらあっても「過剰」ということはありません)。英語で言うとレジリエンス。私はこれを、「何もかも失ったと思える時に、まだ自分に残されているもの」と定義しています。この折れない強さを形成するのは、自尊心と自信、それに自分をいたわる包容力と自己開発の能力です(Al Siebert著「The Resiliency Advantage」より引用)。我慢のできる人は、明日のために(願わくばより良い明日のために)今日を犠牲にすることができます。一方、しなやかな強さのある人は、難しい状況にありながらも今日をできるだけ楽しみ、それほど悪くない一日にする力を持っています。

我慢は、生き抜くうえで役立ちます。食べる、飲む、寝る場所を確保する――。実際、それが精一杯という状況はあるものです。でも、あまりにも我慢をしすぎると、例えばヨウコさんの場合は、「家の外の人」から自分を切り離して閉じ込めてしまい、「何の意味もない」昔の習慣にしがみつき、深みのない満たされない生活を送ってしまうことを意味しかねません。しなやかな強さを付けるには、もっと幅広いニーズがあることを認め、自分のスキルや強さを認識して、「我慢」を「楽しみ」に変えるのを助けてくれる他の様々なリソースがあることを知らなければなりません。

Author: Cécile Buckenmeyer, Jungian Psychotherapist

I am a Jungian psychotherapist in private practice in Lancaster, UK and a cross-cultural consultant working with expatriates, TCKs, international students – and the professionals who support them. I have lived in France (where I was born), Japan (for 5 years), the USA and the UK. I speak French, English and Japanese and regularly work in these languages.

 

Contributed by Dawn Purver, Diploma Psychotherapeutic Counselling

In the early hours of a morning I waved goodbye, once again, to my two eldest sons; one journeying back to UK, and the other beginning his own adventure in Bolivia.

As the vehicle disappeared into the darkness, my heart broke and the tears flowed once again as I embraced the feelings of separation, and acknowledged those all too familiar feelings of loss of being a family together.

As cross cultural workers; endings, separation and loss are a frequent part of choosing this path.  The pain that accompanies saying goodbye is often fresh and frequent.  We learn to negotiate transition and letting go, perhaps more than in many other types of work.

Occasionally we can plan our goodbyes, and sometimes we cannot.  Easier to prepare for an airport goodbye, but difficult with a friend dying from aids in Africa, and impossible for a loved one gunned down in Syria.

Endings are part of this path……….

How important it is then to take time to consider and process our feelings that accompany our work.  Endings are often painful, separation hurts, loss is distressing.  Being strong, trying to stay strong can lead to burying our emotions, and this can lead to unprocessed feelings of sadness, anger or fear which if buried, can reappear in other ways when we might least expect: physical illness, depression, anxiety are just a few. Just as we look after our bodies, we need to look after our mental and emotional health as we walk the path of working and living overseas.

If we don’t give ourselves time to stay with our feelings and experience mourning, we can limit our capacity to reach those we are living with, and working amongst.  Treating ourselves tenderly when we face endings, in fact enables us to be human and touch others with tenderness and compassion.

We need to take the time and space to be with ourselves.  Through journaling, music, art and poetry, we can give expression to, and welcome our pain.

And sometimes, other feelings emerge, maybe from previous traumas, we can find it difficult to understand what is happening and why we feel as we do – we may want to seek additional help to facilitate this process.

Seeking out a place where we can take some time out to experience peace and care from another who will sit with us and provide a safe space to explore difficult feelings and make sense of deep distress. When we are confused, or unsure, having the opportunity to talk with someone who is experienced to help, and not involved with our everyday life on the mission field, programme or project, can provide an oasis.  A chance to rest awhile, to unburden our feelings and provide an opportunity for a fresh understanding of who we are and a deeper level of acceptance and acknowledgement of our pain, or struggle.

Recently someone reminded me of the Japanese art of ‘kintsugi’; the use of gold dust in the resin to mend a broken vase; turning an ugly break into a beautiful fix so that it can continue to be used.  For me it mirrors the healing and refreshment through finding a quiet place to be with a trusted other.

Author: Dawn Purver, Diploma Psychotherapeutic Counselling

Dawn Purver is a qualified psychotherapeutic counsellor, based in UK but travelling several times a year to Albania supporting individuals, and a variety of projects across the country.  She also works closely with organisations and volunteers working with refugees.

Together with her husband and four TCKs, she has 25 years of living overseas, across 3 continents.

Dawn is available and has a great deal of experience counselling via Skype.

Contributed by Viktoria Ivanova, M. Ed., Expat Therapist

Moving to a new country by yourself can be both exciting and difficult. Moving to a new country with your spouse and kids can exaggerate these associated emotions even more. The new challenges that you face as you journey together through this change can often make or break a relationship.

Presenting Concern

As a therapist for expats, I quite often meet with men and women who share the same confronting struggles. These are people who choose to accompany their spouses to a foreign land where a great job opportunity is presented, and effectively rendering themselves a stay-at-home partner.

Upon arrival, they find themselves limited to the roles of a parent, a homemaker, and a spouse. Quite often, the non-worker in the relationship feels a loss of identify as the diversity of their roles in life diminish. For many, moving abroad meant quitting a job or resigning a career, and at the same time removing themselves from a social structure that comforts them. Basically, this meant their career-related creativity, productivity, and skills had to be packed in a box and put in storage along with their other cherished belongings.

Through my practice, I also meet with stressed and over-worked partners who feel overwhelmed by their new professional positions, who are often confused by their spouses’ frustrations and complaints, making them feel like outsiders in their own family.

Relationship Cracks

Although we have been working hard for the last 100 years to create greater fluidity and flexibility in our gender roles, becoming an expat family can sometimes feel we are back at the starting point – the bread winner and the stay-at-home-parent.

And while there are people who are absolutely happy and content with these roles, for many, it’s a difficult concept to adopt. As a couple is settling into their new home and country, these roles can start off as a fun and novel change, but over time it can start polarizing their relationship into a rigidity that both despise. As the working spouse focuses on the work, his/her attention often becomes more and more diverted from family matters. And as he/she steps back more and more, due to their demanding work, the non-working spouse has to step in more and more, left on their own to make decisions about child-rearing and home.

This shift in responsibilities becomes a continuous cycle, as the more one person under-functions in one area of their life (e.g. taking care of the kids), the more the partner has to step in. Without our conscious awareness of this pattern, we can continue sliding further and further into this stressful dynamic. It is also important to know that while working partners have a purpose and occupation, they are also stepping into their new social circle as they begin their new working role. It is always easier to make friends with people we see every day at work and have already so much in common with, like an annoying boss perhaps.

For a stay-at-home spouse, creating supportive social connections is another challenge. Not only have they left their familiar and reliable social support back home, building a new one will take time and effort, and will require opportunities that for a non-working parent are hard to come by.

It’s not a surprise that many relationships start to suffer under these conditions. Relationships function like a lightning rod, as they absorb all stress and tension that the couple is under. These polarized gender roles can create resentment and arguments, resulting in a further distance and isolation for the stay-at-home partner who is likely already feeling isolated. This pattern also comes at a high price for the working partner as he/she can feel that they are not as much part of the family and that they are missing out on valuable experiences and moments with the kids. It might be difficult for some people to be outspoken about the isolation they live in, and they might cope with it by further focusing on their work.

So, how to make it?

It sounds like this dynamic is no fun for either spouse. But don’t despair. While the picture I am painting is quite gloomy and intense, it doesn’t represent every couple with a working mate. The picture simply shows a pattern that couples might be sliding towards, unintentionally and without much awareness. The responsibility for this dynamic and the power to change it lies with both parties.

Many couples find creative and innovative ways to maintain satisfying and close relationships. Their secret lies in being aware of difficulties to come, recognizing unhealthy patterns early on, and turning to each other at times of distress, as opposed to turning away like many people do.

The key is being mindful of the role you assume and why. For example, as a woman, you might have agreed to the job of taking care of the kids while your husband is working. You might absolutely love your job, but if we work 24 hours a day at anything, even being a mother, we will burn ourselves out. Be mindful that you don’t work overtime and take away the opportunity for your partner to interact with the kids. You might be the one waking them up and taking them to school, which gives your spouse a perfect opportunity to put them to sleep and make lunches of their desire for the next day. Sure it might be challenging for both of you, for one to step back and for another to step in. But it is important to challenge ourselves and our partners, so our relationship grows and deepens.

If you are not sure how to make these steps on your own, connect with me for a free consultation at my global, online support service, Expat Therapy with Viktoria.

Can’t wait to start making changes? Visit my blog and check out my YouTube channel, Tea With Viktoria, for bite-size wisdom ideas you can apply in your life straight away.

Author: Viktoria Ivanova, M. Ed., Expat Therapist

Viktoria is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Certified Canadian Counsellor & Psychotherapist who specializes in human relationships.

Her mission is to share with people an essential life skill – how to build healthy relationships and transform challenging ones. To make that a reality, she created a global, online practice – Expat Therapy with Viktoria.

For more information about Viktoria and her practice visit www.expattherapy.online

Viktoria can be easily reach at viktoria@expattherapy.online

Visit Viktoria’s YouTube Channel – Tea with Viktoria

Contributed by Lindsey Anderson

[This ITD Guest Post was originally published on www.knowitall.ch.]
As the festive season approaches, it can be a tough time for many people, especially expats who don’t have the benefit of family nearby to draw upon for support.

Even those with a vast network of family and friends can feel lonely at Christmas as everyone seems far too busy with their own festive preparations to concern themselves with other people’s worries.

At times like this, it can be helpful to call upon the services of a professional therapist, trained to help clients manage the wide range of daily issues that can prove particularly challenging, not just at Christmas, but on other occasions throughout the year as well.

One English-speaking therapist, who was recently recommended to us, and has a special interest in relationship issues in the home, family and at work, is Lindsey Anderson.  Having been married, divorced, a working mum, a stay-at-home mum, self-employed and re-located several times herself, Lindsey knows how difficult it is to juggle the roles of parent, partner, professional, wage earner and non-earner.

Lindsey told knowitall.ch, “I know how difficult it is to be your true-self when you’re juggling so many different roles and conflicting emotions. sometimes it just gets too much and you need someone to help you untangle yourself.”

After completing her MSc in Organisational Behaviour and Post Graduate Diploma in Counselling, Lindsey set up her own practice from home in Switzerland in 2013, with the aim of providing an English-speaking therapy service to people living in the Vaud area.

Having lived and worked previously in South Africa, Kenya, Italy and then Switzerland, she particularly wants to provide a professional emotional support service to people living away from home, family and friends.

Asked what makes her service different to other counselling practices in the region, Lindsey told us, “From my combined training in person-centred and solution-focused therapy, I’m basically an empathetic and practical counsellor who can really listen and understand but at the same time can use tools and techniques to help in a practical way.

“We’re all so used to being a certain way in the multiple life roles we play, it’s important to hear your own voice – unedited – in a place where you feel safe and with someone with whom you feel un-judged, so you can connect to yourself and begin to feel relief. Understanding how you communicate your needs, respond to conflict, view intimacy and express yourself can help you feel better, and lead to change and a way forward.”

I also touch on how the client is sensing and experiencing the feelings and thoughts in their body. Although not formally trained in this, I believe that mind and body are interconnected and that it’s important to acknowledge these sensations so that the client can work with their whole self.”

Lindsey helps clients deal with a wide range of issues, but her main areas of support include:

  • Break-ups, separation and divorce
  • Relationship and communication difficulties
  • Change and transition
  • Loss, grief and bereavement
  • Relational trauma
  • Work stress, abuse of power and burn-out
  • Anxiety and depression

Lindsey’s clients are typically English-speaking men, women or young adults facing difficulties and needing a safe, confidential and professional person to talk to, helping them through the difficulties and to move forward.

To give you an idea of how Lindsey relates to her clients, one person sent this recommendation to us recently, “As an expat living alone in Switzerland for the past 6 years and having faced three of the toughest years of my life, Lindsey Anderson Counselling offered me a place of peace, honesty and openness. In a time of panic, despair and helplessness, her compassion, patience, analysis and guidance helped me understand my situation, engage with my emotions and start my recovery process. Since seeing Lindsey, I feel a huge difference emotionally, physically and mentally, regaining my self-worth and integrity. I am not ‘out of the woods’ yet but draw comfort in seeing the progress I have made.

“Lindsey helped me work through a series of very difficult questions I was facing in my personal and professional life. Her approach is deeply empathetic and educational, and our sessions were a safe place for me to express myself and begin the complicated work of looking for solutions and ways to move forward. I heartily recommend Lindsey’s warm, insightful, and non-judgmental approach.”

Lindsey Anderson Counselling
lindseyrome@yahoo.co.uk

Contributed by Dan Martin, MS Psych

Preparing the family for a move may conjure images of stacks of boxes and phone calls to utility companies. While those logistical matters are a key part of making sure that the move goes smoothly they only address a portion of the necessary tasks. I’m reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs from the days when I used to teach Psychology to university undergraduates. For those who missed that class the idea behind his theory is that we all have different levels of needs as individuals for us to survive or thrive. Some of the basic levels focused mainly on physiological needs e.g. food, shelter, water and the like. The next level moved on into safety. The more advanced levels addressed things like emotional and social wellbeing. When preparing for a move we may follow a similar path. We may secure housing, sign up for water and electrical service. Once we have that sorted the next task may be to obtain insurance so our precious belongs are protected against loss. The final area to address may be the tasks necessary to assure our emotional and social wellbeing at the new location.

Why is preparation important?

A recent study that was done in Denmark serves as a strong reminder that it is not a luxury to tend to the social and emotional needs of the family when planning a move. The study collected data over 25 years for about 1.4 million people. They found that children who had more frequent moves had the poorest outcomes later in life. The rates for mental health problems, suicide, substance abuse, crime, as well as premature death were all significantly higher for people whose families had moved the most.

This isn’t to say we should never move if we have kids. Moves happen. The key is to be aware of the impact it can have on the family especially the little ones. Once you are aware of the areas of your lives that may be impacted the most you will need to work out a plan to shore those areas up.

How can you prepare?

Find what you love

For some of those life areas it may be possible to find a version of what you really enjoyed in your new location. For example, if your little one has a very close group of friends they will be leaving behind it could be very important to get them connected to others in their new school as well as staying in touch with their old friends. If volunteering or participating in team sports is a big part of your typical routine you could start seeking out those opportunities as soon as possible after you relocate or even before.

Practice Self-care

There are also general self-care tasks that we can do to improve our overall emotional resilience. We should pay particular attention to these things when we are going through times of stress like a big relocation. These are the things we all hear about being important e.g. adequate sleep, nutritious diet, regular exercise, and involvement in social activities. You could add in some form of relaxation practice that works for you as well whether that is mindfulness, mediation, yoga, reading, etc. These sorts of self-care activities will serve as an anchor for you as you face the winds of change.

Be Social

For many expats they may find the loss of their social support system as one of the biggest challenges when relocating. This is as true for those who have only a couple true blue friends as it is for the social butterflies who prefer to surround themselves with others whenever possible. It will be important to invest some effort in seeking out some new connections. How you accomplish this may vary from location to location but some of the sorts of things to research would be clubs, groups, or associations.

If there is a neighborhood association, or an association for your particular home country that could be a great place to find some folks you could relate to. Joining professional associations for whatever it is you do may be useful personally as well as professionally.

Clubs may be another avenue whether that is the local health club, book clubs or some civic club they may all offer some forum for meetings or opportunities to get to know other members.

Joining groups may be another pathway to getting connected. You may find sites like Meet-up that lists groups on all sorts around the globe a useful resource. For example, if you are a coffee lover who enjoys a good debate there may be a local group for you. If you prefer to try new restaurants or travel there are groups out there for those interests as well.

These sorts of positive actions will prepare you for being able to explore your new environment and start enjoying the fun and adventure that comes with a major relocation. You may even have a couple new besties to share these with you. By putting some thought and planning into the emotional and social aspects of your relocation you will not just survive but thrive.

Author: Dan Martin, MS Psych

Dan Martin MS Psych, is a Psychologist who has expertise in expat adjustment; couples counseling; stress and anxiety; drug & alcohol counseling; career planning; post-separation parenting; as well as depression.

If you would be interested in reading other posts by Dan please visit:

www.personalenrichmentservices.com

For those interested in reading the original research mentioned above it is available here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2016.04.011

Image: flickr

Contributed by Paula Vexlir, Registered Clinical Psychologist

So you have moved overseas, you have managed to find a new home, a school for your children, to start learning the new culture; and you have supported your children through transition. You have helped them name their feelings, you have allowed them to navigate the paradox of having an amazing life and yet missing some of the things you have left behind. So, in the first place, if you have managed to do all this let me say: Wow! Congratulations, superhero!! And if you haven’t: Congratulate yourself anyway since you are a normal person trying to do your best at a particularly stressful time of your life.

You have arrived. You have adjusted (or are still doing so) and regained a sense of stability in your daily life. So now is a good time to talk about how you can help your children with their relationships with their grandparents, uncles, aunts, other relatives and friends back home. So I will be using the grandparents example but feel free to replace it with any other relative you like. Read more

Contributed by Susan Dellanzo

Many people perceive the life of an expatriate as exciting, glitzy and glamorous when, in fact, it often is not. Global living can be both positive and negative, as with everything else in life. In the same way a magnet is always positive and negative, so is everything else and one of the greatest illusions people fall into is the search for pleasure without pain, praise without reprimand, or nice without mean, etc.  Ironically, it is in looking for those imagined one-sided events in a two-sided universe that we experience so-called ‘suffering’.

Some expats experience loneliness, isolation, and even frustration with what they perceive to be ‘missing’. However, often, nothing is, in fact, missing from their lives – it has just been transformed. Unless you ask the right questions, you will constantly be living in a state of stress and disempowerment which can, in turn, effect your health, wellbeing, relationships, family dynamics and even wealth building.

People often live by a certain ‘Hierarchy of Values’, and yet many don’t know specifically what theirs are, so they end up minimizing themselves and living according to the values of someone else, which can be overwhelming. Being overwhelmed has several parts to it, but being in conflict about who we are, what we’re doing and/or what we have in life is sometimes a factor.  Stress can also occur when we feel there are more negatives going on in our lives than positives and signifies an inability to adapt to a changing environment or country.

I’ve come to believe that there are seven areas of life and any area you are not empowered in, someone else will overpower you. You will never have support without challenge, nor challenge without support. Life is a beautiful balance of pleasure and pain, yet many people live in a world of illusion and fantasy, rather than one of balance and presence. Dreams go hand-in-hand with nightmares and I have seen many examples of this in the expat and global community. This is why it’s so important to ask the right questions in order to dissolve the perceived challenges rather than live in world of pain or negativity and become a victim of our own thinking and perceptions. We will tend to blame others, our spouse, society, the rules and regulations of the host country, etc., rather than take control of our own lives and our own thinking.

This leads me to the next mistake I often see with expats, particularly the trailing spouse. They don’t have a plan for their lives. I believe that if you don’t have a plan for all seven areas of life – if everything is just what comes up today and if today isn’t a good day, and you don’t have a plan to move it in the direction you want it to be – then you’re kind of wayward and dependent on other people’s lives and other people’s decisions and plans which are out of your control. If you live your life according to other peoples’ plans and those plans go wrong, then you have no way of correcting them. In fact, if you don’t know where you’re going, you will end up somewhere else and if that’s abroad in a country you didn’t actually really want to go to deep down, there could be tremendous repercussions in the long run.

I was quite shocked to hear recently how so many people are on antidepressants and drugs. What does that mean? It means they are perceiving themselves in such pain and/or depression, and they have a sense of hopelessness about their lives that they feel they need drugs in order to deal with it, when in fact a lot could actually be as a result of imbalanced perceptions, comparing their lives to fantasy lifestyles, which if we really look at it in depth, are neither realistic nor attainable. People often also put unrealistic expectations not only on themselves but on others as well.

I have known many expats who are lonely and not finding their own strengths. They are living in the past comparing what they used to do or used to have and/or where they used to live. They have no direction in their lives and Parkinson’s Law states if you don’t fill your day with high priority things, it will automatically get consumed with low priority things.

An excerpt from the book Stop Not Till The Goal Is Reached (Maha Sinnathamby) sums it all up: “Way too many people are living a life that is not theirs to live. They live their lives according to what others think is best for them, they live their lives according to what their parents (or spouse) think is best for them, to what their friends, their enemies and their teachers, their government and the media think is best for them. To what society thinks is best for them. They ignore their inner voice, that inner calling. They are so busy with pleasing everybody, with living up to other people’s expectations that they lose control over their lives. They forget what makes them happy, what they want, what they need… and eventually they forget about themselves”.

If you want to live a fulfilled life and make the most of your global experiences, wouldn’t it be wise to balance out all those imbalanced perceptions causing you so much pain? The quality of your life is based upon the quality of the questions you ask. What will it cost you ultimately in your health, wellbeing, relationships, family dynamics, work situations and wealth building if you don’t?

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from Global Living Magazine with permission from the author.]

Author: Susan Dellanzo

 

Photography by Wendy K Yalom

Susan Dellanzo is an International Relationship, Health & Wellbeing Specialist dedicated to empowering and inspiring her clients to new levels of life fulfillment by reducing stress, resolving conflict, finding their true identity, improving relationships as well as optimizing physical health, wellbeing, beauty and vitality. Born and raised in England, Susan has had a life-long interest in personal development, universal laws, health and beauty, and the mind-body connection. She has lived in various countries including Belgium, Canada, Italy and the Middle East. She speaks several languages and presently lives in Switzerland. She has also travelled the world as an International Business Consultant. Visit www.susandellanzo.com for more information.

Contributed by Lois J. Bushong, MS, LMFT

It is a fit! As a Third Culture Kid and in the light of my natural giftedness as a counselor, I selected a vocation that is a perfect fit.

When I was in college in the 60’s, I only knew of one TCK who had become a therapist. Dr. S. was a mess! As he valued another TCK and me for an overseas assignment, he made a most obnoxious comment to us: “Anyone who ever went to a boarding school has severe psychological problems today”.

I stopped listening to anything else he said. He had lost all credibility with just that one flippant declaration. For many years, that TCK psychologist was one of the reasons I did not want anything to do with the world of psychology. If his statement was part of the evaluation, I certainly flunked the test.

Psychology has become much more accepted by the general public since that day. Psychologists have changed and become personable. Well, most of them have. And the research on TCKs has proven Dr. S’s declaration regarding boarding schools to be mostly inaccurate. Yes, there are some TCKs who were badly messed up by their boarding school experience.

Yet I believe Dr. S. was projecting onto others his own negative experiences at a boarding school that had gained a reputation for being very hard on their young TCKs.

Sadly, there are some TCKs out there who make lousy psychologists or counselors. They have not worked through their own baggage and so end up placing it on the shoulders of their clients, especially other TCKs. But I believe the majority of TCKs are wonderful counselors and psychologists. They have faced their own demons and conquered them. They are well trained, very compassionate with their clients, and have excellent skills in working with all levels of society.

Last year, I stumbled on to an article on why Third Culture Kids make good therapists. After rummaging through my files and doing some Googling, I cannot find the source of those original thoughts. So here goes my own list, with apologies to the originator of the idea of WHY TCKs make good therapists.

1. We have learned to be observant of all that is taking place around us.

2. We are good at jumping quickly in and out of deep relationships. We do not mess around with superficial chitchat.

3. We are use to saying goodbye and moving on with life after an intense relationship.

4. We adapt quickly into the culture (joining) of the client.

5. We naturally have compassion towards those who feel marginalized.

6. We are comfortable with all levels of society.

7. Many of us have been in life and death situations and can therefore relate to clients who have been traumatized.

8. We know how to live a simple lifestyle. (Our career is not lucrative.)

9. Many of us are fluent enough in several languages to be able to listen to a client who needs to express his or her emotions in another language.

10. Most of us are very creative in our skills as a therapist.

I may have left out a few other reasons why we make good therapists. I would love to hear your comments.

It always amazes me how people land in careers that are a natural for their personalities. For example, the introvert/detail person gravitates towards the accounting job, the extrovert lands in the position of the Activities Director of the cruise ship, and the caretaker blooms in the role of Director of the Day Care center.

Years ago, I met a lady called Elsie Purnell who was a regular attendee of the Missions and Mental Health Conference at an Indiana State Park. Elsie had served for years as a missionary in Thailand and led several support groups for adult TCKs in California. She loved ATCKs and she loved therapists who worked with TCKs. At the conclusion of each conference until her death, Elsie would ask all of the former ATCKs who were now therapists to pose for a picture. The first year, our group was quite small. But over the years, the group grew. It was a source of pride for me to be in this growing band of ATCKs who were now working as therapists. And our numbers continue to grow.

I fit in this profession as a counselor who happens to also be a Third Culture Kid. I hope you too have landed in a vocation where you feel you can use those unique characteristics you posses as a TCK as well. It makes going to work something to look forward to each day. And I might even get to do it in Spanish!

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from Mango Tree Reflections with permission from the author. Comments are open on the original post.]

Author: Lois J. Bushong, MS, LMFT

Lois J. Bushong, author of the recently published book Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile, ATCK, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, writer and international speaker.

Contributed by Anastasia Piatakhina Gire, Member of IIAP

There are places I’ll remember all my life.

I was born in a small Russian town, a very cold and dirty place.

This was one of the first things Anna shared about herself in a long introductory email reaching out to me for online psychotherapy.

In this description of her native town, I could sense her sad childhood: a lack of emotional warmth and possibly some neglect.

The way people describe their early surroundings usually tells something significant about their life story.

We developed early bonds with our caretakers, but also with a place. We end up internalizing the qualities of the landscape or family house where we grew up.

Can we ever detach ourselves from our original place? Does it not persist inside us, long after the physical building has been knocked down?

Anna had left her native town early, to study and work in Moscow, and then she had moved abroad. Her departure had been more of an escape: eager to leave, she had barely said her goodbyes. Since then she had changed countries several times, and finally landed in London. But the original “coldness” and “dirtiness” had followed her, as a malevolent shadow from her past.

It was only our second session, and I was experiencing Anna as frozen and difficult to reach out to. She complained that no town ever felt good enough to her: “too cold” or “too dirty.” Through the videoconferencing, I could have a glimpse of her current London interior, which looked unsurprisingly impersonal and rather messy.

Anna’s restlessness was partly due to her conscious desire to find a more nourishing environment, but this was conflicting with a deeper sense of hopelessness and despair: she believed that such a place did not exist for her.

Even in a warmer and more welcoming country, she would always feel alienated by a feeling of guilt—as if betraying her birthplace, her motherland. That felt deeply wrong.

But at the same time, she could not feel belonging to this new and “better” place, she felt painfully “different.”

Deep inside she kept being “a girl from a dirty and cold place,” her life stained by it forever.

As often happens with expatriates, something shifted when Anna went back home for a holiday. We had an online session whilst she was there. As her face appeared on my screen, I was struck by how different she now looked: instead of her usual impeccable jacket, she was wearing a loose t-shirt; her hair was messy; and without make-up she looked younger.

This was a unique opportunity to accelerate the process.

She was staying at her parents’ flat—the very one where she had grown up, and was certainly getting in touch with some early emotional experiences of her childhood.

Internet connection is always bad here, so maybe we will need to switch-off the video at some point. She warned me, preparing a retreat in case the session triggered too much shame. She was also reminding me how “imperfect” her childhood place was.

Shame was indeed around for the whole hour, but Anna was brave enough to stay with it, and we managed to navigate through this experience together.

Using her laptop’s webcam, Anna finally showed me around. This was a real risk-taking, and I could appreciate how exposed and vulnerable she felt. The place was indeed muddled, and was a testimony of an un-nourishing childhood environment.

Anna’s mother, born just after the war, had been stockpiling all sorts of things, an aversion to discarding possessions which qualified her as a “hoarder.” Understanding her mother’s struggle helped Anna make sense of the level of messiness she grew up with, and the shame she was feeling about it.

That “back home” session actually was a turning point in my work with Anna.

She realized how much she was actually attached to her birthplace, with a painful loyalty that did not let her leave it completely behind.

Making a better sense of her mother’s mental condition, Anna was now able to re-evaluate her own relationship with her family home and her native town. This place was not her. It did not define her; it was rather a sum of her experiences, which had started in that town, but did not have to end there. And the latter was her choice—such an empowering realization.

Maybe a warmer place existed somewhere for her after all…?

[Note: This has been re-posted from Psychotherapy.net with permission from the author.]

Author Anastasia Piatakhina Gire, Member of IIAP

There are many different models of counselling and psychotherapy available today and it is easy to get confused. The main quality of the Integrative approach I practice is its relational value. Every hour we spend together is your own time and space, where nothing is expected of you, except for the commitment to being honest and willing to share. I will always strive to be fully present and available for my clients. Throughout my time as a therapist I remain in regular supervision with a fully qualified Psychotherapist.

Contributed by Judy Hansen, MA, LPCC

Do you ever wonder how non-TCKs and TCKs get along much less have lasting relationships?

Do you find yourself jealous or slightly cynical of those who seem to have close friendships and wonder how they got there?

Do you question how TCKs in relationship with non-TCKs have managed to reconcile their different worldviews and ways of thinking?

 

I’m a Third Culture Kid married to a monocultural man…

I live in both worlds: I’m a TCK married to a monocultural man from Colorado, where we’ve raised four children, all born in this beautiful state. You might benefit from hearing how I have learned to juggle both ways of thinking, perhaps you will glean something from my experiences and observations and how my life has become richer for it.

Searching for the common thread

My basic premise is that if we, as TCKs, approach the world looking at how much we have in common rather than how much we differ, would go a long way in resolving some of our relational difficulties. We would see that everyone longs to be heard, understood, be in relationship, have friendships and feel valued. With that in mind then, as we look for opportunities to establish common ground, we will find the world to be a richer place.

Why do we fail to connect?

Many TCKs express a longing to connect, but feel they fail miserably, claiming fear of rejection and abandonment. In the following paragraphs, let us look at some practical ways to implement the ideas of connection, friendship, and relationship.

Practical ways to implement:

1. Are you judging their “narrow-mindedness“?

When we instantly judge someone because we don’t like their narrow-mindedness or because they do not appreciate how big the world is and think only of their own “petty” interests, we create an instant barrier and cease to be open-minded ourselves.

2. “You can’t understand.”

Conversely, when we firmly and stubbornly believe that no one could possibly understand us, we have already created a situation that precludes anyone entering our world.

I often think TCKs complain of Americans’ superficiality without really getting to know them as individuals. I know I did. I compared my global lifestyle to what I perceived as their dull, shallow way of thinking. On the one hand, it’s hard not to make those comparisons and complain, especially when Americans can present us with many opportunities to object to their way of thinking! At the same time, I have discovered friendships here in America that are deep, meaningful and rich.

3. Laying aside our prejudices

Granted, it took some time to develop those friendships. First, I had to learn to lay aside my own prejudices, my own knee jerk assumptions and arrogant reactions in order to listen to their hopes and dreams. I discovered that many had the same aspirations I did: connection, significance and hope for the future.

4. Everyone has something to contribute.

When we as TCKs set out to approach life with the worldview that everyone has something to contribute to our knowledge and growth, no matter how initially aggravating they may seem to us, we will find our journey on this earth much more pleasant and far less isolating.

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from Power For Living with permission from the author. Comments are open on the original post.]

Author Judy Hansen, MA, LPCC

Judy Hansen was raised in Brazil and Portugal of American missionary parents. She held a dual nationality, American and Brazilian until the age of 18. She is a mental health therapist located in Denver, CO and enjoys helping all those who are struggling with transitions.

Contributed by Anastasia Piatakhina Gire, Member of IIAP

“You are so resilient!” – said with a shred of admiration and with some (more subtle) envy underneath. I have heard that so many times. And every time, even though I feel grateful that the person appreciates my striving, it irritates me slightly.

But what may cause this irritation? I have the impression that some part of me, well hidden under the resilient and adaptive part, somehow gets missed. To be resilient, in other words “bouncing back” from difficult experiences, is a strength often found with expats. But it comes at a price. One loses other things on the way.

Neglected Roots

Let’s look at an experiment I have been running, as it happens, with my terrace plants. I love my earthy pots and my lavender, my pine tree, and my yucca. They are fellow travellers and they have bravely followed me around the world for the last ten years. Right now they are happily sweating on our Madrid terrace.

So what happens when we keep replanting a plant again and again? If we take care of it, water it, and respect its initial basic needs (light and water, in varying proportions), it will eventually strive. Its leaves will look bright and green, and it will even flourish sometimes. Not always at the right time, or not every year, because the adaptation to the new soil and a different climate can impact its capacity to grow flowers for a year or two. The plant will be resilient and will end up adapting to the seasonal changes, but how do these changes in environment impact the state of its roots? They will become weaker, not dig deep enough into the soil; they just do not get enough time to do so.

The Cost of Adaptation 

Working as a therapist with expats, I have become more and more aware of how similar adaptation strategies generally are. As children expats often were repeatedly exposed to the necessity of fitting in a new environment, adapting to a new school, a new neighborhood, and possibly a new language.

No matter how big the parents’ efforts were to make every move a bearable and even an exciting experience, for a child it can easily result in a multitude of stressful situations.

Our natural emotional response to feeling different from others, or less skilled (for example in a new language or when practicing a locally specific sport), is shame, a frequent coping strategy. And the most socially adaptable response to shame is to move forward to others in a pleasing way. When this psychologically tricky situation is repeated many times during a nomadic childhood, we grow to be extremely empathic and attuned to others.

When the necessity to fit and to be accepted turns into a question of survival, social inclusion can get prioritized over one’s own needs, we adapt again and again, and do not grow our own roots.

I can see myself developing this pattern; this ability to guess others’ needs and easily connect with their desires. Have you not noticed expats very skillful in this, navigating with ease social events where they do not know anybody, evolving in an unfamiliar ground as if it was their own territory?

As a result of this adaptation, it may become extremely difficult and painful to get in touch with our own vulnerability, as we gain in resilience.

Green Thumbs, Red Sofas

Coming back to the plants, the best strategy I found for my ‘portable’ garden is to move each plant together with its own container and soil so it has its own environment travelling around and the roots system stays preserved.

For us, humans, it also can be a relevant solution. We also make sure our own environment travels with us: our family, friends (occasionally), our furniture and our books.

I remember feeling very uneasy when my husband suggested selling my favorite red Italian leather sofa before one of the moves. It made sense: it is heavy and not that new anymore, but it is a part of my story, part of my familiar environment.

Astute gardeners keep these little care labels planted in the pot alongside the plant. Its role is to remind oneself of the plant’s preferences are regarding its life conditions.

Sometimes we focus so much on being resilient and adaptive that we forget about our simple basic needs. Why not to make a little reminder – a care label – just to remind yourself what kind of care you really need, which roots really matter for you?

For example, I was born in a snowy Saint Petersburg, but have spent most of my time in Southern Europe. So, sometimes I need to get in touch with those wilder and rougher roots from that cold climate. In order to feel fulfilled, I also need a lot of light, my friends’ company, healthy food, and, as an occasional special treat, an art exhibition, an opera or a ballet.

The Other “You”

In the end we are much luckier than the plants: with an Internet connection, we can reach out to our original forests, which are nowadays just one click away.

Our expat resilience is one of our well-earned assets indeed, and we worked hard enough in order to integrate it to our personality. Our vulnerability is only the other side of the coin, though less socially appreciated (I bet you have never been complemented with “You are so vulnerable!”). Travelling around the world some of us have being practicing being resilient for a very long time, so that we forgot about the price we have paid to acquire it. To get back in touch with our vulnerability can be a real tribute to our journey!

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from Expats Therapy Blog with permission from the author. Comments are open on the original post.]

Author Anastasia Piatakhina Gire, Member of IIAP

There are many different models of counselling and psychotherapy available today and it is easy to get confused. The main quality of the Integrative approach I practice is its relational value. Every hour we spend together is your own time and space, where nothing is expected of you, except for the commitment to being honest and willing to share. I will always strive to be fully present and available for my clients. Throughout my time as a therapist I remain in regular supervision with a fully qualified Psychotherapist.

Contributed by Kate S. Berger, MSc, Child & Adolescent Psychologist

Expatriate children deal with a laundry-list of stress factors that are associated with the dynamic lifestyle they live – e.g., packing, unpacking, saying goodbye to loved ones, time differences, new schools, new friends. And after one has made it through those stressors there is the difficult process of adjustment where the child realizes s/he is totally our of their comfort zone, has no firm ground to stand on, and must find a way to adapt to the local culture.

However, despite the challenges associated with this cycle of life events, expat kids can – and do – achieve success because they are uniquely qualified for leadership positions in society (due to their vast experiences from living in different contexts, their exposure to diverse thinking styles and their capacity for resilience). That said, the road to success isn’t always easy because of that nasty thing called – you guessed it – “stress.”

Stress gets in the way of learning.

Professionals working with children see that the stressful-adjustment process expat kids face can have an immensely negative impact on learning. One of the reasons that stress impedes learning is that the automatic, physiological reaction that takes over in response to stress inhibits executive functioning skills in the brain – things like concentration, memory, creativity, and logical thinking. When these skills are impacted, learning capacities diminish.

Stress harms the body.

In addition to stress impacting the learning process, it is also negatively impacts the body. In fact, many researchers are now suggesting that the physiological reaction that occurs in response to stress plays a huge part in the development of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease and is thus THE biggest health concern tin our society.

Our risk

Society is missing out if we don’t make efforts to counteract the negative impacts of stress for expat children, as we risk the possibility that these kids will become crippled by stress and therefore will not fulfill their leadership capacities. If this happens, we all lose.

There is good news!

It is 2014 and – voila! – we are able to enhance childrens’ capacity to cope with stress effectively, and in the process of doing so help them to build skills that allow them to have greater compassion for themselves and for those around them. How? Drum roll… Mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is based on traditions practiced throughout history, and is a secular approach to learning that teaches individuals to focus on the present moment, and shift their attention inward, with kindness.

Many kids today are very externally focused (playing internet games, chatting on social media, etc.), so teaching them to look the other way around does require practice, but research is showing that there are tremendous benefits for doing so. In the process of turning inward, kids who practice mindfulness build increased capacities for empathy and openness. And it gets even better:

Bodies of research looking at the impact of teaching mindfulness to kids are showing positive impacts on emotional well-being, learning, and physical health. Neuroscientists are literally able to see how practicing mindfulness changes the physiological reactions to stress, and kids who have participated in mindfulness programs have shown significant decreases in depression, anxiety, ADHD, aggression, oppositional behaviors, and sleep difficulties; and improvements in concentration abilities, memory, self-awareness, optimism and positive emotions.

And you don’t have to take my word for it

It seems that everyone is getting on board the mindfulness movement these days. In the UK, the Mindfulness in Schools Project is at the forefront of educating teachers so that mindfulness can become part of mainstream day-to-day curriculum in schools. Globally, there are numerous publications sharing information about the positive impact of mindfulness – The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, and Time Magazine (who called it “The Mindful Revolution”) to name a few. And guess what? Mindfulness isn’t just for dealing with the difficulties in our personal lives: government agencies, military personnel, corporations and famous athletes have started using mindfulness practices in the work-place as a way to improve performance and enjoyment (and decrease stress!). This is B-I-G.

Is it the golden ticket for expat kids?

I make no promises here that mindfulness will eliminate stress, because that is not the point (or realistic). Expatriate life can be tough, and if mindfulness gives expat kids effective tools to cope with (the inevitable) stressors, to enjoy life more, and become better equipped to effectively contribute their unique insights and experiences to society at large, then we can’t really afford to not join the “revolution,” can we?

[Originally published in the ACS International Schools e-newsletter.]

Author: Kate S. Berger, MSc, Child & Adolescent Psychologist

Kate Berger is a Child and Adolescent Psychologist and certified Mindfulness instructor, specializing in working with expatriate children and their families in her private practice, The Expat Kids Club. Kate is actively involved in networking within the expatriate community as a way to spread awareness about the benefits of mindfulness for kids and teens. She strongly believes that practicing mindfulness is a way to create stronger connections with those around us, and the greater community.

For more information about the research mentioned here, or with questions or comments, please contact Kate directly: expatkidsclub@gmail.com. For more information about Mindfulness in Schools Project, please visit: www.mindfulnessinschools.org.

Contributed by Judy Hansen, MA, LPCC

“Did you know there are flies that lay eggs under your skin?!” my friend exclaimed. I was horrified to learn this truth when I was a kid growing up in Brazil. I had seen tarantulas, spitting frogs, seen hairy multicolored caterpillars, tried to catch geckos by their tails and been bitten by more bugs than I cared to know. But this news really grossed me out. “Really?” I said. “Ewww.”  My friend went on to tell me they had seen this odd growth, gone to the doctor, who lanced the wound and then flies emerged.

I liken the eight types of grief and mourning to those fly eggs that get under the skin. It takes identifying and acknowledging so the wound can heal. I will define each one so you can recognize them, and begin to be free from their effects. (I wish to acknowledge Lois Bushong’s book, “Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere“, 65-66 as the source for some of the following concepts).

1. Abbreviated Grief and Mourning

This grief is real, but it is short lived. It occurs when there is no perceived time to grieve, the loss might be minor, there is no strong attachment to the loss, or it is seen as a gain.

This occurs in many situations. For example, if you were moving from a very small town to a big city, you might view the move as exciting and adventurous. You will no longer be able to eat at the local diner, but you don’t mind exchanging that for the culinary delights you will experience in the big city.

Perhaps where you are going the styles are different, but you don’t care because you didn’t like the local styles that much anyway. Or maybe you won’t be able to buy a certain brand of your favorite ice cream, but you look forward to the new flavors.

Sometimes grief in this situation occurs because the move happened so quickly, there was no time to think about being sad, much less process it. Perhaps guilt creeps in because you think you should feel something, but instead feel nothing.

2. Anticipated Grief and Mourning

Grief of this type is when you know the move is coming and are already dreading the goodbyes. You would rather avoid them altogether, hoping that by pretending the move isn’t really going to happen, dealing with the grief also won’t occur.

Teenagers and young adults often experience this when they hear they are moving to a new school, city or country. It happens when they are nearing graduation from high school or college. Some may miss their favorite coffee shop even before the move.

Sadness creeps in, as well as irritability and anger. It is really tempting to try to shut off all the emotions in order to cope with the stress of upcoming change.

3. Ambiguous Grief and Mourning

Ambiguity in any situation means it is hard to pin down exactly what is bothersome. When it comes to grief and mourning, it means the losses are hard to define and therefore also hard to identify. It could mean never playing in a certain park again, or never going back to the ocean. Perhaps it means going down that street where you played as a child is not possible. Or maybe the store you loved to shop in has been demolished.

Ambiguity makes it hard to fully grieve the loss because it seems so inconsequential and insignificant. But those losses accumulate and you burst into crying jags, temper tantrums or go into emotional shut down.

4. Delayed Grief and Mourning

In a move, delaying grief seems the most logical thing to do. “I don’t have time to be sad or depressed, I’ve got a house to pack!” Perhaps a student learns that a loved one has died, but then protests, “It’s finals and graduation is next week, no time to think about the loss!”

Only later does the grief hit them, and it may be in the middle of the best day they’ve had. All of the sudden, there is an overwhelming desire to cry over the most trivial loss, such as an earring or a button.

5. Exaggerated Grief and Mourning

This type occurs when there is a cumulative effect of losses. Perhaps your dog died, you lost your job, and you had to move to another city, all in a short time. It could also happen when you’ve had a lifetime of losses, unprocessed grief over many years, often due to frequent moves.

Then comes a day when you feel overcome by sadness, grief and mourning. Depression may set in. Crying jags occur. Having difficulty getting simple tasks done, and focus is gone. Anger may be a constant companion, and life seems unfair.

6. Inhibited Grief and Mourning

If the losses are not processed, they will show up as headaches, stomachaches, and unexplained illnesses. Stress is hard on the body, and stuffing the grief, shoving down the pain, only increases the likelihood that it will show up somewhere in the body as a physical ailment.

7. Normal Grief and Mourning

Processing grief is different for everyone, taking anywhere from 3-24 months. Since everyone processes grief differently, each family member may be at a different stage in their grief. Allowing for those differences is an important part of healing. It may also depend on each one’s perception of the loss. For one the loss may feel minor, for another much more tragic.

8. Unresolved Grief and Loss

This occurs when the history of losses has not been processed. It is prevalent among those who moved frequently as children and then as adults they feel the cumulative effect of those continuous changes. Difficulties forming lasting relationships, feelings of rootlessness, underlying anger and resentment may be evident in their lives.

What To Do About It

We all process things differently. Some are verbal processors, talking about the issue until the subject is exhausted. Others like to write in their journals, some like to express themselves through some art form. I suggest picking a particular time in your life you believe has not been processed and use one of the above ways and begin to express it.

Processing grief and mourning should not be done in isolation. We need each others’ love, care, attention and compassion to help us heal. However you process, be sure you share it with someone who cares about you.

If you find that your grief remains firmly lodged within you, you may need to seek the help of a therapist. Don’t hesitate to contact me, I can help. 720-201-5030.

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from Power For Living with permission from the author. Comments are open on the original post.]

Author Judy Hansen, MA, LPCC

Judy Hansen was raised in Brazil and Portugal of American missionary parents. She held a dual nationality, American and Brazilian until the age of 18. She is a mental health therapist located in Denver, CO and enjoys helping all those who are struggling with transitions.

Contributed by Kay Bruner, MA, LPC

“I feel awful. Something inside me is squeezing me so bad I can hardly breathe.”

With those first words of Letters Never Sent, Ruth Van Reken spoke straight to my TCK heart. It was 1988, I was a senior in college, the book was brand-new, and for the first time in my life, somebody besides me was willing to say that being a TCK was not all about climbing up sunshine mountain.

By the time I read Letters, I was already married to another TCK and we were well on our way to our own overseas career in Bible translation. My own experience, confirmed by Letters and by the quiet conversations I had with other TCK’s I met, made me absolutely determined to care for my children and their emotions carefully and attentively, to minimize the damage that previous generations of TCK’s had endured.

When that great revelation of research by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, Third Culture Kids, was published in 1999, I practically memorized chapter 13 on transition. I could recite the RAFT model for family transition in my sleep. Over a 15-year period, we RAFTed religiously from the Solomon Islands to Papua New Guinea to America and back again. In one particularly hellish phase, we moved internationally 5 times in 3 years, and two of those were crisis moves, as in, “You have 15 minutes to leave the country. Go.”

I was trying so hard to make it okay for my kids, to support Andy in the translation project, to be the teacher to four grade levels and four temperaments, to be the family doctor, therapist, Sunday school teacher and chief logistics officer for whatever happened to be happening.

Meanwhile, I was spiraling down, down, down into depression, feeling like I was the only one struggling, because everybody else looked so happy on their prayer cards. I didn’t know that Andy was addictively looking at pornography while we all smiled for our prayer cards.

The Big Crash came in 2003, with two years of intensive recovery following. We went back overseas for a while, then moved back to Dallas permanently in 2007. I went off to grad school for a masters in counseling, and started a little blog to pass the time during the never ending story of my internship.

On the blog, I started to put out little bits and pieces of our story, and every single time I did, someone would write to me and say, “Thank you for saying that!  I thought I was the only one!”

I started to realize that there was not really a voice for this story:  a story about depression and despair and recovery in a mission setting. It was, however, a story that resonated with a lot of people, even people who aren’t missionaries.

This past year, I got my story into book form and self-published. My intention in writing this book was to pass along the gift that Ruth Van Reken gave to me: the gift of a voice, of community, of hope on the long road Home. 

So, if depression and despair and healing sound like things you’d be up for reading about, it’s your lucky day! As Soon As I Fell is available in Kindle format and in paperback at Amazon.

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from A Life Overseas with permission from the author. Comments are open on the original post.]

Author: Kay Bruner, MA, LPC

Kay Bruner was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky. She and her husband have raised their four children in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and the great state of Texas. Kay is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and divides her work days between counseling and writing. She blogs at www.kaybruner.com.

Contributed by Lois J. Bushong, MS, LMFT

The recent suicide of Robin Williams, a much-loved comedian and actor, has brought about a great deal of discussion on severe depression. With all the focus on depression, I worry about TCKs who have repeatedly gone to a therapist’s office seeking help for depression. Will they feel, like Robin Williams did, that there is no way out of their deep dark pit labeled severe depression? Will they conclude that the world of therapy and/or psychotropic medications cannot help them escape this prison? Will the therapist be a good match for them and understand their world?

The TCK, who is depressed, may not know why they are depressed; all they know is they are miserable.  As therapists walk through the symptoms of depression with the TCK or gives them the Beck Depression Inventory, the client might certainly fit into that diagnosis. But rather than making the TCKs current situation as their only focus, such as what we do when we do Brief Therapy, here are some other areas we, as therapists, might explore.

A major problem in trying to understand what might be causing depression for those who have been globally mobile is one simple fact, the consequence of their highly mobile lifestyle. Their lives are often so rich and filled with privilege; they and those around them don’t see how they could have a reason to be depressed. Many don’t have the usual markers (family history of depression, a traumatic event, ongoing stress) that often seem to precipitate a diagnosis of depression. As a therapist, we can easily become distracted by their life of adventure that we want to just brush it aside and believe their history or globally mobile life is irrelevant to the depression and search for some “big reason” in their current world, or some past abuse, to which we can attribute their despair.

We cannot ignore the fact that for those who grow up as TCKs, their lives are filled with chronic cycles of separation and loss. Obviously, such cycles are part of the experience for everyone. But for the globally mobile, the cycles are chronic and often relatively sudden and severe. They not only lose a friend here and there, they lose a whole world along with those they love. When these losses are not acknowledged it becomes unresolved grief. Grief that is not acknowledged and left to fester deep in the recesses of the soul becomes depression, anger or anxiety.

As a therapist or a friend of the TCK, the best skill you can employ with your depressed client is sitting and listening to them talk about their losses. You may need to help them in naming those losses. I many times will ask them to divide their losses into categories such as friends, pets, places, senses, relatives, homes, stores, geography, etc. If you attempt to reframe their losses into gains, the result is feelings of shame and withdrawal or anger. If you attempt to defend the system that sent their parents abroad, they will shut down and internalize that you don’t understand them. Yes, there are two sides to their experiences and it can be a challenge to embrace both the positive and negative of each of these events. But before they are willing to consider any positives, they have to experience comfort in their world of grief and loss. Ultimately, they will recognize their history is a weaving of gains and losses.

Besides the layers of unresolved grief, the TCK may be experiencing depression due to their feelings of isolation in their current situation and struggling in forming meaningful relationships in their current environment. They may not have the emotional energy to walk through the process of making friends and small talk, but yet they long for a more in-depth relationship with someone within their community. They often fear the other person will reject them or they fear they will have to once again tell another friend good bye and it just does not seem to be worth it. They may not know how to make and keep a long-term friendship with someone who has not moved or traveled beyond the borders of their state or country and is always there in real life. For many TCKs their “eyeball to eyeball” friendships have only been for two to four years, as someone always moves to another part of the world. They just do not know how to maintain a long-term friendship.

How can we as therapists, help the depressed TCK? We can help the TCK by flushing out those hidden losses and celebrating those wonderful joys and experiences in their history, guide them in long-term relationships, utilize various techniques of grief therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, encourage them to engage in an exercise program and healthy eating. Some are good candidates for medication or alternative forms of treatment such as yoga, meditation and acupuncture. But the most important thing that you as a therapist or as a friend can do is LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGEMENT to your TCK as they share their world with you.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest from the Netherlands and a well-respected author, once stated “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures; have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from Mango Tree Reflections with permission from the author. Comments are open on the original post.]

Author: Lois J. Bushong, MS, LMFT

Lois J. Bushong, author of the recently published book Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile, ATCK, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, writer and international speaker.

Contributed by Kim Roberts, MA

Is it any wonder that anxiety and panic disorders are on the rise? Technology almost dictates that we live in a “need it yesterday” mindset, interrupted by instant messaging, late for our next appointment, struggling to clear out cluttered inboxes, figure out how to send our files, and generally keep up with a world speeding forward on information overload. Add to this the frequent travel required of most expats, international communication and keeping up with family and events on the other side of the planet, and you’ve got a recipe for stress.

That’s why it is more important than ever for expats to learn to relax! By learning to rest and quiet the mind, you have choices about how and where to focus your awareness.

Trying to keep up with life in 2 (or more) different cultures and time-zones can be overwhelming. You can shift your mindset to recognize the larger perspective in the grand scheme of things, and learn to ally with the spaciousness of the present moment instead of getting caught up in the stream of busyness. When I notice my stress levels heading into the red zone, I have a few tricks to help bring me back to earth–my tools to manage anxiety and stress. Try them yourself:

1. Breathe

Your breath is with you always, no matter what country you find yourself in. Make a habit of checking in with it. Notice your breath when you are on the computer, in the middle of an intercultural misunderstanding, or at the departure gate. Get to know what it is that stresses you out, and then bring mindfulness-and conscious breathing– to that activity.

2. Check your environment

This may sound obvious, but is your new environment contributing to overwhelm? When I lived in Hong Kong a few years ago, I was breathing in so much pollution that it was a challenge to get enough oxygen to my brain. I had trouble sleeping because of the constants buzz of neon and the all-day-long interaction with technology. Eventually I had to admit that the environment was causing me more stress than I could handle. I shifted my career path and moved to an island in Vietnam.

3. Settle the mind and learn to dis-identify with thoughts

From a yogic perspective, anxiety is a disturbance of the “winds,” the subtle energy channels in the body. Think of a jar filled with sediment when it is shaken: the sediment swirls around clouding the water. A calm and grounded state of mind is characterized by clarity. The practice of sitting meditation is the most direct way to achieve this settled state of mind. When you ally with the spaciousness of the mind instead of the contents of the mind (thoughts) you automatically shift your perspective. Enter your email on my website for a free audio-guided introduction to sitting meditation.

4. Nourish

No matter how many times I’ve done it, when I’m about to fly overseas, I get a bit anxious. I keep a supply of calming herbs for stressful situations. Kava kava, valerian, chamomile tea, passionflower, lavender, hops, and lemon balm are all great aids to inducing calm. It’s not a permanent fix, but it helps in the short term.

Don’t underestimate the power of eating well and getting enough sleep. Eliminate or reduce all stimulants (coffee, tea, chocolate, garlic, excess sugar, alcohol) from lunchtime onward and notice the effects.

Nourishment also comes in the form of supportive relationships – not always easy when living outside your mother country. Set regular Skype appointments with close friends from home, initiate expat social groups or consider talking to an expat counselor if you need more intensive emotional support. Suffering alone increases the stressfulness of anxiety. Sharing your feelings with others can lift a huge burden, and also help you recognize that you are not alone – everyone struggles with issues from time to time.

Even if you already practice yoga or meditation, working with a therapist helps address issues from a practical perspective so that you can let them go. Practitioners often believe mindfulness will sort out their emotional issues, but in fact the opposite is often the case. Deep practice may stir up old issues, and unless there is a container for these unruly emotions, it can be tempting to “let go” of old issues before they are resolved, which creates a muddy stew in the mind. Anxiety can be a sign there is something trying to come to the surface to be worked with.

5. Organize and schedule in down time

It’s so easy to get caught up in the communications technology that is available these days so that we never actually take a break from being “on.” Especially when most of your people are in other time zones, it can feel like the computer takes the place of social support.

Not everything has to happen NOW. Batch tasks and do them together so that you’re not running all over the place, scattered, unfocused, wasting your energy. Set parameters on certain activities so they don’t consume you.

I try to go offline completely at least one full day a week, and limit computer use to certain times, and NEVER before breakfast! That’s just my own thing; mornings are sacred to me. By limiting computer use until after my practice helps me check in with my inspiration to start the day.

Try scheduling monthly or even weekly mini holidays to refresh and get back to your original nature. Spend the afternoon at your favorite park– or go on an Artist Date, as described by Julia Cameron. Or, try this novel idea: go and actually visit your friends in person!

6. Rest

When the going gets rough, the tough take viparita karani. This is my all-time favorite yoga posture, and my quick-fix remedy for just about everything from jet-lag to overwhelm, from exhaustion to anxiety. It’s the best way I know how to relax quickly and deeply. Follow it with child’s pose for a nurturing restart to your afternoon or evening.

Viparita Karani – the quickest way I know to relax

Child’s Pose

Panic and anxiety are not purely mental events–they are physiological events, so they can’t be treated with the thinking mind only. You need to learn to BREATHE deeply, and train yourself to come back to the breath on a regular basis. Mind and breath are intimately connected. If you can calm your breath, your mind will follow.

Here’s your one line panic advice: relax and enjoy!

Author: Kim Roberts, MA

Kim Roberts earned her Masters degree in Psychology from Naropa University, where she was originally trained as a Contemplative Psychotherapist. She was one of Richard Freeman’s original students in the US, and earned authorization to teach Ashtanga yoga after spending a year studying with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. Author of Ashtanga Yoga for Beginner’s Mind, Kim divides her time between Northern Thailand and Colorado, developing a private practice mostly online. She is launching a new Ecourse, How to Make a Fabulous Living Teaching, Travelng (and Saving) the World, for yoga teachers who wish to take their message to a wider audience. Her website is: Tools For Evolution.

Contributed by Mari L’Esperance, MA, LMFT

[Note: I interchangeably use the pronouns “she/her” and “he/his/him”.]

I didn’t become aware of the term Third Culture Kid until a colleague who is also a TCK introduced me to it, along with Ruth Van Reken’s co-authored book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, just a couple of years ago. Suddenly, it was like the projectionist at the movie theater had adjusted the lens and my life suddenly came into focus in a way it hadn’t before. For the first time, I not only had language for certain feeling states—grief being primary among them—but I was aware that others shared them, too, and for similar reasons.

As a psychotherapist who works with Adult TCKs and cross-cultural/multiethnic adults, I have spent considerable time reflecting on my own experiences growing up among worlds, even as I continue to learn about the singular experiences and presentations of TCKs and how to most effectively work with this growing population. It’s been especially helpful for me to read the stories of TCKs and other clinicians’ words about TCK grief and complex grief.

Along with the “world” of TCK experience, another world I’ve been immersed in for 10 years is that of “psychotherapist,” which has its own attendant culture, subcultures, values, and codes. As a psychodynamically trained therapist who was supervised by psychoanalysts, I’ve long struggled with the issue of self-disclosure when working with clients who are TCKs. How can I reconcile, on one hand, my clinical training, which taught me to limit self-disclosure, with the world of engaging in therapy with TCKs, where the understanding is that clients work best with, and feel most seen and understood by, therapists who are themselves TCKs? What to share openly and what to conceal/withhold is the ongoing question for me as a therapist who happens to also be a TCK. Writing this guest blog post, then, is an exercise toward alleviating the internal conflict between my clinical superego and my authentic, “whole” self, which is, ideally, what I bring into the room when I sit with clients.

Yet another “world” I inhabit is that of a mixed-race, cross-cultural woman who was raised in a multiethnic household in California, Micronesia, and Japan in the 1960s and 1970s. Often I’ve struggled with disclosing or not disclosing my racial/ethnic background (which isn’t immediately visible to many—I often “pass”), in particular with multiracial/multiethnic clients. I wonder to myself: is disclosure of use to the client, or is it about my ego, anxiety, etc.? Do I withhold this information and allow the client to project what he needs to, or is there a way that sharing it with the client fosters healing, integration, and self-acceptance? This is something I often consider. I’m continually negotiating the internal “borderland” between my cultural/ethnic identities (Japan and California, primarily) and how it informs my work with clients.

Which brings me to the issue of pathologizing, an (in my view) unfortunate phenomenon that seems to come with the territory with Western psychology and psychotherapy. From the time we enter our graduate programs, the Western clinical model teaches us that the client is broken, wounded, maladjusted, “disordered,” etc., and comes to us to be put back together again. When it comes to TCKs, I prefer to consider the individual as intrinsically healthy and whole. If the client’s had retraumatizing experiences in the mental health system (i.e., she’s not been “seen,” acknowledged, and understood as a TCK) on top of what she’s experienced with unenlightened schoolmates, teachers, relatives, etc., she becomes symptomatic.

Although it’s not a new concept, what if it’s conventional society with its binary lens and a poorly informed mental healthcare system that are “disordered” and not the TCK? It’s all the more important, then, that the constancy and safe holding of the therapeutic relationship provide what the client didn’t get when he was growing up mobile and among worlds. Over time, we can help the TCK to develop a more cohesive and positive sense of self, one that’s also been enriched and deepened by his diverse experiences growing up as a TCK. In this way, we can avoid the trap of pathologizing him and meet him where he is.

Finally, when working with clients with complex TCK identities, I feel it is absolutely essential that we as therapists have done our own work in therapy to become more conscious, to process and mourn our losses, and to accept ourselves and our unique experiences as TCKs. Only then can we be fully present and available to our clients in the way they need us to be for their own development and healing.

Author: Mari L’Esperance, MA, LMFT

Mari L’Esperance, MA, LMFT is a relational, depth-oriented psychotherapist, counselor, and California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Pasadena (Los Angeles County), where she works with adult individuals of all ages and specializes in working with Adult Third Culture Kids/Global Nomads and cross-cultural/multiethnic adults on issues related to unresolved grief, identity, belonging, connection, relationship difficulties, and other life challenges. You can read more about Mari’s practice at www.thirdculturecounseling.com.

Contributed by Kate S. Berger, MSc, Child & Adolescent Psychologist

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “How do you spend your time?” “What are you passionate about?” “What’s important to you?” and my personal favorite – “Where do you see yourself in five years?” are questions that take some understanding of personal identity in order to answer. I am an expat – or a “culturally diverse individual” – and know first hand that answering these questions is not always easy because it depends who is asking, where I am when answering, and what I am doing when being asked.

Having a sense of self is supposedly grounding because it is the platform from which we step off of to interact with, and impact the world. For culturally diverse individuals, expats or third culture kids (“TCK’s” including intercultural and “global nomads”), this sense of self may not be formed as easily when the context(s) in which they live are changing. Why is this intercultural lifestyle a challenge to identity, and how can we support TCK’s to develop a (more stable) sense of self?

How is identity formed?

Having a sense of self is an individual putting meaning to their existence in a contextual manner. From very early on in development until middle age, an individuals’ brain tries to make sense of all of the information coming in from the outside world. It does this through a process called mylenation, in which basically the brain sorts a whole bunch of input, and the most important/useful/meaningful/relevant information is turned into knowledge that can be applied in a practical way. This process is the mechanism behind language acquisition or learning how to hit a baseball, and also what drives development of sense of self. Many things, including security, environment and stress, can impact it.

What influences identity?

The mylenation process in TCK’s gets the added bonus of complexity due to moving (changing environments). So any sort of habitual processing of information – e.g., developing an understanding of “Who am I” – actually becomes impacted by the relocation. What are the compounding factors?

Security.

Security is obtained in different ways at different points in our lives – studies show that babies will feel more secure when basic needs (like food, warmth, protection) are met; older kids and teenagers feel more secure when reciprocal communication needs are met (e.g., they need to feel like others are listening, and care about what they have to say). A sense of security seems to be pretty important when looking at how an individual is motivated to try new things and take risks, which are characteristics that can define one from the group (e.g., “Am I a risk-taker?” “How do I handle conflict?”).

For TCK’s, a sense of security is often at risk when they are in a new setting because they don’t necessarily know what their support system looks like, and they have new friendships that may not be completely reciprocal, at least initially (kids need to get to know one another first!).

I remember feeling pretty alone in the early days of living in Holland. My friends didn’t know me well enough to know that when I say, “I’m fine” what I really mean is, “Come over right away and cheer me up!” It has taken years (and even more effort!) to be able to explain that I’m this way, and feel that I have a real support system that is responsive to my needs. One can imagine how this sort of scenario would be challenging for a child with perhaps less verbal repertoire to even acknowledge and describe his/her needs in the first place. It can feel like the new environment is not responsive and as a result can affect the way a child engages with his/her surroundings.

Stress.

You can’t have a conversation about identity in changing contexts for TCK’s without looking at how stress is involved. Things like saying goodbye to friends and family, starting at a new school, and having to adapt and re-learn cultural norms are stressful processes that these kids go through. The way in which an individual deals with the stressors is a factor in defining a sense of self – e.g., I am resilient, flexible, anxious, avoidant, etc. General perception equates being able to effectively handle stress with capability, but kids don’t come prepackaged with EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and coping skills, and need to develop these over time with support. So for a TCK that gets the message that he/she may not be adequately dealing, it can have a pretty negative impact on sense of self (e.g., “I can’t handle this” “I am not capable”).

Mindsets.

Research is pointing to another compounding factor in this sense of self-discussion. Mindsets are the various perspectives and attitudes that an individual can operate from. Humans have the unique ability to make use of more than one, however research is showing that switching mindsets actually taxes executive functioning skills. What the heck does that mean?

It means, let’s say you spend a year in a monastery. Can you imagine the mindset – or state of mind – you’re in? Relaxed, few distractions, an internal focus perhaps. Now imagine you decide to relocate to New York City and BAM! there’s another sort of mindset needed (Sounds! Movement! People all around!). Through brain imaging studies and personal account we actually now know that switching mindsets effects the way an individual is able to deal with life: things like staying calm under pressure, making decisions, and even concentration abilities. So some of the ways in which this manifests, for example, is that individuals have big temper tantrums or emotional outbursts, they are unable to make choices, and have difficulties in academic settings. For TCK’s these executive functioning deficits can have a very big impact on day-to-day existence, and again can lead to an individual understanding of who he/she is in various contexts.

How can we support TCK’s so that they are able to gain a more stable sense of self?

  1. Create an enhanced sense of security. One of the most effective ways to do this is by giving TCK’s a platform or voice to share their experiences and express any frustrations (and accomplishments!) that they are dealing with. Being a good listener, asking questions and trying to take perspective are great ways to be supportive in this regard. Families and schools can make sure there is a structure to the support provided by having time set aside to address challenges.
  2. Teach kids skills to effectively deal with stress, because stress isn’t going away any time soon! Mindfulness based stress reduction is becoming a popular way to teach kids how to have present moment awareness to be able to effectively decide how to react in stressful situations. Research shows that this type of awareness not only enhances and an individual’s ability to react in the best possible way (to achieve most desirable outcomes, rather than acting on “auto-pilot” or in defense, for example) but also changes the way the brain engages and responds to stressful circumstances. It is as simple as taking a moment to turn the focus inward (asking yourself, “What am I thinking?” How am I feeling”) and the impact is great. Kids who have learned these types of techniques report feeling more relaxed, more empathic (towards themselves and others); and in a school setting there have been dramatic improvements seen in concentration and creativity skills – these kids actually perform better (as measured by standardized test scores).
  3. Limit the need to switch mindsets throughout the day. Schools can do this by effectively grouping certain activities/classes, and providing “switching space” where executive functioning skills are supported, e.g., take a 10-minute break in between study blocks to do something relaxing – research has long-supported this type of idea in the workplace (think about how business have allowed for exercise time, employees can bring pets into the workplace, etc.).

Finally, an important – if not the most important – thing to consider is that in this process of understanding a sense of self we need to remember that we are all individuals. Rather than trying to group others and ourselves inside our defined boxes of what’s “normal,” let’s make perspective-taking our goal in each and every interaction. By walking a mile in another man’s shoes we will be able to learn more about who we really are.

Author: Kate S. Berger, MSc, Child & Adolescent Psychologist

Child Psychologist Kate Berger, MSc, founded the Expat Kids Club, a private psychology/consulting practice that aims to help young people in the midst of transition. Typical areas that are addressed in practice include challenges relating to relocation, difficulties “growing up,” changes in family dynamics/relationships, confidence and cultural identity, as well as behavioral difficulties. In addition to standardized therapeutic models, Kate incorporates mindfulness-based cognitive therapy into practice. While assisting young people in their expatriate lifestyles, Kate intends improve the quality of life for the entire expatriate family, thereby increasing positive interactions with Dutch society and promoting successful international relations.

Contributed by Judy Hansen, MA

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong in my own family!” I recently said to a friend. This may sound strange to some, but to my friend, she got it immediately because she too had felt the same dissonance. What causes this? It’s when someone who grew up in many cultures starts to parent, and then realizes that the experiences are so different, it is hard to connect. It’s like learning a new culture all over again.

For example, I had to ask my kids about prom and homecoming. I had grown up in an entirely foreign school system. What were the rules and expectations? Dress code? What was the proper time to show up? When should I expect to pick them up? Hidden costs? Oh so many questions, I felt embarrassed asking them! I was the adult, I should know… yet I didn’t know who to ask without feeling stupid.

Then of course there were questions my kids could not answer for me: What was the role of PTO or PTA and what was the difference? If my kid was bullied, what were my recourses? What did Boosters do and what did it mean if I got involved? Should I let my daughter be a cheerleader, or were there aspects of that subculture that would create body image problems for her?

Then there was the whole global perspective. When my kids would tell me they met someone at school who was from Africa, I’d say, “Which country?” They’d give me a blank look, a “not this question again” look, because like so many North American kids, Africa is a country.

When they began studying history, we would have conversations on how each country writes history from their perspective. It told them it was important to learn, but with the knowledge that there is always at least two sides to the story.

I knew this, because I studied Brazilian history in Brazil. From that perspective, the Portuguese exploited Brazil’s natural resources, tried to rule over them and make laws from across the ocean; how they fought and won their independence.

Then I moved to Portugal and studied that same history from the Portuguese perspective. Now the history was that the Brazilians didn’t know how good they had it, they were selfish and ignorant. The Portuguese had given them so much. According to them, the king’s son who had grown up in Brazil, was a traitor because he fought for their independence. It was eye opening to read those two perspectives, both claiming to have the “real” truth.

I could go on and on about all the things related to raising kids in a culture in which I did not grow up. Many immigrants face similar issues. So much of culture is taken for granted, so no one really thinks to explain it. Because I spoke flawless English and looked American, I was automatically expected to know the American school system and all its culture. When I did not, I would get strange looks and suddenly feel like an “outsider” with a twist: I was an “insider” until I opened my mouth and asked questions. So I often tried to figure it out on my own.

As I reflect on my experiences, I expect my struggles are shared by many parents who grew up in another culture. The school system is a subculture that has its own rules, governance, expectations, and dress code. If the kids’ parents are foreigners, be it an immigrant, Third Culture Kid, Military Brat, or any number of other cultural backgrounds and experiences, they may be unaware of the new rules, and a culture clash ensues. I wonder how often disciplinary problems, homework issues, or lack of parental involvement could be alleviated by having a “Welcome to Our School” day, a shortened version of  “welcome week” at colleges and universities. This would be open to all who wanted to learn more how the school functioned, expectations, definitions of words that only schools use, like PTO and PTA, Boosters, and others. It could include a breakout session on making a good transition from the old to the new system. Perhaps out of this a resource panel or group could be formed, a place where the newcomers could go to get their questions answered without feeling stupid.

Does anyone else think this is a good idea? Would parents and schools benefit from this?
(Click link to comment. Comments welcome on Judy’s blog.)

[Originally published online at PowerForLivingTherapy.com]

Author: Judy Hansen, MA

Judy Hansen was raised in Brazil and Portugal of American missionary parents. She held a dual nationality, American and Brazilian until the age of 18. She is a mental health therapist located in Denver, CO and enjoys helping all those who are struggling with transitions.

Contributed by Lois J. Bushong, MS, LMFT

March 21-23, 2014, I attended the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference in Washington DC. The conference is always a highlight for me as I learn about the latest studies on TCKs and the expat, pick up new books, interact with other professionals (i.e. counselors) on how to improve my skills in the counseling office, and just sit and talk with my old and new friends. This year was not any different, except the buzz of excitement seemed to be louder. It could have been because I was not distracted with giving a workshop this year; the new board was filled with positive energy or the larger number of new attendees. The days seemed shorter, and I left with my little iPad chucked full of ideas.

As I think back over those three days, the session that impacted me the most was a seven-minute talk given in the Ignite Sessions by Julia Simens, the author of “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child.” Julia’s presentation was titled, “Beloved Stranger: Hired Help or Much Loved Reference Person”. Julia shared many stories and pictures of individuals from the host countries who had a big impact on her family. These were primarily the nannies of their two children.

My mind wandered back to my own stories and relationships with maids or housekeepers who lived in our home as I grew up in Central America. Although the countries and sectors were different for the Simen’s family, the bonding experiences were the same. A few of the women from our host countries who impacted my life as a child were Teresa, Amparo and Hermelinda. Teresa taught me how to use proper Spanish, rather then the choice words I was learning on the streets from my peers. Amparo demonstrated how to care for a small parrot and teach it to sing and talk as it sat on its small perch on the porch. Hermelinda quietly showed me the skills of making many of our favorite local foods that I continue to enjoy today. All taught me how to listen and withhold judgment with everyone who shared their workspace. These women were BELOVED strangers in our family tree. But to our family they were not strangers. They were wonderful friends and mentors.

The audience was with Julia as she talked and shared pictures of each of these important members of her family. We were like one group, listening and breathing together as she smoothly transitioned from one beloved stranger to another. That is, until she got to THAT picture.

It was a picture of a young person sitting who was fading into a brick wall. The photo is actually one from Brad Spencer’s collection of  “Amazing Brick Sculptures”. Here she began to talk about how the memory of the “Beloved Stranger” can begin to fade for the adults, but for their children they will not fade as they were among their important attachment figures. She talked about how these nannies and housekeepers must also grieve as they see “their” children whom they have come to love as one of their very own, move away, knowing they will probably never see them again. That was when I had to put down my iPad and dig out a Kleenex from the bottom of my book bag. Throughout the remainder of Julia’s talk, the adult TCKs were in tears while the expat parents were rapidly taking notes.

Once again, it affirmed in my mind what I already knew. Grief and loss is huge among the TCKs with whom we work. When we think we have tapped into all of the grief that has been buried there, we run into another deep vat of grief and loss. I have experienced this myself as an adult TCK over and over again.

I knew that I missed Theresa, Hermelinda and Amparo. But that afternoon I walked out of that session thinking, “Who helped Theresa, Hermelinda and Amaparo walk through the tremendous loss they must have experienced when my parents moved back to the U.S.?” ”How could we as a family have helped all of us in our goodbyes”? “Why did I not make it a point to go back to see all of them before they died”?

What picture or story comes to mind as your ATCK thinks back on that host country person who lived with them over the years? What are the feelings that are awakened? What values did they instill in you that you still claim? And what can you do to honor them today? Do my ATCK clients relate to the term “beloved strangers”? Thank you, Julia, for allowing me the space to stop, remember, and feel these much loved women who left a strong imprint on my life.

Author: Lois J. Bushong, MS, LMFT

Lois J. Bushong, author of the recently published book Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile, ATCK, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, writer and international speaker.

Contributed by: Paula Vexlir, Registered Clinical Psychologist

As expats we tend to understate grief. Maybe because there is so much to get done that you feel that there is no time for sadness, maybe because you need to show yourself strong in front of the children or your spouse, maybe because you have such a great opportunity (or better lifestyle) so who are you to complain, right? But grief doesn’t go away for lack of acknowledgement, instead it gets deeper inside ourselves.

Grieving is the normal reaction to loss. When we consider expat life there is always loss: it might be a specific place you liked, or a job, or close friends, relationships, food, weather, language, even smells could be felt as losses.

When we hurt our body we don´t hide the wound, we don´t cover it and just continue with our lives. If we leave it unattended chances are it might become infected and we could end up with a much more painful experience. When we pretend everything is fine and we hide our pain, our grief, we are doing exactly the same thing. We are encouraging an infection.

Grief is a normal emotional response to a loss and expat life is full of them. Unfortunately, among expat communities there is not much “permission” to talk about this. Unresolved grief is commonly found among expat communities. Sometimes it could be due to lack of awareness, maybe some hidden losses, or lack of permission to grieve, a lack of time to process, etc…

It is crucial that you allow yourself to go through the grieving process. This does not mean to be negative about your new life but to allow yourself to find out whatever you might be feeling about things left behind.

Acknowledgement means a lot more than it seems to. Recognition and validation of our feelings are crucial for resilience. Placing words on our emotions is important for the healing process to begin. Allow yourself to mourn your losses, accept the sadness, whatever your might be feeling, give yourself permission and embrace it. Grieving is tricky; all the unresolved grief comes back to you with each new loss.

So the holiday season becomes even more complex since we tend to look back, analyze how the year went, our gains and our losses and plan for the New Year. What could be better than a fresh start, right? But we need to cry for our losses to get one. There is no way to go through the experience “unmarked”. Back to the wound example, with the appropriate treatment, we can prevent the infection. The scar will not disappear. That´s right, you will still have those marks but it doesn’t hurt anymore. Just as in our body, our expat life can shape us. It is an experience that might change us but we will not necessarily be traumatized by it. Acknowledge of losses and grief will allow us to live a more fulfilled and enriched experience.

[Originally published online at Expatriates Magazine.]
[Article also available in Spanish.]

Author: Paula Vexlir, Registered Clinical Psychologist

Paula is a Psychologist that supports the Spanish-speaking expat community worldwide. For more than ten years she has been providing counseling to expats for their acculturation processes (cultural adjustment, parenting issues and trailing partner´s challenges) and for any other situation they could be facing. By offering an online service she can support Spanish-speaking expats worldwide.

To learn more, check out Paula’s ITD listing, website, and facebook page.