TCKs Make Great Therapists

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.