The Other Voice

Contributed by Lois J. Bushong, MS, LMFT

I suddenly found myself exhibiting anxious thoughts and behaviors. I was pacing up and down the short hallway, watching the clock slowly tick down to the hour of my appointment. My hands were sweating. My mind was spinning with statements of self-doubt, even though I was trying to look calm, cool and confident. I tried quieting the barrage of catastrophic statements that were attempting to take over my thinking; “Is she going to say I am not going to make it? Am I as terrible as I feel? Will she laugh at me, or worse yet, tell me I am a failure?” She finally opened the door and invited me into her office. I picked up my notebook, cassette tape and took a seat in front of her desk. Thus began my first supervision session as a graduate school counseling intern with Dr. Weaver as my first supervisor.

It is hard to believe that scene took place over thirty years ago. Dr. Weaver didn’t laugh at my lack of counseling skills or encourage me to withdraw from the program. Instead, she often gave me words of encouragement and provided excellent practical training to help increase my self-confidence throughout the semester as she listened to the recordings of my first counseling sessions. I won’t ever forget my first session with a real client or my first supervisor, Dr. Weaver. We all survived!

“I would hear Dr. Weaver’s voice in my head….”

In my first years as a marriage and family therapist, whenever I got stuck, I would hear Dr. Weaver’s voice in my head, or the voices of later supervisors like Dr. Ruegg, as I gradually developed self-confidence and my own style of counseling. Many years later when I became that “first supervisor” for graduate counseling students in internship, I tried to pass along to my own nervous interns those same words of encouragement that were passed on to me. A couple of my students threatened to have bracelets made with the initials “WWLS” (What Would Lois Say) on them to wear as they worked with their first clients.

As a result of my own first supervision and what I have learned over twenty years as a supervisor of graduate students and licensed therapists, I firmly believe that the first supervisor is a crucial cornerstone for new therapists as they build the foundation for their own counseling styles. My heart wells up with pride when I see so many of them grow and develop outstanding counseling practices and hone amazing skills and knowledge far beyond the basics in this caring profession. The young man who wanted a WWLS bracelet now owns a large practice to whom I often refer deeply struggling couples who need a therapist with extraordinary skills.

“One key was learning the importance of the person of the therapist and doing your own work.”

In the years following my graduate school training, I had some excellent supervisors who taught me so much far beyond that found in any of my counseling textbooks. One key was learning the importance of the person of the therapist and doing your own work. And sadly, I have had a couple supervisors who were not good psychologists; they were unethical, gave bad advice and shook my confidence in my profession. I learned from them what I should not do, as I watched them damage the lives of both clients and impressionable therapists and ultimately lose their licenses to practice. As a result, even after supervision was no longer required of me for my licensure, I continued the important practice of having that other voice, whether it was a supervisor or a peer, so that I could provide the best treatment for my clients and maintain my own self-care as a therapist in private practice.

As I am retiring from the role of full-time counselor this month and focusing solely on coaching and supervising seasoned therapists who wish to specialize in working with Third Culture Kids (TCKs), I have done a lot of reminiscing on the many supervisors and supervisees who have impacted me these last thirty two years. Some of the principles I have learned are:

  • Staffing a case is so helpful when we feel stuck or need that encouragement that indeed we are doing what is needed for this client.
  • We as individuals growing a private practice, as well as those of us with writing, teaching and speaking careers need the input from those who have gone before us so we can flourish and not become overwhelmed in trying to save the world.
  • Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is hard work that never stops. Our own work is a continual work in progress.

Another key principle I have learned and reinforced with my supervisees is that the relationship between the supervisor and supervisee is as important as the relationship between the counselor and the client. You have to experience a rapport with one another. The small book, “Letters to a Young Therapist” written by Dr. Mary Pipher describes what that relationship looks like in actual practice. She talks about the pitfalls and joys of our profession along with being so reassuring to the young therapist. As I read her book, I felt like I was once again sitting in Dr. Weaver’s office. It is truly a bonding experience. Today I love getting together with several of my former supervision students who have become both good friends and trusted colleagues.  I enjoy staffing their TCK cases with them and they have become my referral sources as I passed along my clients when I retired and when I get ongoing inquiries for counseling.

“I have sensed the urgency to pass along this unique specialty to others who desire to work with this growing population.”

Because my specialty is working with adult TCKs,I have sensed the urgency to pass along this unique specialty to others who desire to work with this growing population for several reasons. First, there are currently so few therapists who know how to work well with TCKs. Secondly, I never had the privilege of a supervisor who understood this population or how to do even the basics with them and there are still today few supervisors with this specialty. Thirdly, when I began practicing counseling in 1990, there was not any literature or terminology on this topic, let alone any training. Some therapists find this population fascinating while others simply ignore those childhood/adolescent years of life in other cultures with often frequent moves and many other uniquenesses when counseling the now adult TCK as they have had no training in working with this population. Some do not see the benefit of looking at their global mobility upbringing as a potential significant piece underlying whatever they as adult TCKs are presenting in therapy. Nothing is further from the truth. The identity as TCKs is everything about us (Yes, I am a TCK.) and understanding and working with the challenges and rewards of this unique and very special identity is a major key to helping adult TCK clients with whatever presenting issue they come to counseling for. 

I personally would have jumped at the opportunity to have a supervisor in this field for which I am so passionate. It would have been well worth my investment could I have found such a supervisor. Some of the key topics to address in supervision for those adult TCKs or other therapists who want to specialize in working with this population include the following: How might I be projecting my own TCK history into my work with clients? How or why might I have some blind spots with my young TCKs? What skills need improvement to enhance my work with those whose identity is so global? The theory and practical application of attachment theory and trauma work are additional key skill areas for those who wish to work with TCKs. I adamantly believe it is my responsibility as a therapist experienced in working with TCKs to pass along my knowledge to the next generation. This is why I wrote my book, “Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile”! And it is why I continue in retirement to offer supervision to experienced therapists who have a passion for helping TCKs.

I remember when I attended the first Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference in 1998. ( Although this conference focused on how to help families successfully move and live around the world, there were only two therapists in attendance. The entire field of research on TCKs was just beginning to develop as graduate psychology and intercultural students were exploring the impact of this global childhood on families and on TCKs later into their adult years. 

“Our specialty of counseling TCKs is rapidly growing….”

Today there is a large, very active group of therapists (550 members) involved with FIGT. These therapists have their own Facebook page where new topics are regularly explored, the latest research is discussed and connections are made around the world. It is a most energizing group for a seasoned therapist like myself who was one of the early pioneers in how to work with this population. Whenever I step back and just listen in on their discussion, it brings tears of joy to my eyes and I swell with the pride of a “mother” as I learn so many new things from these young therapists and new movements. Our specialty of counseling TCKs is rapidly growing way beyond my own knowledge and skills, and ever so slowly our various counseling professional organizations are opening up to the possibility that just maybe our growing up among worlds DID impact our lives. It not only impacts the lives of the children, but also the entire expatriate family.

Whose voice is “that other voice” that whispers suggestions or encouragement to you as you work with that TCK or expatriate? Does your supervisor brush off the following statements made by your client as just rambling thoughts, “My passport is now outdated”?  “With the pandemic, I haven’t been able to get on an international flight for six months.”  “I had to turn in my commissary card.”  If you, too, as the therapist seeing an adult TCK don’t understand the significance of these statements, finding a supervisor or colleague who can help you grow in understanding of the TCK will greatly enhance your work with this client population.

Would your supervisor be able to answer these questions: “Can I continue to work with my client when they move to South America?” “Do I need a license to practice in France?” “What do I do if my client in another country becomes suicidal and where can I even begin to look for a therapist that can work with them in Zimbabwe?” “How do I gain the trust of my TCK client? Is this normal behavior for a TCK?” “What do I do if I learn my TCK client is experiencing abuse in another country?”  Would your supervisor know how to help you with these questions as the therapist working with this population:  How important is the flow of care or counseling during this time of transition? How important is it to have a secure internet connection in their particular country? Are there certain words or topics you just don’t bring up over the internet in certain countries? 

We baby boomers are creating a large hole in the therapy world as we are moving into retirement by the scores. Young therapists, I encourage you to learn all you can from these sages through supervision before direct access to their voices is lost to you due to their retirement. 

Here are a couple ideas on where to find a good supervisor specializing in counseling TCKs or adult TCKs :

*FIGT Counseling and Coaching Affiliate” on Facebook

*International Therapist Directory

*Listen to podcasts on Third Culture Kids for the names of counselors or supervisors.

*Email the authors of books on TCKs or expatriates.

*Attend conferences on global living. It never hurts to ask a presenter if they do supervision.

*Several of us are now retiring from practice but are continuing to offer supervision.

When you interview potential supervisors for this specialty area, be sure to ask them…. 

  1. What experience do you have in counseling Third Culture Kids?
  2. How did you learn these skills and what do you do to stay current in this field?
  3. What impact do you think growing up as a TCK could have on their presenting issues today?
  4. Are you a TCK or an expatriate?
  5. What books on TCKs have you read recently?
  6. What is your training in trauma and/or attachment wounds?
  7. What is your fee?

Since I have moved into retirement from counseling and am mainly supervising or coaching, I still pace the floor. I don’t pace the floor with high anxiety as I did with Dr. Weaver. Now, I pace my living room with anticipation as I wait for my zoom time with a young therapist who just wants to pick my brain or staff an adult TCK client case. I feel honored to be their “other voice”. 

Whose voice is “the other voice” you are currently utilizing for supervision or consultation as you work with the highly mobile, global citizens known as TCKs or adult TCKs?

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

Author: Lois J. Bushong, MS, LMFT

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Lois Bushong, has an M.S. degree and is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Supervisor, Coach and recently retired as a Counselor. She is the author of the book, “Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile”. Lois is the owner of Mango Tree Intercultural Services.