We are mental health therapists familiar with international expatriate experiences and the Third Culture Kid. All of our psychologists have advanced training in their fields. We offer individual treatment in different approaches. Those include contemporary psychoanalysis, Analytical Psychology (Carl Jung) and EMDR. No matter the theoretical perspective, more importantly, is the understanding of the individual as a whole, within an intercultural perspective. Psychotherapy is proven to very effective in helping not only mitigate symptoms, but also provide coping and developmental skills.
International Expatriate experience, Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and Mental Health
An expatriate (expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than their native country. Moving to a new country is always a challenge, regardless of the reason the person moved. The term expat often refers to professionals that take upook positions outside their home country. Moving overseas always involves a high amount of investment, not only financial but emotional. Research shows that, of the many factors affecting the success of international assignments, crosscultural adjustment has received the most attention123. There are numerous factors that can have a positive or negative impact on this process of adapting to another culture. For instance, variables positively correlated include relational abilities, communication skills, and stress among others2. In the case of an expat that moved with their family, the process gets more complex – considering that now there are others involved in the adaptation process. Studies show that the ease with which family members adapt in another country may be one of the most important variables affecting the success or failure of an assignment. An adaptive and supportive family is essential to a positive output2. In many of these aspects, therapy may help individuals in their coping and adjusting process.
When an expat move to another country due to a new job assignment, there is usually a continuity of their profession while abroad. Being immersed in an organization, for instance, provides a greater interaction with the host country’s nationals, which can help with the adaptation process. That is usually not the case when it comes to spouses accompanying their partner. The spouse usually has to deal with a very different lifestyle than in their home country. Spouses usually interact primarily with members of the expatriate community. They may have trouble adjusting due to cultural shock, loss of their usual social network and interruptions to their career. When there are children involved there are challenges in helping them cope with their own adaptation process. Families with children help to bridge the language and culture aspect of the host and home country.
Third culture kids (TCK)45 are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport (where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years. This means they have continuously been exposed to a great variety of cultural influences. The term can refer to children, such as those of diplomats’ who are constantly moving and also to adults who have been raised in different countries. Brasília, being home to all embassies and international organizations in Brazil, has a significant number of people who are either expatriates or TCKs. Identity formation is a key process of our developmental years, and a lot of it has to do with a sense of belonging, commitment and attachment to a culture. This can be especially challenging for these kids. Unlike expatriates (their parents, for instance), who have a clearer sense of culture since they were raised in a more stable environment, TCKs may struggle with all these changes. This, along with all the innate hardships of being a teenager could be a source of intense emotional suffering. If not addressed more serious issues could develop. Having therapists who are aware of these particularities is of very beneficial.
For more information on TCKs we strongly recommend these two books:
1Shaffer, M., Harrison, D. & Gilley, K. J Int Bus Stud (1999). Dimensions, Determinants, and Differences in the Expatriate Adjustment Process. 30: 557. https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8490083
2Briody, Elizabeth & Beeber Chrisman, Judith. (1991). Cultural Adaptation on Overseas Assignments. Human Organization. 50. 264-282. 10.17730/humo.50.3.22555451v6206444.
3Nunes, Inácia Maria, Felix, Bruno, & Prates, Lorene Alexandre. (2017). Cultural intelligence, cross-cultural adaptation and expatriate performance: a study with expatriates living in Brazil. Revista de Administração (São Paulo), 52(3), 219-232.https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rausp.2017.05.010
4Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere: insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile by Lois J. Bushong