Sunday, 6 October 2013

Will therapy be the place a third culture kid finds their voice?

Once again the internet has helped me find some research on third culture kids. This time it is a thesis on the subject "Third Route Kids: A New Way of Conceptualizing the Adult Third Culture Kid Experience" by Tamara Lynn Williams at the University of British Columbia (February 2013).

I want to quote part of her research. I know she writes specifically about the therapeutic setting but there are some great themes here: third culture kids as hidden immigrants, fitting in to the dominant group, silencing their voices, and not telling their stories.

"In a therapeutic setting, it may be of help to recognize your role as a therapist in restoring the voice to the TCKs in the room and to encourage them in finding places where their stories and their voices will be accepted as valuable. Being able to share their stories, even in a focus group setting, appeared to be a positive and encouraging experience for the participants, and their stories were often punctuated with laughter and recognition of a shared experience. Remembering that TCKs are often a hidden minority/non-dominant/immigrant population is important, since they may often be able to fit into the social expectations in the world around them and will often avoid talking about stories or experiences that may make others uncomfortable or that sessile individuals have difficulty relating to. As a therapist, it is important not to place people into predetermined categories based on assumptions of their culture or past. Many TCKs are able to appear to fit into a dominant group, due to the silencing they have experienced; if not given a voice in therapy, their experience may go unexplored. It is hoped that therapy will serve as a place where TCKs’ voices are heard and not another experience where TCKs are silenced."

The research included focus groups of third culture kids in which they discussed different topics. What was striking is that participants noticed that they all experienced a certain time that they felt:

  1. Increased angst
  2. Dissatisfaction with themselves
  3. Identity confusion.
As they matured they grew out of the period of angst and identity confusion. During that time they they felt:

  1. Dissatisfaction with their sense of self
  2. Heightened anxiety
  3. Sadness
  4. Worry over whether they would ever fit in
There were periods of feeling grief, anger and sadness over their childhood experiences. The good news is that as they matured and grew out of that developmental phase they began to feel at peace and happy with their experiences.

If you grew up abroad, like I did and have experienced one or more of the feelings mentioned above then I hope you know now that you are not the only one with these feelings. It can be quite painful at the time but there is hope. A time can come when you feel at peace and can look back and kind of be happy with your experiences. I have not had help from a therapist but some times I wonder how it would have helped me. I read a lot on the topic of third culture kids. Reading and talking to others has helped me on my journey.

You might need a little help in the process, maybe a therapist can help you a little on the way. If you find a good therapist, the therapy can be a safe place where your third culture kid voice and story can be heard.

Tips to help you on your journey in becoming an adult TCK:

  • Find people who will listen to your story!
  • Remember you have a unique story which needs to be told. Start a blog or submit your stories for the TCK anthology, read Giving Third Culture Kids A Voice for more information.
  • Sharing your story with like-minded people can be positive and encouraging.
  • If in despair seek help from a good therapist.
Have you felt any of the emotions mentioned? Have you found a way to be at peace with your childhood experineces? Any tips? Did therapy give you a safe place to tell your story? I wonder. Please share your story here. By the way here's the link to Tamara Lynn William's research.

Related posts:


  1. This is great information - thanks for sharing and bringing us interesting insights, always! -Kate (ExpatKidsClub)

  2. Hi Kate thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! It was nice to meet you again today.