Positive Change Is Why We Choose to Be Expats
One of the great things about being an expat is that nothing is the same as it is “at home”. Expats have intentionally chosen this life for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that it wakes up all your senses and very little, at least at first, is on automatic pilot.
However, We Are Not Immune to Life’s Stresses
The flip side of that, of course, is that there are times when you want things to be like “they were at home.” Expats go through stressful life events just as you would if you were “safely” back home – financial challenges, sickness, the death of loved ones. Being “away” does not inoculate us from the curves life throws at us.In fact, some studies show that expats are more prone to adjustment and affective disorders, depression and anxiety, marital issues and substance abuse than the general population.
When life throws us curves – and trust me, it always will – we wish that we could be surrounded by the right resources and support. At home, it’s usually friends and family who help us go through tough times. Finding that support when you’re an expat can sometimes be a challenge.
Where Can You Find Help to Catch Those Curveballs?
I recently found out about the Truman Group, a group that provides US and western expats living overseas access to quality counseling and therapy. They were formed three years ago when Dr. Sean Truman, a psychologist based in St. Paul, MN, joined with Susan Bernstein, a business strategist, to address what they saw as a lack of high-quality mental health care for people living overseas.
Dr. Truman grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, the son of a U.N. diplomat and an international schoolteacher. He eventually made his way back to the States where he received a PhD in clinical psychology and was a National Institute of Mental Health Fellow at Yale University’s School of Medicine, where he worked both at the Child Study Center and in the Department of Psychiatry. He found his way to St. Paul, Minnesota where he opened a psychotherapy practice.
How Dr. Truman Came to Focus on Expats
After being in practice for a number of years, he was surprised to find, more than once, that a patient who had been relocated overseas for work wanted to continue working with him. Despite the fact these patients were living in major cities and working for multinational corporations, they said they couldn’t find a therapist they felt comfortable seeing.
He realized that if these patients were having difficulty locating therapists, there must be many other people who, whether due to language or cultural barriers, geography, privacy issues in tight-knit expat communities, or an actual lack of qualified therapists might be having similar difficulty finding good care.
How The Truman Group Helps Expats Cope
I spoke with Susan Bernstein, the managing director of the group, to find out more about the services and how it works.
Our services are really very simple. We’ve designed the whole process so that it’s straightforward and functions much like visiting a good clinic, and by ‘good’ I mean kind, professional and responsive. When someone is interested in knowing whether the Truman Group might be a good place for them or a family member to find care, they call us or send us an email. Dr. Truman, our clinical director, then sets up time to talk on the phone or Skype with them to find out about what they’re experiencing and to determine which one of our therapists would be an appropriate fit given the particulars of the case. After that, the therapist and patient (or patients, if it’s a couple) meet on a regular basis via Skype or by phone.
We treat people experiencing a wide range of life issues. Many of our patients are experiencing some form of anxiety or depression. Many are looking for help dealing with alcohol or substance abuse. We also see people reeling from the effects of infidelity, or couples wanting to address conflicts in their relationships. We’ve helped a number of patients who have received cancer diagnoses and are going through that far from their support network of family and friends. We’ve seen adolescents going through rough periods. It really runs the range. In short, it’s no different from any typical psychotherapy practice.
We have no interest in being a fly-by-night Internet practice and, instead, run and manage the group as if each patient were someone in our own family who needed care. To that end, we only seek out therapists to join our group who are both highly experienced and also highly compassionate people. We’ve added another hoop as well, in that we prefer clinicians who themselves have lived or traveled extensively overseas so they understand first hand what living outside your culture means.
We strongly believe that if someone can find high quality care in-person, they should by all means go that route. Face-to-face care by an experienced practitioner is always preferable. We do know from our patients, however, that this is not always possible. It may be that there are literally no counselors, let alone ones who speak English or someone who has the right kind of training, within miles.
At this point we have seen people literally living in every corner of the globe, from the Northern Arctic to South America, to Africa, the Middle East and Asia. I think the patients that have surprised me the most are those living in Western Europe. We never expected that we’d see patients there, but we do. I think there is something about the cultural fit of seeing somewhere who “gets you” and who understands, generally, how you grew up that does make a difference.
They Are Just an Email Away
I sincerely hope that this information is of help for any expats needing counseling and unable to find some in their current location or situation. If you would like more information about the Truman Group, stop by their website: www.truman-group.com
If you decide to schedule a consultation, email Dr. Sean Truman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at +1-651-964-0224. Any initial consultation is free.
by Casey Bahr
Casey writes part-time on a variety of topics, including his family’s move and their ongoing adventures in Costa Rica, chronicled in his blog, A Dull Roar. In addition, he authors two other blogs and contributes articles to Hubpages about do-it-yourself projects, science and technology topics, amateur radio, life and humor.
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