Play Therapy helps Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids (TCK) go through repeated separation and loss every time they go through the cycle of moving from place to place. This often causes angry and anxious behaviour in school and at home. Parents don’t know what causes it and a child cannot tell them why he is behaving this way. Cozolino (2006) demonstrates how young children do not have the capacity to process their emotions on the cognitive level and even more so to describe them verbally. However, when they are referred to Play Therapy, metaphoric play allows them to resolve issues of separation and loss.

According to Van Reken (2009), unresolved grief is the deepest mental health issue which Third Culture Kids face. “The issue is that transition always involves loss, no matter how good the next phase will be. Loss always engenders grief and the greater you have loved a situation or place or people, the greater the grief.” (Van Reken 2009, p. 19)

Many emotional difficulties are caused by a transitional life style. The mobile patterns of these families can create hidden loss. With each move, Cross Cultural Children lose the safe world that they love and emotionally attach to as home. Their parents and teachers often do not recognise the degree of impact that each loss creates. In the case of Third Culture Kids this trauma happens every time they move. Third Culture Kids’ issues are often at the core of various social difficulties, behaviour problems or low academic performance in the classroom.

Landreth (2002) emphasises that children’s natural way of communicating is through play. They express themselves fully when playing in a non-directed, spontaneous way. Play Therapy is the best way to help these children place all of their painful experiences into a metaphor and process their internal world through it.

In Play Therapy sessions Third Culture Kids often use metaphor to express their emotional pain related to lost friends, beloved pets, toys, weather, food, grandparents, and favourite places.

For prevention to be effective, it needs to be targeted at the point when it can make the most difference.” (Gerhardt, 2004)

Play Therapy is an effective method which prevents TCK children from developing mental health issues in their teenage and adult life.