Each year, our counseling psychology students spread out across the Greater Seattle Area—and in this case, the world—to intern at a variety of organizations. It’s one of the first opportunities for students to step into their future vocation.

Here, Cheryl writes about her journey to intern at Cornerstone Counseling Foundation in Thailand, and the impact of Covid-19 on her future as a mental health provider.

What initially drew you to attend The Seattle School?

I had been living and doing community development work in India when I decided to look at grad schools—and The Seattle School was introduced to me as a place where you are encouraged to go into your own stories. I felt the surplus of stories (mine and others) weighing, and wanted to spend time honoring and reflecting on them and learning how to do that well. My admissions counselor was also really great about checking in and working with my across-the-world-application and time zone issues and inviting me in, even as I deferred for a year before enrolling. I think I was well ‘woo-ed’ despite also being reminded by friends who know The Seattle School and other graduates just how intense it can be!

How has the focus on theology as well as psychology impacted your studies?

This feels like a pretty big question to try and answer succinctly! I was raised in a family where faith and living out the tenets of that faith were emphasized. The idea of Spirit at work in the world, particularly among those who had been marginalized, and seeking to find it and intersect my life with the Divine at work in the world and be challenged and changed by what I encounter there, remains something I think I’m still sorting out. Classes at The Seattle School with Dr. Stearns, Dr. Parker and Dr. Loughery underscored this and invited me to continue to ask the questions and not be complacent, and to allow myself to rest in knowing the ways that goodness is at work in the world, even when I can’t always see it myself.

In what ways has your story shaped or inspired your work?

I was born and raised overseas (in Nepal, Laos, and Thailand) as a Third Culture Kid*—the depth and variety of experiences coming from that have deeply impacted the way that I’ve learned to seek connection, who I seek connection with, and how I’ve learned to metabolize (or compartmentalize) harm. Having also worked cross-culturally as an adult, I became more and more aware of the impact that life among different cultures has on a person (and particularly children). As I realized that I wanted to go back to school to study counseling, the cross-cultural working (be it military, diplomat or business) family has really been a demographic that I feel pulled towards. While I think themes among families don’t change much across the world, I do think the unique nature of families who straddle multiple different worlds means that they often don’t have support structures who understand that aspect of their experience. So, I came to The Seattle School hoping to do an international internship or focus on families and individuals who have found themselves between cultures and expectations of those different worlds.

*A ‘TCK’ is defined as a “person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parent’s culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” Pollack, David Pollack, Ruth E Van Reken, and Michael V. Pollack, Third Culture Kids (3rd Ed): The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds. (Massachusetts: Hachette Book Group, 2009).

What breaks your heart, and how are you informed by that kind of shattering?

My heart has been broken repeatedly by the marginalization of the poor and specific people groups, particularly women and children in developing nations. This is what catalyzed my parents, friends, and my own work, as well as my now-clients work. Being galvanized to respond to the heartbreak takes a toll, however. We all tend to minimize and ignore our suffering, particularly in the face of the overt, physical suffering of others, and I think I’ve seen that particularly in communities who work in cross-cultural settings. On the one hand there is an immense amount of privilege there that can be taken for granted, but there can also be a deep awareness of the ways that lives are shattered by systemic violence and poverty. And so, the ‘fate of pain’ that people encounter (as Dr. O’Donnell Day quoting Jeff Eaton) is to be stuffed down or avoided in some way, though it usually finds a way to come out sideways. For a Third Culture Kid the losses of moving between countries are profound—often compounded by a sense of rootlessness. A deep grief is there—a grief I know only too well from my own story, but also one that I think deeply informs how important it feels to find ways to provide and allow the time to pause, reflect, and grieve what needs to be honored well and to witnesses that unfolding. I see my role as a therapist more and more as a steward and witness to what the clients are un-earthing and tending to.

Can you describe your current internship, including your title and daily activities?

I moved to Thailand in January 2020. I started my internship at Cornerstone Counseling Foundation. It serves people in a number of countries—primarily ex-pat workers and their families. The staff is varied and from a number of countries and different treatment modalities. There are psychiatrists on staff, and those who specialize in topics ranging from work with children to couples and family work to EMDR and trauma work, not to mention individual therapy. I’ve been able to observe a number of the staff, who have been amazing, and I’ve often felt like I really lucked out with this location of getting to observe and see different clinicians, not to mention the range of clients who largely traveled to Thailand for seasons of care from their locations in other countries around Asia! Until the middle of March, I was seeing clients in person at the office and now am doing all online-telehealth sessions. I’m still in Thailand—Thailand is home in a number of ways, and my folks are here in the country (though in a different province), and I wanted to keep working for my internship, so I have elected to base myself here as COVID-19 continues to unfold across the world. Before switching everything to online, regular rhythms included shadowing clinicians, seeing my own clients, staff meetings, and case-consultations with the whole clinical staff. There was also a staff retreat in February with everyone, including all the support and office staff as well as the Thai-focused branch of staff. It was a fun few days of snacking, talking and playing games together.

Why did you choose to intern at Cornerstone Counseling Foundation?

I remember my first year at The Seattle School where I was thinking about a lot of different groups and people and processing what I was learning about and felt pretty jumbled but kept thinking about the dearth of resources of counselling support for the TCK community and cross-cultural workers and realized I wanted to be intentional, as I studied, to keep focused on that demographic and dream about working with them. I knew about Cornerstone Counseling Foundation from having lived in Thailand before and through the cross-cultural worker grapevine. The Seattle School had a student do their internship here previously, and Cornerstone was also one of the few international internship sites that I contacted that worked with the demographic I wanted and would allow a Master’s level intern (most required you to be graduated or be doctoral level). So, I began communicating with them, and Corinne (the Assistant internship director: Global and domestic for The Seattle School) and applied in fall 2018.

How has your time at The Seattle School prepared you for this internship?

Put the most succinctly I can, going into my own story and peeling back some of the layers has grown my capacity to realize how slow and painful the process can be. There are depths to continue exploring within myself (which is definitely something that I heard in most classes ) and I hope that means that I can have a more open-handed approach to work with clients. The waves of pain or delight we uncover as we tell our story (and it is witnessed by another), can pull us in like a rip-tide or as a support to propel us forward, even for just a minute. Classes like Psychopathology, Marriage and Family, Child and Adolescent, as well as Interpersonal Neurobiology all have helped me learn how to frame how I hold my clients—knowing that in each of those classes as we were inundated with theory and other concepts, there was a deep sense of “and what will I do with this when a person sits in the chair (or in the case of telehealth, on the screen) across from me.” There seems to be a continual invitation to encounter and be with in the midst of it all.

What are your hopes, dreams, and desires as they relate to your future vocation?

So much feels uncertain with COVID-19, particularly as it pertains to this dream of working with cross-cultural workers. But the desire remains to continue to learn and work with this community of people who balance their sense of home and relationships with what they feel called to or need to do for work and to support their families and communities. I’ll remain as an intern at Cornerstone through the summer and am in the process of beginning to have conversations about future options moving forward. A big part of my own TCK heart really would love to keep working overseas and with this team. I’ve really come to love the team I’m a part of at Cornerstone and the community it serves. The resiliency of our clients, of humans, is astounding—I think we are seeing evidence of that on the heartbreaking news daily. In the time of this pandemic, I feel more aware than ever of how quickly things change and feel a need to accept whatever may come and the deep pain and ongoing grief that will come with all that has already changed and will need to change again, and also feel a deep sense of wanting to be able to continue to offer a base of processing and support to others.