Today we have a guest post from Vance Hobbes, a freelance writer and former medical researcher about the life of a traveling clinical psychologist. I was a clinical psychologist for 21 years, and was fortunate enough to travel to some very unique places around the world. I mainly worked with unfortunate children, whether that because of recent turmoil within their home country or trouble at home, each of my cases contributed to an overall better understanding of how various minds and social groups function within specific circumstances. I’ll do my best to cover my first situation in a concise and reader-friendly manner, but honestly I find it difficult not including each and every detail over that period, but perhaps an autobiography will be in the works someday to accomplish that goal. So, here goes.
In 1990 I received my graduate degree from University of Nevada (Reno), and was honestly burnt out from spending most of my life buried in books and taking study breaks at local coffee shops. So, I figured I’d take a couple years off before finding work as I was able to make minimum student loan payments at relatively low interest rates. So I thought, ‘hmm what to do to reward myself?’ So I set up a trip to Sri Lanka as because I met a couple of my really good friends at school from there. Five weeks prior to my trip, I get a call from a group looking for some young people to travel to a place called Lebanon which was recovering from a recent civil war. The UN had contacted this company and called the situation in dire need of psychological assistance, not only was the national government in need of reparations but the various local populations were in the process of recovering as well. I hadn’t really ever thought of my job as an international duty, but I thought, ‘what a great opportunity to travel as well as practice what I had been training years for.’ My Sri Lankan buddies were pretty bummed, but to get paid to travel was not something I was about to pass up.
When I landed in Lebanon, I honestly had no idea what to expect. The place was a mess, but I was surprised to learn only around 17,000 Lebanese casualties (not including civilian) had resulted from the conflict. I understood it had just been involved in an 8-year civil war, but had no idea this would constitute the aftermath. My duty was to reach out to children with broken families, orphans, and those injured from the tools of war. Those first few weeks were extremely difficult for me to cope with. I’ve never been an emotional person, but those first weeks were the most sobering and grim of my entire life. One of my kids had lost his eye and could barely see out his other due to a munitions blast that had killed his brother and left Ruri severely burned. When treating him, I would rarely get a dozen words out of him per week, so advised him to either nod or shake his head to answer my questions. Over time he started to feel more comfortable with me, and the sorrow from losing a family member thawed away and melted into guilt-trip for not protecting his younger brother. This was difficult for him but a common thought process and easy to diagnose. It’s been years since I’ve spoken to Ruri but when I left in 1993 he was working and had met a very pretty girl of which he spent much of his time with.
I also spent time at a child daycare just outside Beirut and essentially gave my time to supervise the children living there. Indirectly, I helped various children who had suffered from social and familial disturbances through simple conversational means. For example I met a little 9-year old who went by the name of Mahmoud who hadn’t been directly affected by the war but knew quite a few friends who had lost someone or had lost their homes amidst the conflict. He could not come to terms with why it seemed as if everyone but him had something bad happen to them. It was definitely difficult connecting with the boy as a foreigner who had not experienced the war and the hell it brought. Because I had lost one of my parents while relatively young, I was able to use my experience as an inlet and convince the boy how fortunate he truly was to be unaffected by the terrible situation of war. His parents had been working in northern Lebanon (Tripoli) for a few months but remained in regular contact with their son. It was at this point in time when I had a much greater appreciation for any familial relationship and dearly missed my own back in the states. My assignment would end around eight months later, so my grief soon ended and I returned home.
Although my trip to Lebanon only identifies one of my many traveling psychologist assignments, the lessons learned through that trip were applied to subsequent travels I partook in. Understanding each child’s unique circumstances allowed me to approach each situation from a different perspective. I was able to diagnose, treat, and largely ease a child’s pain based upon what I had studied in school and through my experiences with other individuals I had either interned with or came across during my lifetime. In conclusion, the world of the traveling psychologist can be scary at times. Meeting kids like Ruri and Mahmoud and helping them deal with psychological and emotional distress has by far brought me the most satisfaction. I feel like the luckiest man in the world to have had these experiences, and would be happy to speak with any student looking to be a traveling psychologist or who has pondered the prospect prior. Vance Hobbes is a freelance writer and former medical researcher. Hobbes writes about many facets of the medical field, and works with CompHealth. When he’s not writing the day away, he spends his free time tending to his prizewinning garden and attending any basketball game he can find.