“The experience of adoption – like any other experience – is not static. . . .
How it feels to be adopted at the age of 4 is different from
how it feels at the age of 8, 16, 24, 40, or 75.”
Adoption-competent child, adolescent, and family therapy addresses the normal and predictable challenges of growing up adopted as well as the unique concerns of each child and family. Whether I’m seeing clients in family therapy, child-parent therapy, or individual therapy, I always work with adopted children and teens from an attachment and family systems perspective.
Many emotional and behavioral problems stem from pre-adoption experiences that get in the way of establishing secure attachment with adoptive parents. In adoption, healthy family relationships build a secure base for a child who has been moved from one family to another—and, for many, from one culture, country, or language to another.
The fact is, for an insecurely attached child, a secure relationship with a therapist is not enough. The relationship that matters most is the one between parent and child. For that reason, I often recommend family or child-parent therapy instead of, or in conjunction with, individual child or adolescent therapy.
When working with adoptive families, I begin with a thorough assessment of current concerns and functioning, identifying not only problem areas but also the strengths and resiliencies of adoptive families to support their children’s development.
I work collaboratively with parents to:
- Establish treatment goals and create an individualized treatment plan.
- Provide guidance in expectations and strategies to help their children thrive.
- Treat the mental health issues stemming from pre-adoption trauma, neglect, abuse, institutional and other suboptimal care, and multiple disruptions in primary caregivers. (See this website’s section on Child Trauma.)
- Facilitate the expression of loss, grief, rejection, and abandonment that underlie the adoption experience. “What’s shareable is bearable” (Dan Siegel).
- Enhance family relationships and family functioning.
- Connect with teachers and other professionals as needed to support the whole child and family.
Adoption-competent therapy may require a few sessions or many, depending on the issues involved, but it is always open-ended. Generally, families first access therapy to help them through difficult times as the normal and predictable challenges of adoption arise. Because adoption is a lifelong journey, adoption issues dealt with in therapy in the past often resurface as children reach later stages of social, emotional, and cognitive development and struggle to understand their life story in a more mature and complex way.
For that reason, I do not “terminate” with adoptive families—unlike traditional therapeutic relationships, which end when the goals of therapy have been met. Adopted children have had enough broken relationships already. After the presenting issues have been resolved, I remain available for occasional consultation, booster sessions, or the resumption of regular sessions to address new challenges or normative crises that may arise. My open-door policy invites families to maintain a relationship with me so they feel comfortable returning to an adoption-competent therapist who knows their history and whom they know and trust.