When the Going Gets Tough…

Above all else, seek a therapist competent in adoption.

Holt Director of Clinical Services Abbie Smith provides adoption-competent counseling at Holt’s headquarters in Eugene, Oregon.

You thought you were prepared. You rocked your parenting curriculum, even seeking resources beyond the required course load. You’ve stocked your toolbox full of tips to help facilitate attachment and manage challenging behavior. But still, sometimes issues arise that adoptive parents don’t know how to address. When this happens, it’s 100 percent okay — and right — to seek help. The key is to seek the right help, from a therapist competent in adoption.

All adopted children — of all ages — are at risk for changes in their brain’s chemistry and structure resulting from early childhood trauma or neglect.  If not effectively treated, these alterations can become increasingly problematic as a child grows older. In typical therapy, however, a therapist may diagnose and treat a child without consideration of the child’s very early history, which is crucial to healing.

Pam Shepard, supervisor of post adoption services at Holt-Sunny Ridge, provides adoption-competent counseling in Illinois.

Here, for example, is one common misdiagnosis. Adopted children can have changes in their brain neurotransmitters that cause them to be hyperactive. As a result, nature cannot do its job of quickly calming their bodies after getting excited. They have difficulty paying attention in school, can’ t get to sleep at night, can’t sit still. ADHD and a prescription for Ritalin would be the obvious diagnosis in this case, which may temporarily improve the child’s behavior, but won’t permanently change the brain. When the Ritalin leaves the body, the child’s behavior reverts back and in some cases may even be worse.

So what is a parent to do? First and foremost, learn what makes a therapist adoption competent. At left are a few tips to consider when seeking counseling services for your child and family. And remember, seeking therapy when needed is not a sign of failure — just the opposite! It’s a statement of your dedication and preparation to parent an adopted child.

Finding an Adoption-Competent Therapist

1. Ask friends, a doctor or your insurance company for a therapist that specializes in adoption, or go to the websites listed below.

2. Interview the therapist about their background and training in adoption, how many adopted children they have worked with and what the outcomes were.

a) Inquire about their thoughts on adoption as trauma, openness in adoption and if they view adoption as a lifelong journey.
b) Ask if they have ever worked in child welfare, did home study work or have a personal connection to adoption.
c) Ask if they have ever received any post-graduate training in attachment, trauma or adoption.  Some examples are: Trust-Based      Relational Intervention (TBRI) ®, DDP ®, Theraplay ®, ARC or EMDR.
d) Ask if they have ever read the books: “The Primal Wound” by Nancy Verrier, “Attaching in Adoption” by Debra Gray, “The Connected Child” by Karyn Purvis, or “Wounded Children, Healing Homes” by Jayne Schooler.

3. Tell the therapist that you would like to bring your child in for a “get-to-know-you” session. For older children, select two therapists that meet your requirements and then let them choose the finalist.

4. Make sure you are working with a licensed therapist (LCSW, LCPC, LMFT, etc.) and do a quick check with your state’s licensing board to see if they have ever had any complaints filed against them.

5. Finding a therapist who has a personal connection to adoption can definitely be a benefit but it can also be challenging.  At times, a therapist who is personally connected may subconsciously allow their personal point of view to interfere with the work that needs to be done.  However, numerous therapists are also adoptees, adoptive parents or birth parents and do amazing counseling.

6. Holt offers counseling services in Eugene, Oregon (541.505.5550) and at our branch office in Bolingbrook, Illinois (630.754.4500).  For a full list of adoption-competent therapists, visit www.child.tcu.edu or www.attach.org. Or contact Holt’s clinical resource department at 541.505.5556 for a referral.

Holt-Sunny Ridge Children’s Services, Holt’s branch office in Illinois, runs a monthly group for adoptees, ages 16 and older.  The group is co-ed and focuses on adoption-specific issues, but also relevant life topics such as parental and peer relationships, identity, independence and self-esteem. This year, Kelly Liotta, 16, and Julie Macek, 17, started to attend the group and became friends. Below, they share their thoughts on the adoptee group and why they believe it’s important to seek adoption-competent services.

PAS Testimonial Photo
Adoptees Kelly Liotta (left), 16, and Julie Macek, 17, met at Holt-Sunny Ridge’s monthly adoptee group in Illinois. They say that parents should be open to talking about adoption with their child, and if needed, seek support services from a counselor who specializes in adoption.

Q: What do you like about the group and why? What makes it different from other groups?
J&K: Some good characteristics about group include the diversity among the groupies. Group helps adoptees express their inner feelings and deep-down emotions about adoption. It gives adoptees a safe and healthy environment to be in. Group also gives adoptees validation for their feelings. It allows them to connect with others in a way they can’t do with other peers. In group, adoptees come to realize that some experiences and feelings bring out mutual reactions connected to adoption. Group allows an adoptee to make stronger bonds and learn how to build healthy friendships.

Q: Do you think it’s important for parents to seek services for their adopted child (ren) that are adoption competent?
J&K: It is extremely important for parents to seek out services for their adopted child when they are young because they have been through so much and may have trouble expressing how they feel at a young age. When they are older, you should ask them about it but not force it upon them. Going to adoption groups can help adoptees resolve inner turmoil they didn’t know was there.

Q: What advice would you give to parents or other adoptees about finding supportive services?
J&K: Parents should be open-minded when seeking out supportive services for their adopted child. Not everyone finds the best fit the first time around, but it shouldn’t discourage them from looking out for more. When looking for services, try to seek out someone who specializes in adoption cases like Pam*. This makes an evident difference in your child’s progress and development.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like adoptive parents to know? Other adoptees?
J&K: Something adoptive parents need to know is that adoption is not in the past. Adoptees need to know that their feelings are valid and their curiosity is fulfilled. Denying the problem would make the situation worse and put a gap of trust between you and your child. Always be open about talking to your child about adoption rather than refraining from it or avoiding the issue.

* Supervisor of Post Adoption Services Pam Shepard leads the monthly co-ed adoptee group at Holt-Sunny Ridge.

Click here to learn more about post-adoption services available through Holt International!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *