Counseling for Adopted Adults and Children
First of all, what is adoption counseling? Also referred to as adoption therapy, adoption counseling is where a member or several members of the adoption triad works with a professional like a social worker, a licensed counselor or psychologist to discuss and heal from adoption-related issues.
Not all adoptees or other members of the adoption triad will need or desire adoption therapy, but for those who do, it can be beneficial.
Here are the five most common questions asked by adoptees who are considering seeking counseling for adopted adults:
Who Receives Adoption Counseling?
All members of the adoption triad can receive adoption counseling. Birth family members, adoptive family members and adoptees of any age can receive adoption counseling together or separately. Anyone who is having trouble with a relationship in their adoption triad or who is struggling with difficult emotions as a result of adoption may choose to seek adoption counseling, just like anyone who is struggling with a relationship or with emotions would seek counseling from a non-adoption-specific counselor.
What Are the Benefits of Adoption Counseling?
Adoption counseling isn’t right for everyone, nor does it “fix” a person or situation. However, many adult adoptees who work with adoption counselors may experience benefits like:
- Increased confidence and self-esteem
- Stronger and healthier relationships with family members (biological and/or adoptive)
- A greater sense of peace toward adoption-centered traumas or loss
- Addressing other possible mental health issues
The benefits of seeing a therapist or counselor who is well-versed in issues related to adoption are that they will be able to give you advice and actionable plans that are more specific to adoptees. They’ll already have a good understanding of how adoption works, and they’ll have experience with other adult adoptees who may have had similar experiences to your own.
In many other respects, the benefits of talking with a therapist who specializes in adoption are the same as talking with any therapist or counselor. You’ll be able to speak openly, be listened to, receive support and get advice.
When Is It Time to Seek Adoption Counseling?
If you’re experiencing any of these thoughts or emotions, it might be a good time to consider trying counseling for adopted adults:
- Depression or anxiety that you feel might be related to trauma or loss experienced in your adoption journey.
- Adoption-specific trauma beginning to affect your day-to-day life or relationships.
- Considering beginning a search for birth family members.
- Considering a reunion with birth family members.
- Difficulties navigating relationships with birth family members.
The stigma surrounding seeking counseling or therapy is continuing to slip away. Just as you would see a physician if you weren’t feeling well or an optometrist for regular checkups on the health of your eyes, occasionally talking with a mental health professional is a good way to keep your emotional wellbeing in balance.
Only you can decide when it’s time to visit a counselor. Remember — it’s a common and healthy thing for everyone to do as needed.
Where Can I Find Adoption Counseling as an Adoptee?
Some state departments have registries of adoption counselors and post-adoption support resources for all members of the triad, so check to see if your state has these resources available for adoptees. Checking with the agency or professional who completed your adoption can also be helpful, as they may be able to connect you with an adoption therapist with whom they work, or they may have other post-adoption emotional support resources they can connect you with.
These therapists and organizations specialize in working with adoptees and also have telecommunication options available for over-the-phone counseling:
- Lesli Johnson, MFT
- Brooke Randolph, NCC, LMHC
- Melissa Valerga, MA, LMHC
- Barker Adoption Foundation Post-Adoption Services Department
- Nightlight Christian Adoptions Post-Adoption Counseling
For in-person counseling, which is usually preferable, here are some directories to help you find adoption-competent professionals near you:
- A.S.E.’s Directory of Adoption-Competent Professionals by State
- TherapyDen’s list of adoption specialists (you can search by zip code)
- Psychology Today Adoption Therapist Directory
- American Psychological Association Psychologist Locator
Here are a few resources to help you choose an adoption-specific therapist. (Note: most of these are aimed at parents seeking counseling for their child who wish to address issues early, but the information is still applicable to people of all ages):
- TIPS ON SELECTING AN ADOPTION THERAPIST – Adapted from the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
- Screening Questions When Seeking An Adoption-Competent Therapist
- Finding an Adoption-Competent Therapist – American Adoption Congress
- How to Choose a Therapist – AdopteesOn
- Selecting and Working With a Therapist Skilled in Adoption – Child Welfare Information Gateway
- How to Find a Family Therapist with Experience in Attachment or Trauma – AdoptTogether
- Questions for Adoptive Parents to Ask When Interviewing a Prospective Mental Health Professional – Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center
What If Counseling Isn’t an Option?
There are a number of reasons why you might not be able to pursue adoptee counseling, like financial limitations or lack of access to nearby therapy professionals. Private adoption therapists and counselors can be expensive, and if you live in a rural area, it may not be feasible to travel to a professional.
There are alternatives to traditional counseling or therapy sessions to help you process complicated emotions related to loss or trauma on your own, although these options do not take the place of professional counseling. It’s important to note that if you’re experiencing severe depression or a sharp decline in mental health, you should reach out to a crisis hotline or a professional immediately.
However, if counseling isn’t an option for you and/or you feel capable of exploring your identity as an adoptee without the guidance of a therapist, here are a few other options you can explore:
- Check out adoptee support groups (online if accessibility is difficult for you) to talk to and connect with other adoptees.
- Read books about adoption from the perspectives of adoptees, or by professionals who have experience with adult adoptees.
- Follow blogs about adoption written by adoptees, or by professionals who have experience with adult adoptees.
- Start your own local adoption support group with an emphasis on adoptee perspectives.
- Talk to friends, family, and especially people you trust to guide you like your mentors or your religious leader.
These tools of coping with difficult emotions can be used in tandem with other methods, including adoption therapy or counseling for adopted adults and children. It can take some time to find what works for you, so be patient and try exploring different ways to connect with your identity as an adoptee.