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Marie Dolfi, LCSW                                            
Specializing in Adoption Counseling, Home Studies and Education            518-281-8884 mdolfi@nycap.rr.com
The Benefits of Working with a Therapist Trained in Adoption Issues
    The majority of social work and psychology graduate programs do not include clinical training on the impact of relinquishment and adoption on adoption constellation members – birth/first parents, individuals who were adopted, adoptive parents and their relatives. This lack of clinical training often puts otherwise knowledgeable clinicians to believe no additional training is needed to work with this population. The situation gets worse when clinicians believe some of the misinformation society has promoted on adoption resulting in some bad advice to adoption constellation members. Adoptive parents have been told to raise their children “as if” they were born into their family. Birth/first parents were told to not think about their child and move on with their life. Individuals who were adopted have been told they are disloyal if they think about or want to contact their birth/first parents. Adoptive parents seeking support for their acting out children have been told to “give their child back” by their therapist. While some therapists without adoption/relinquishment training may have a natural understanding of the complex issues of adoption and relinquishment, a therapist with adoption training will more likely have a greater understanding of the adoption/relinquishment complexities and a wider range of tools to use in counseling.

    A therapist with training on adoption issues understands history needs to be taken into greater consideration. A birth/first parent may have trauma from placing their child for adoption. Prenatal exposures, neglect and abuse will have a huge impact on children. Adoptive parents that were not educated prior to placement on raising a child of a different race/ethnicity, attachment, or trauma may not know how to best parent their child.

Thus a therapist with adoption training looks at the reasons a person is seeking therapy through a wider lens. 

The core issues of adoption, central to all adoption training, states while there may be joy in adoption there is also loss experienced by all adoption constellation members - birth/first parents, individuals who joined their family by adoption, and adoptive parents. From the loss additional core issues may be present: rejection, abandonment, grief, identity, guilt/shame, loyalty, fitting in, intimacy, control, claiming, and entitlement. How much a core issue effects an individual depends upon their personality and life experiences. 

An adoption therapist will evaluate the level of attachment a child has with their adoptive parents. Children who were neglected, abused, spent time in orphanages or in foster care may not be attached to their parents the same as other children their age. A therapist who is trained in attachment issues would not see a child for individual therapy separate from family therapy as children with reactive attachment disorder are known to lie about other people.

An adoption therapist would not assume that a child with a difficult beginning (foster care, orphanage) has a healthy understanding of what a family is.

An assessment of a child would include evaluation of harmful prenatal alcohol or drug exposures or starvation of an infant. An adoption competent therapist would not assume a child’s misbehavior is willful disobedience but possibly a result of brain injury due to fetal alcohol/drug exposure or starvation.

Depression may be a normative response to the enormous losses felt by a person who was adopted or birth/first parent. Some new adoptive parents may feel depressed after the placement of their child as they adjust to parenthood. The assessment an adoption therapist does with a depressed client will have a different focus as well as the therapist would use a wider range of interventions than a traditionally trained therapist. 

Today it is common for birth/first relatives and adoptive families to have contact after adoptions are finalized. Yet there are very few role models and mentors on open adoption relationships available to adoption constellation members leaving everyone to do their best to make these open relationships work. An adoption competent therapist understands the complexity of open adoption relationships and can help guide these relationships.

Adoptions that were closed (no contact between birth/first family and adopted person) are being opened all the time. Sometimes this happens extremely fast with the Internet and social media. An adoption therapist with training on search and reunion can help an individual prepare emotionally for a reunion prior to making contact as well support individuals after contact is made.

While there are more similarities than differences between parenting and adoptive parenting there are differences. One example is that adoptive parents are more likely to struggle with discipline for fear of rejection from their child. Adoptive parents also have to figure out how to explain difficult birth histories to their child. An adoption therapist understands there are additional complexities to adoptive parenting.

Identity is more complex for adoption constellation members. An adoption therapist understands a birth/first parent may struggle with I’m a parent but I’m not a parent. Individuals who were adopted have to figure out how they are like their birth/first parents and how they are like their adoptive parents. Identity issues are more complex when children are a different race than their adoptive parents.

Adoptive parents may not know how to teach their child about racial issues. Parents frequently find it easier to teach their child about culture (food, traditions, music, history) than the more complex racial issues of prejudice, stereotypes, and white privilege. An adoption therapist can educate an adoptive parent on how to help their child develop a positive racial identity and how to deal with racism, stereotypes and white privledge.

Questions to ask a therapist to prior to starting therapy:

- Where was the therapists trained on adoption issues? If they attended a conference ask what organization sponsored the conference. Who are the presenters they heard? Then google the presenters to see their knowledge on adoption issues.
-What books on adoption issues have they read?
-If you are seeking help for a child with reactive attachment disorder, ask the therapist if they participated in any training on reactive attachment disorder. If a child is not attached to their parent, no amount of counseling will help until the child’s ability to attach is repaired. The therapist cannot just be adoption competent they need to be attachment competent.
-Ask the therapist what training they have had in complex trauma. Children who were abused, witnessed abuse, had multiple moves in foster care may have complex trauma. Complex trauma is different from being traumatized from a single event because the trauma happened over a period of time and may have been caused by someone the child had a relationship with. Children who were traumatized often have issues with deregulation and are quick to anger.

Choosing a therapist is a very personal decision. Individuals seeking counseling should feel free to interview therapists on their training and knowledge so as to find the best therapist for them.



​To learn more information on the benefits of working with an adoption competent therapist visit:

Donaldson Adoption Institute: A Need to Know: Enhancing Adoption Competence Among Mental Health Professionals
American Adoption Congress: Finding an Adoption Competent Therapist 
Child Welfare Information Gateway: Selecting & Working with a Therapist Trained in Adoption
Adoption & Foster Family Coalition NY Choosing a Good Therapist


Disclaimer: While it is Marie’s hope that you find the information in her website useful and informative please note- the information contained in this website is for general information purposes only. To read the entire disclaimer click here.