This content was originally published by Creating a Family, the national infertility education and support nonprofit.
Google does not feel like your friend right now. A quick search for “adoption therapist” yields a lot of links. How do you know which are trustworthy resources? Asking your adoption community is of some help, but none of the names that keep popping up in conversation are familiar to you. How do you find an adoption competent therapist to help you navigate your adopted child’s struggles?
Before we begin, it’s helpful to have a working definition of “adoption competent.” For our purposes here, an adoption competent therapist is one who trained specifically in adoption issues. He or she works with children and families to help smooth out the complex issues that sometimes accompany adoption.
We’ll start by suggesting a few ideas for compiling a shortlist of therapist recommendations.
ask the experts
Start your search for an adoption competent therapist by calling your adoption agency or social worker. Most of the time, and especially if they are local to you, they have a running list of local mental health professionals they recommend. If your agency is not local to you, ask for referrals of other adoption professionals in your area with whom they are familiar. Utilize their network to get you started.
word of mouth
When searching for an adoption-competent therapist to support you and your child, recommendations from your adoption community can also be a valuable starting point. Ask local adoptive or foster parents for suggestions and feedback on names you are compiling on your list. Focus on those whom you know have tried a variety of tools for meeting their own children’s’ mental health needs.
Word of mouth is a great way to start, but carefully consider whom you ask. Find those whom you can trust to protect your inquiries well. Your child deserves your protection. Be mindful that you should offer respect for their privacy in return – you want them to be honest with you to effectively aid your search. But inquiring of them about these tender topics should be acknowledged and guarded as well.
who is already in your contacts list?
The following professionals are probably already in your email or cell phone contacts list and might also be helpful resources for gleaning recommendations:
- Family doctor
- Children’s hospital
- Adoption clinic
- School counselor or guidance team
Of course, you won’t know for sure if the recommendations from these professionals are genuinely adoption-competent or trauma-informed. Don’t fret. We have a great list of questions that will help you narrow that down (linked later in the post) when it’s time to choose a therapist.
Conversation with these resources might need to be scheduled separately as an office visit. There may be a fee for the appointment or consultation. Ask about your options when you call.
does insurance cover this?
Many employers have mental health coverage in their benefits packages. Read over your policy (you can usually do that via the plan’s website). Schedule an appointment with your Human Resources department. Explain what needs you have and ask what providers are accessible to employees. If you choose an “out of network” provider, ask how to seek reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses.
Later, you will have to carefully interview the providers listed on your insurance plan to gauge their adoption-competency. But if those providers are in-network, allowed by your benefits package, then the time will be worth it.
now it’s okay to consult dr. google
Yes, online research can offer a mixed bag of results. It can also be a huge time-suck, frankly. Now that you’ve asked a few friends whom you trust, talked with your pediatrician, and checked your benefits policy, you can more confidently turn to the internet for direction.
A few websites we know to be reliable for additional information are:
- The Karyn Purvis Institute for Child Development – They are well-known for their Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) model of parenting and attachment-building with adopted and foster kids. Their TBRI Practitioner list is updated frequently and searchable by region.
- The Child Welfare Information Gateway – This site, run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, offers a wide variety of resources for adoption, foster care, and other child welfare issues. You can search for resources in your area. They also offer this guide to finding and working with an adoption therapist. It includes information on different types of therapy and additional tips for choosing a therapist.
- Adopt US Kids – The national organization is known for increasing awareness of the needs of children and teens in foster care, including the need for permanence. To that end, they have a page of supports for adoptive parents, including information on mental health resources.
looking for the right fit
Okay, now you’ve got a shortlist of names to contact. You aren’t sure that they are all adoption-competent or trauma-informed, or if any of them will be a good fit. Truthfully, there’s no easy way to answer that. The choice of which therapist is right for you and your family is an intensely personal preference. You might even experience some “trial and error” to get the right fit, and that’s okay.
As Sarah Hansen, MSW and International Programs Director from Madison Adoption Associates said,
Therapy is only as good as the therapist-child-family relationship—it is crucial that it be a good fit. If at any time during your search, it just does not “feel right,” it probably isn’t the best fit! Keep searching.
let the interviews begin
Now that your shortlist is compiled and you feel free to “try on” a meeting or two, it’s time to think about what you will ask in those first meetings or conversations. There’s no magic formula, but Creating a Family offers a few additional resources to help you ask the right questions. The information in these links can help focus your efforts on finding a good fit.
- A Guide to Selecting an Adoption or Foster Therapist – a short fact sheet with specific interview questions to ask once you start making contacts. It is ideal to ask these questions in person if you can schedule a consultation. Not all therapists offer free consultation. You should be prepared to either pay for an office visit or ask for a phone appointment to get answers to your questions.
- 10 Reasons for Adoptive Parents to Be in Child’s Therapy Session – this guest post by Carol Lozier is a helpful perspective on the purpose of adoption therapy and the potential for healing when parents are included in treatment.
Kelly Raudenbush, MA, co-director of The Sparrow Fund and family therapist said it beautifully,
I know that parents have experienced a lot of hard by the time they reach out to me for help. The most essential part of my work at the start and arguably throughout is to build them up as the primary healing resource for their child. I see therapy as scaffolding for their family – an external support that together we eventually take away so that the family can stand stronger on its own. My job is to work myself out of a job, empowering parents and enabling children to best access all that their parents are offering to them.
keep your eyes on your goal
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the search for an adoption competent therapist, especially when the “hard” just keeps coming at you as Kelly mentioned above. Use these tips as starting points to manage your search. Eventually, you will find that right therapeutic relationship.
What resources did you find helpful when looking for an adoption competent therapist? We’d love to hear more ideas in the comments.
Originally published 10/16/2019 by Dawn Davenport on Creating a Family.