Occasionally, we offer guest posts by experts in the fields of adoption, foster care, and kinship care. Carol Lozier, LCSW is no stranger to our community, from her blog about adoption therapy to her recent radio show Helping Children Heal from Past Trauma and Loss. Creating a Family is grateful to offer this updated post from her, on the value of parents remaining in adoption or foster therapy sessions as they seek to support and care for their kids.
A Change from Traditional Training
As a therapist, I typically write articles for adoptive and foster parents. But today’s post is written to my colleagues – therapists who work with adopted or foster children and their families.
In workshops, parents are told: remain in the room during your child’s therapy. Yet, most therapists meet with the parents alone, work with the child alone, and then spend a short time with everyone together. While this is common practice, it’s not the best approach for adoptive and foster families. In my practice, I keep parents in the session, like a family session — though it’s not how I was trained either.
Adoptive mom, Amy, highlights her reasons why parents need to be included in sessions:
The therapist is partnering with me to help heal my child. The therapist is teaching me how to therapeutically parent my child by modeling the wording. I am there to help the therapist too- she may incorrectly interpret my child’s silence, or withdrawal or hyperness. When that happens, I can point out, ‘he does this when x happens,’ and then we can work together to address what to do when x happens at home and she’s not there. In speech, OT, PT, there are exercises that you do between visits, and the same is true with ‘feelings therapy’. Besides, she is with him for one hour a week; I am with him the other 167 hours that week and I have to know how to help him.
10 Reasons for Parents to Remain in Their Child’s Sessions
So, let’s talk about the 10 reasons parents should stay in their child’s sessions.
1. Parents Are Co-Therapist.
In an adoption therapy session, one of the parent’s roles is to be a co-therapist—they know their child better than we do. Parents can identify a negative belief or trigger that we’re unaware of. They may identify helpful information that we unknowingly overlooked.
2. Parents Aid In Healing The Past.
When the therapist and child focus on past trauma, a parent’s presence offers emotional safety. The parent can make corrective, healing statements during the therapy process which is far more powerful than ours.
Also, issues will come up at home and parents need to be equipped to work on them as they arise. Adoptive mom, Ann, addresses this point:
Today, I helped my son connect to the past and work through an issue. Because we were able to work through it, this has been one of the best weekends we’ve had in a year. I don’t think I would have been able to help had I not been in his therapy. It’s helped me to understand him better too. My perspective has changed so much since being a part of his therapy; it has helped me as his mom.
3. Clarify Information.
Often, children don’t know or don’t remember bits of their past. When the parent’s available, they can clarify or fill in gaps of missing information during therapy.
4. Correct Inaccurate Information.
Along the same lines, the parent can correct a child’s misunderstood or misquoted details.
5. The Child Can Seek Their Parent.
During the session, the child may have numerous needs from simple questions to reassurance, to needing to use the restroom. We want the child to lean on their parent for help, and not us.
Looking for resources, in addition to therapy, for Parenting Tweens and Teens?
6. Encourage The Child.
One of the parent’s roles is to encourage their child’s hard work. The child will encounter difficult emotions and issues, and the parent can praise and support the child through this time. It’s another opportunity for the child to lean on his or her parent, and turn to them instead of away from them.
Let’s face it, there are times when children aren’t honest. There are many reasons they’re not honest, but when the parent is present, it ensures honesty. This is especially important: a dishonest answer leads us down the wrong path, wasting precious time for the child.
8. Role Model.
Parents learn valuable skills when they watch us work with their child. And we can coach them on parenting and therapy skills. Adoptive mom, Lynn, shares,
Being in the room allows me to be a better parent at home. These issues can’t be fixed just in therapy sessions. They get fixed by the parents doing what they need to do between the sessions. Being in the room, I’m able to learn how to respond to things better.
9. What’s My Homework?
In adoption therapy sessions, we’re teaching healthy coping skills to the child. If the parent isn’t involved, they aren’t familiar with the instructions and don’t know how to encourage their child to practice their newly acquired skill.
Sometimes children feel upset in sessions, and we want parents to comfort their child. If the parent isn’t in the room the task is left to us and then—the wrong person is comforting and connecting to the child.
Janie, adoptive mom to Andrew, explains:
As a mom, I don’t want to miss out on the important moments of healing that happen in therapy. We love our kids and work so hard, and I don’t want to miss out on the rewards of when my son is genuine and vulnerable, because that’s not a side I see every day. It’s important that I be a part of that too.
A Beneficial Change to Consider
The majority of therapists are trained to separate the parent and child during adoption therapy — and trying something new is scary. I hope that the potential benefits and the heartfelt comments shared by parents spur therapists to consider changing their practice. A family therapy approach has value for both the therapist as well as the parent and child.
**Please note: All names have been changed to maintain the confidentiality of families.
If you are an adoption, foster, or kinship professional, we’d love to share more content like this with you! Please sign up for our FREE newsletter to get the latest information on continuing education courses and the newest resources to support your staff and the families you serve together.
Image Credits: State Farm; Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright; bigbirdz
Originally published in 2013; Updated and re-published in June 2021