You’ve narrowed the search for an adoption or foster competent therapist after gathering recommendations from friends, some internet research, and a few phone interviews. You have high hopes for the healing that adoption therapy will bring. However, it’s wise to keep your eyes and ears open to gauge whether or not this particular therapist or counselor will be what your family needs. What are the red flags that this therapist might not be the right fit for you and your child?

Finding an Adoption-Competent Therapist Takes Time

It’s easy to assume that a therapist who states on his website that he has “worked with adopted children and adult adoptees” is both trauma-informed and adoption competent. Many mental health professionals will tell you that they are indeed, adoption and foster competent. Hopefully, you could weed out the “adoption aware” from the truly adoption competent choices in your interview process.

Resources to Help You Find an Adoption Therapist

It is absolutely okay to go to a couple of meetings and feel the situation out — regardless of what he tells you in your phone conversations — before committing to long-term adoption therapy. After all, building a therapeutic relationship with a counselor who does not fully grasp the layers of attachment, trauma, transracial adoption, or adoptee identity can do more harm than good for your child and your family dynamics.

To discuss the warning signs that you should listen for when you and your child are in therapy, we asked Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker, of Beyond Words Psychological Services, LLC, to share her wisdom and experiences with our Creating a Family readers. She speaks from multiple life-perspectives, as an adult adoptee, an adoptive mother, and a licensed psychologist.

Red Flags That This Therapist Might Not Be The Right Fit

  1. In your first phone call or meeting, you share your child’s story, including facts about his adoption, and the therapist doesn’t ask you any more about it.
  2. The therapist assumes that your child was adopted at birth or very early in life and, therefore, doesn’t have “adoption struggles.”
  3. He believes that your adoptive parenting is not and should not be different from your biological kids’ parenting.
  4. The therapist is unwilling to consistently involve you in the sessions (for a younger child) or collaborate with you and keep you updated about an older child’s process.
    • While some treatment plans might necessitate individual sessions with the adoptee, you should always be kept in the loop and brought back into the meetings with younger children.
    • Individual adoption therapy sessions with older adoptees might be more complex and thus require more time to re-involve you, mainly when the child is old enough to consent to his own treatment.
  5. Be cautious if the therapist speaks of adoption in “rainbows and unicorns” or elevates adoptive parents as rescuers or saviors.
  6. Similarly, be aware of the language around adoptee gratitude or the “lucky adoptee.”
  7. It’s equally wise to heed your parental intuition if you hear disparaging comments about birth or first parents (specifically your child’s OR with an implied “all”) or negativity around the child’s birth country, culture, or even the foster system.
  8. The mental health professional is quick to attach multiple labels to your child. The more common diagnoses often include combinations of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Conduct Disorder.
  9. The counselor is a proponent of “traditional” parenting models to address misbehavior, rather than encouraging attachment-building practices.
    • For example, time-out in a separate room encourages isolation. Time-in draws the child close for connection and co-regulation to facilitate correction.
    • Another example would be punitive consequences enforced rather than natural consequences while building attachment that helps the child feel safe to trust.
  10. The therapist doesn’t believe in prenatal trauma, pre-verbal trauma, or implicit memories.
  11. If you are a transracial or transcultural adoptive or foster family, here are a few additional messages about which you should be alert:
    • that you should be raising your kids to be “colorblind.”
    • that you should be assimilating your child to U.S. culture, and ignoring or phasing out his exposure to and integration with his birth culture.
    • that systemic racism, institutional racism, and “othering” based on gender, race, culture, etc. do not exist.
Be cautious if the therapist speaks of adoption in “rainbows and unicorns” or elevates adoptive parents as rescuers or saviors.

You Are Your Child’s Best Advocate

These warning flags do not need to be deal-breakers, but they warrant further conversation between you and the therapist. It’s crucial that all of you participating in the adoption therapy feel comfortable with the choice you’ve made and on board with the plans to move forward or find another therapist.

Remember that even if you are in a challenging season with your child, you are his parent, and you know him better than the therapist does. You want a therapeutic relationship to bring healing and increased connectedness to your family, so keep your eyes and ears open while pursuing therapy.

Image Credits: Nick Page; Miriam