A Complete Guide to Counseling for Adopted Adults
What Makes It Different, Where to Find a Therapist and More
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You know that being an adoptee comes with unique challenges. But did you know that a higher proportion of adoptees (17.7%) attend therapy than non-adopted individuals (8.7%)?
If you’re looking for counseling for adoptees, you’re not alone. Even in the best adoption stories, many adoptees feel the need to talk to a neutral third party about their emotions and thoughts surrounding their placement. If you’re feeling the same, you’re completely normal — and there is help.
Here, learn a bit more about finding counseling for adoptees. While we are not mental health experts, we hope the information and resources below can help you get the support you need, whatever challenges you’re struggling with.
Remember: If you were adopted through American Adoptions and need someone to talk to, our specialists can always answer your questions and help you find local counseling resources.
What Makes Counseling for Adoptees Different?
Many adoptees think that seeing a general mental health professional is the first step in coping with their personal adoption challenges. But, as many people find out, traditionally trained counselors often can’t provide the treatment that adoptees need.
Studies have shown that adoptees who work with counselors that emphasize adoption (to any degree) have significantly higher levels of satisfaction than those whose therapists give it no emphasis. Adoption counseling should explore an individual’s emotions and thoughts from the very beginning of their life, keeping their adoption story in mind. Seeing an adoption-experienced professional means that you will receive advice and actionable plans that are specific to adoptees — invaluable resources as you explore what adoption means to you.
Post-adoption counseling for adoptees will often focus on:
- The impact of separation and loss, stemming from placement with adoptive parents
- Developmental challenges of adoptive families
- Abuse, neglect or trauma
As with any counseling, it will be up to you to decide what you are and aren’t comfortable talking about with an adoption-certified counselor. But choosing this kind of counselor from the start ensures that you work with someone who is experienced in the emotions and challenges you may face as an adoptee.
What Should I Look for in Adoptee Counseling?
Ultimately, you will need to choose the best counselor for your situation. The success of a counseling session will depend upon your level of comfort and trust in your mental health professional, so make sure you are working with someone you like from the beginning. (If a counselor doesn’t work out, don’t worry — you can find another one and start again.)
As you explore your options for adoptee counseling, look for a few key characteristics:
- Certification: While counselors and therapists may have treated adoptees or have colleagues with expertise in adoption, you should look for a professional who has completed accredited training in trauma-based adoption issues. Typically, these professionals will use terms like “Complex Developmental Trauma” and “Complex Developmental Disorder” to describe adoption issues they specialize in.
- A rejection of attachment as a “catch-all” explanation: For decades, therapists assumed that every challenge an adoptee faced was a result of Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis. But, as Abbie Smith, LCSW, writes, counselors should look at adoptee challenges as a reflection on their whole life, not just their placement into their adoptive families.
- An understanding of adoption myths: Even among educated members of the adoption triad, myths still persist — the “happy-ever-after” ending, the “selfish” birth parents, the “grateful” adoptee. Your counselor should be able to put aside those myths and stereotypes to hear your individual story.
- Focus on background information: Good counseling for adoptees involves being aware of every detail from the beginning. Look for a therapist who collects extensive information on adoption, trauma, grief and loss during your initial application and assessment — and uses it in your subsequent sessions.
Where Can I Find Counseling for Adult Adoptees?
Knowing what to look for in counseling for adult adoptees in one thing. Finding a certified professional is another.
One of the best things you can do is contact a local adoption agency or your local Department of Child Services. They may frequently work with adoption-certified therapists and be able to offer you a referral in your area. You might also check in with the professional who completed your adoption to see which post-adoption resources they can provide.
You can also use these directories to locate in-person counseling in your area:
- APA Psychologist Locator
- A.S.E.’s Directory of Adoption-Competent Professionals
- Beyond Words Psychological Services, LLC
- Psychology Today
Can’t find any in-person counseling for adopted adults near you? You may consider these therapists and organizations, who may offer telecommunication counseling options:
- Barker Adoption Foundation Post-Adoption Services Department
- Brooke Randolph, NCC, LMHC
- Lesli Johnson, MFT
- Melissa Valerga, MA, LMHC
If you have had thoughts of hurting yourself or others and need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential support.
What if Counseling Isn’t an Option?
In an ideal world, every person would have access to quality, affordable mental health services. Unfortunately, we know that’s not always the case. Post-adoption counseling for adoptees may not be possible for you at this moment — but that doesn’t mean you have to work through your emotions alone.
There are plenty of ways for you to receive the support and perspective you’re looking for. While it’s up to you to find which outlet is most productive for your healing process, here are a few options to consider:
- Adoptee support groups (either existing or one you start on your own)
- Books about adoption
- Blogs about adoption
- Conversations with the members of your adoption triad and other loved ones
If you are struggling with your thoughts and emotions regarding adoption, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You deserve support from experienced professionals, and they are there for you. Working through your emotions and thoughts will take time, even with adoptee counseling, so be patient with and kind to yourself. Remember: Adoption is a lifelong journey.
Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. American Adoptions provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.