Finding a therapist can be challenging - it can be even more challenging when you’re looking for someone who specializes in a niche like adoption. It’s quite easy for someone to say they are adoption competent, but what qualifications should you be looking for and what questions should you ask to determine if a therapist is in-fact adoption competent?
What degree do you hold?
When looking for a therapist in general, you should look for someone who is a licensed professional. This means that the therapist has graduated from an accredited school and has passed a license test administered by your state, as well as acquired a certain amount of supervision and client hours. Licensed professionals will have the following letters after their name to indicate that they are fully licensed and an associate license (under supervision): LCSW/LSW, LMFT/LMFT-A, LMHC/LMHC-A
What clients do you see and what areas of adoption do you focus on?
If you are searching for a therapist on Psychology Today, or are reading about them on their website, pay close attention to the age group which the therapist says they work with as well as the amount of expertise. When you are looking for someone who specializes in a niche area, it is best to pick someone who lists a few expertise and a specific age group. Ex. When looking for a therapist for an adopted child, an adoption competent child therapist would list their age group as only children and their expertise as adoption, attachment, trauma and perhaps a few others.
What training do you have that is helpful for someone who is adopted?
When choosing a therapist, you will want to use someone who utilizes evidence-based practices in their work and has received training in specific areas such as the following: Attachment, 7 Core issues of Adoption, Grief & loss, Trauma/Complex Trauma, Understanding the impact of trauma on the brain, development and behavior, impact of race, culture and diversity/ transracial adoption, Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, Theraplay, play therapy, art therapy, sand-tray therapy. It is perfectly fine to ask the prospective therapist to show proof of training that they have taken in these areas! You can also ask for any podcasts or books that the therapist recommends regarding adoption.
How long have you been working with adoptive families or families involved in the child welfare system?
Just like any other aspect of life, if someone is claiming to be an expert in an area, we would expect them to have at least two years of direct therapy experience.
Who is expected to engage in sessions?
For children, it would be best practice for the parent to engage in sessions with the child. The parent is an essential part of the healing journey and we shouldn’t expect children to make long lasting changes on their own. If the child does meet with the therapist individually, the parent should also engage in parent sessions with this therapist, to learn how to best support the child and work through their own adoption and trauma triggers.
How do you incorporate adoptee’s voices into your practice and where do you get this information?
It is very important to listen to adult adoptees about their experiences with adoption and incorporate their lived experience into our practices. By combining the personal experiences of adoptees with evidence-based research and theory, we can gain a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the complexities and needs of the adoption community.
Do you have personal experience with adoption?
It is important to know if the therapist has a personal connection to adoption and whether their experience was positive or negative and how it shapes their approach to adoption therapy. A therapist is not required to share details of their personal experience, though some choose to share parts of their experience as a tool to build rapport and trust with a child and their family.
Whether you are looking for an adoption-competent therapist, or a therapist belonging to a different niche, asking these types of questions and requesting a phone or video consultation can assist you with identifying and assessing how their individual approach feels as a potential client.