Once you have decided to seek out an adoption-competent therapist, how should you go about it? A personal referral can be really useful, so start by asking friends, colleagues or others in your social networks if they have worked with a therapist for adoption-related support. Reaching out to adoption professionals in the area can also be helpful–maybe the lawyer, agency or facilitator that was involved in your adoption has some resources to share with you. If these approaches don’t pan out, there are therapist directories that let you search for therapists by things like area of speciality, location, gender, type of license and fee. (Examples include www.psychologytoday.com and www.goodtherapy.org).
During this time of networking to get referrals, you can also be clarifying your priorities and values in relation to the upcoming counseling. Questions to ask yourself about this new therapeutic relationship include: Is it essential that my therapist have a personal connection to adoption? If yes, do I need them to share my position within adoption (i.e.: if I am an first parent, am I only willing to work with a therapist who is also a first parent?) or am I open as long as they are knowledgeable about adoption? Which values of mine related to adoption are non-negotiable in seeking a new therapist? (i.e.: If openness in adoption is part of your reason for entering counseling, is it essential that your therapist understand and affirm your desire for openness?)
After gathering the names of a few therapists who work in the area of adoption, it is time to do a little bit of research. Look them up online, where you will hopefully find a professional website describing their practice. You might also find a photo or video of the therapist, which can help you feel at ease. Notice which therapist’s website you are most drawn to, even if you aren’t sure why.
Emailing or calling to get some information is your next step. Good questions to ask include: Do they have a personal connection to adoption? If not, what makes adoption a focus in their practice? Are they accepting new clients? Do they work with insurance? Do they offer a free consultation or initial visit? Whether you email or call, notice how the interaction feels. Is the therapist warm, attentive, and friendly? Do they seem like someone you might feel comfortable working with? If you leave a message or send an email, do you get a response in a timely manner?
If offered a chance to meet in person for a free consultation, take the opportunity. This is an excellent way to determine whether a therapist is a good match for you. You not only get face to face time to see how comfortable you feel in their presence, but you get to check out their office space. In my practice, free consultations are mutually beneficial for me and the person seeking therapy. I get a chance to hear in their own words why they are currently seeking counseling, as well as learn about any previous experience they’ve had with therapy. This helps me determine if I am a good clinical fit for the work they want to do. The person seeking therapy gets a chance to interview me about my training and experience, to learn how a typical session looks, and can ask about my connection to the area of life they want to focus on in therapy (adoption, gender, sexuality, depression, etc.) While all of this can be done via phone or email, meeting in person adds the important element of sharing physical, energetic and emotional space with each other, which goes a long way towards determining the right fit.
Don’t be afraid to interview multiple therapists. It is definitely appropriate to have several initial consultations or phone calls while you decide which connection is right for you. If you feel pressure from a therapist, or receive negative feedback about interviewing other counselors, take that as a sign that they aren’t a good fit. Another warning sign in looking for an adoption competent therapist would be an obvious clash between your values and those of the therapist. For example, if a therapist believes that adoptees are lucky to have been placed for adoption, without acknowledging the layers of grief and loss inherent in adoption, this would not bode well for doing adoption related therapy. Also, pay attention to the language used to talk about adoption. Notice if the words they choose match the way you discuss adoption. Does the therapist you are interviewing seem knowledgeable about adoption? If you find yourself doing a lot of explaining or educating about adoption in your initial contact with a potential therapist, move on in your search. It is not your job to educate a therapist about adoption related issues.
Once you find the right therapist, you can mostly put concerns about fit out of your mind and just focus on what you want to accomplish in therapy. Do check in with yourself periodically about how the connection with your therapist is working for you, and if something isn’t working, speak up about it. A good therapist will be open to feedback about the therapeutic relationship.
About the author:
Meg Jeske is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland, Oregon who specializes in supporting people around gender, sexuality, parenting, adoption, grief and loss. She is also a white, adoptive parent of a biracial daughter in a domestic, open adoption. Find out more about her practice at www.LionTreeCounseling.com