By Eleanor Beeslaar
Family counseling is a wonderful tool for all families, but it can be especially helpful for adoptive families as they adjust to postadoption life, go through different life transitions, and experience challenges unique to the adoption process. Adoptive families should seek counseling from adoption-competent counselors to ensure that they are receiving the best services possible for their specific needs and challenges (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013). Adoption-competent family therapy provides a space for adoptive families to express their concerns and work through challenges with the help of a professional who has expertise in topics such as: child development, attachment and reactive attachment disorder, communication patterns and family conflict conflict, trauma, and much more.
Adoption-competent counselors can help children who are experiencing anxiety related to an insecure attachment style by using developmentally appropriate techniques to foster trust and develop a secure attachment to their adoptive parents. The counselors may use therapeutic styles and techniques that focus on encouraging gentle connection, such as eye contact and nurturing behaviors (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013; Riley & Singer, 2018). Family counselors can also help parents develop skills and strategies to increase trust and connection in the parent-child relationship outside of therapy.
Family counselors who are specialized in adoption are able to assist adoptive parents in understanding the underlying meaning behind their child’s behavior. Counselors can help parents understand their child’s behaviors from a developmental perspective, in the context of their past experiences, and with consideration for their feelings and emotions regarding adoption (George, 2018). This can help parents communicate and connect with their child and gives them the tools to navigate challenging feelings and behaviors their child may be having surrounding their adoption.
Adoptive families with children who have experienced trauma can greatly benefit from working with adoption-competent counselors who are specialized in trauma. It is important to treat trauma as early as possible to ensure that children feel safe in their new families and experience successful life outcomes, such as healthy future relationships (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013; Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014). Counselors can help children work through emotions related to past trauma by using trauma-specific therapy techniques. They can also help parents understand the developmental impact of trauma, identify trauma triggers for their child, and learn skills and strategies to help their child form secure and trusting relationships in their adoptive family (George, 2018).
Some children in adoptive families may feel reluctant and have difficulty talking to their parents about their adoption. They may be afraid of hurting their parents by asking them about their birth families, as this can be a challenging topic to discuss. Adoption-competent family counselors can support children in navigating this conversation with their adoptive parents. They can help the family identify methods of effective communication when discussing challenging topics related to adoption, such as giving parents tools to better understand and to appropriately address the needs of their child, especially regarding adoption related concerns. Additionally, counselors can work with children and parents to learn how to handle any questions or comments about adoption they may receive from other individuals, such as friends or family members (Riley & Singer, 2018).
Counselors can be particularly helpful in situations where adoptive families are navigating challenges related to increased contact with birth families. They can help families set up boundaries and facilitate positive communication to best benefit the child and strengthen family relationships (Riley & Singer, 2018).
Adoption-competent counselors can also help parents reflect on their experience and process any feelings and emotions they may be experiencing related to their child’s behavior, past trauma, or information about the birth family. Counselors can work with parents to better understand what they need to regulate their emotions and take care of themselves, especially during times of conflict or difficulty (George, 2018).
Family counseling with an adoption-competent counselor provides an opportunity for families to develop positive skills and strategies related to communication, conflict management, child behavior, trauma, attachment, navigating boundaries with birth families, and so much more. The information and skills adoptive families learn during counseling can not only help them with challenges they are presently facing, but they can also prepare families for future challenges and transitional periods, as well as enable them to strengthen family connections and form positive, lasting relationships.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013, August). Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons.
Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/f_adimpact.pdf
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2014, November). Parenting a Child Who Has
Experienced Trauma. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/child-trauma.pdf
George, S. (2018, October 4). Working with Foster and Adoptive Families through the Lens of
Attachment. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2018/10/working-with-foster-and-adoptive-families-through-the-lens-of-attachment/
Riley, D. & Singer, E. (2018). Adoption. Retrieved from