Finding an affordable therapist or one within your network can sometimes be very difficult, especially at a time when more and more people are seeking mental health support. Waitlists are long or closed, and demand for therapists is often greater than availability. Looking for a therapist who is adoption-competent has become even more challenging, especially when seeking one who has specific knowledge of working with birthparents.
So, what do you do if you find a therapist or are currently seeing a therapist, but they are not adoption-competent or do not have any experience working with birthparents? Advocate and communicate for your best mental health needs. Not sure how to do that? Here are seven strategies to help:
1. Investigate Your Relationship With Your Therapist
- Ask your therapist about the work you are doing together and the strategy behind their questions.
- Ask for clarification when you disagree with a suggestion, coping tool or language that is used.
- Ask how they view your relationship together.
2. Make A List of Your Goals for Therapy
- Discuss what you want to get out of your therapy sessions; what are your goals?
- Are you looking for coping mechanisms to help deal with grief?
- Do you want to learn how to communicate with your child and their adoptive parents?
- Do you want to stop feeling stuck in anxious thoughts revolving around your child’s placement?
- Write down your goals and refer to them throughout the course of therapy. Consult with your therapist if you feel your goals aren’t (or are) being met.
3. Speak Up
Along the same lines of investigating your therapist, practice healthy communication techniques. In other words, speak up:
- Use I-statements to discuss your needs.
- Communicate your preferred adoption language (e.g. birthmother, natural parent, bio mom).
- Tell your therapist when something isn’t working - or when it is.
- Therapists do not know what you are thinking or feeling unless you tell them. Examples for what you might say include things like:
- I prefer to be referred to as Claire’s birthmother
- I placed my child for adoption - I did not give her up
- I feel that it would be helpful if you could help me work through my grief without using judgement
- I do not feel comfortable when you refer to my child’s adoption as something I did because I am a hero or brave
- I feel like you may not understand my grief
4. Share Resources with Your Therapist
Seek out and share books, podcasts, websites, or other helpful resources and tools with your therapist that might help them bettter understand your experience as a birthparent. There are so many resources out there that people who aren't part of the adoption triad might not know about: birthparent podcasts, birthmom memoirs, web sites and social media groups for birthparents, and books and articles about disenfranchised grief and ambiguous loss. We will also be posting a multi-part series on disenfranchised grief later this month that might be helpful for this.
The Importance of Adoption-Competant Therapy for Birthparents, On Your Feet Foundation
Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents and Relatives, Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Being a Mommy: A Birthparent Story, Martha Barton
Birth Parent Loss and Grief, Patricia E. Roles
Grief and Open Adoption, Candace Kunz
Choosing Adoption for One Child and Not Another, Brenda Romanchik
Birthmother Grief; Understanding the Grief Process in Adoption, Adoption & Birthmothers
Disenfranchised Grief: When No One Seems to Understand Your Loss, Healthline
Finding Hope: a Birthmother's Journey into the Light, Hope O Baker
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade, Ann Fesler
Lifelong Issues in Adoption, Deborah N. Silverstein and Sharon Kaplan
Growing Up Black in White, Kevin Hofmann
Saying Goodbye to a Baby: The Birthparent's Guide to Loss & Grief in Adoption Vol. 1, Patricia Roles
Saying Goodbye to a Baby: A Counselor's Guide to Birthparent Loss and Grief in Adoption Vol. 2, Patricia Roles
The Primal Wound, Nancy Newton Verrier
The Triad: Straight to the Heart of Adoption
Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) Program, Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE)
5. Use a Birthparent Journal with Your Therapist
This can be a great tool to start your therapy sessions, help define your goals, and guide your therapist on how to really engage and understand the needs of birthparents. Some journals we suggest include:
Grow, Flower & Flourish: A Birthparent Journal, On Your Feet Foundation
Revealing You: A Journal for Birthmothers, Michelle Thorne
12 Steps for Birthparent Grief, Jessalynn Bills Speight, Alysia D. Foote, and Melissa Sue Mugar
6. Find a Support Group
If you and your therapist are still struggling to connect over your adoption, but you feel comfortable addressing other issues (e.g. working through anxiety or depression, supporting you through a divorce, addressing other mental health concerns), seek a support group specific to adoption and/or birthparent support. Support group resources can be found here:
BirthmomsConnect Calls, On Your Feet Foundation
Post Adoption Support Directory, For Birth Moms, Bravelove
7. Say Goodbye
If you have tried all of the above suggestions and you really do not feel you are benefitting from seeing this therapist, it’s okay to quit.
- Make a plan to talk with your therapist about your decision and the reasoning behind why you are leaving. Your therapist may have advice for you or suggestions for a therapist who may be a better fit for your needs.
- Be sure to provide constructive feedback to your therapist on ways to engage with birthparents (including what worked and what did not).
- Reach out to your support group, adoption agency, or case manager from On Your Feet if you are interested in finding an alternative therapist (even if it means being put on a wait-list).
If you have a sudden onset of a severe mental health illness (serious depression, mania, postpartum depression or anxiety), we strongly recommend lining up other mental health services before quitting. Please do not abruptly stop seeing your psychiatrist if they manage any mental health medications without consulting with them first.
Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
Postpartum Support International
PSI Depression hotline 1.800.944.4PPD
National Rape and Incest National Network 1.800.656.HOPE
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.7233