For whatever reasons–stereotypes, prejudices, ignorance, pride, fear, all of the above–we were hesitant to involve mental health professionals in our journey with our adopted kids. As we look back often and say, “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.” Besides not really having faith in traditional talk therapy (and not knowing all the other types of therapy out there), we weren’t sure we trusted someone to be privy to our craziness and not judge us. But then we got desperate. (This seems to be a pattern in our lives. Desperation equals willingness to try something new. Maybe that just testifies to how stubborn we are.)
We’ve now been working well over 2 years with a trauma therapist who has EMDR in her toolbox. About a year ago, we waded into the medication waters. This fall we’re adding a DSS social worker, neuropsychiatrist, neurologist, and Neurofeedback therapist to our team. Based on our journey and the stories (good, bad, and ugly) of other adoptive families, here are some things to think about when choosing a mental health professional.
- Trauma-informed trumps attachment, adoption, and faith considerations. I’m not saying finding someone who has experience with attachment disorders or who shares your worldview isn’t important. I AM saying that if you can’t find a professional with everything on your checklist, go with the trauma-informed one. You will want to find someone who is a fan of folks like Drs. Bruce Perry and Bessel Van Der Kolk. They should also be familiar with the ACE study. Two modalities of treatment that seem effective for our kids are EMDR and Neurofeedback.
(Suggested reads: The Body Keeps the Score, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Childhood Disrupted)
- Connection and relationship-based strategies. Ask potential providers if they use connecting, relational, or trust-based strategies as outlined by folks such as Drs. Dan Siegel and Karyn Purvis. An effective therapist should also be able to help YOU identify why certain behaviors get under your skin which will consequently help you manage your children better. Stay away from therapists who primarily use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Markers of CBT are behavior contracts, imposed consequences, and language that makes the child sound like the problem. Remember, your fight is against trauma, not your child.
(Suggested reads: The Connected Child, The Whole-Brain Child)
- Together or apart? For younger children, look for someone who will help you be a better therapeutic parent. Sessions should include the parent and child or just the parent. My opinion may be controversial, but older kids may need to see someone privately. Because our older, adopted kids, who struggle with intense attachment issues, are constantly triggered by just our presence (in all of life let alone therapy), they make better progress by having an independent relationship with another trusted adult who is equipped to help them navigate their issues. Obviously, to go this route, you need to find someone you trust immensely and who will also keep you in the loop. We have been blessed to find a therapist who we trust with our lives and who we know understands how kids can triangulate and misinterpret or misremember events. She also has found a delicate balance of protecting the kids confidentiality but also making sure we have enough information to better help them at home.
- Holistically minded. Because the mind and body cannot really be treated separately, find someone who is at least open to thinking holistically and will agree to support you if you decide to use tools such as diet changes, neurotransmitter testing and amino acid therapy, essential oils, and other supplements. Bonus points if they have a network of holistic practitioners to which to refer you.
For additional information, refer to this publication by Bethany Christian Services.
We do not endorse these necessarily, but we also have a Directory of Resources if you need a place to start.