Adopted adults: if you are having symptoms of anxiety or depression, difficulty knowing who you are and what you want, or difficulties in relationships, you might be looking for a therapist. Maybe you are not specifically looking to address issues related to your adoption. One of the most common questions I hear from adopted adults on the search for a therapist is, “how do I know if I need an adoption specialist?”
In fact, therapists ask me this too, in another way. Don’t I believe that any well trained therapist can help an adoptee?
The received wisdom is to find a well-trained professional who you feel comfortable with. Someone who can understand where you are coming from and work with the difficulties you need to bring to therapy. In today’s world, they should licensed, able to explain their theoretical approach, what kind of training they have, and if they are continuing with their training and supervision. They should be comfortable with you trying out a few therapists. And they should do everything they can to help you make an informed decision.
This is all true.
And they need to know about adoption.
I don’t think it is an either/or choice. Either a good therapist or someone who knows about adoption and its impact on adopted adults. There are plenty of excellent therapists who have experience and understanding of the special issues faced by adopted people. They may advertise this or not. But please, ask. It is important.
For adopted adults, the issues are rich and identities are hard-won. Adoptees’ stories contain gaps and questions. And adoptees are all too likely to push the fact of their adoption aside. Sometimes they have been doing that all their lives. They might not even mention it in the search for a therapist. So later, when they begin to wonder if some small part of the issue that brought them to therapy might have some connection to being adopted, they have no idea if their therapist can help them sort out the confusion. And that piece just gets pushed away and does not get addressed. So they finish therapy, and a few years later, the next crisis hits and the cycle starts again.
Actually, what is being worked on in therapy is the whole process of how we orient ourselves and move through the world. This is foregrounded in Gestalt Therapy, the kind of therapy I practice. I’m insanely committed to this kind of work. I have seen the transformations it can foster. No matter what kind of adoption narrative you live with, adoption is a fundamental process of how you came to be and its impact is with you all the time in how you are in the world.
Being adopted might not look like it will affect the therapy process if you are seeking help after a bad breakup, having difficulty at work, or looking for support adjusting to a medical crisis or the loss of a loved one. That’s different, you might think, from looking for therapy to support you in search and reunion, or help you reconcile with what you find or don’t find, or if you are having problematic feelings about your adoptive family. But being adopted is like the story of the fish not noticing the water it is swimming in. Going into therapy can be an invitation to really make sense of yourself in your environment, to feel the water and find and make yourself in the swimming.
Working with me
Some of the issues and questions that come up in my work with adopted adults can be found here.
To work with me, call for a free phone consultation or send me a message. If you are adopted and looking for a therapist and you don’t know where to start, you can try Psychology Today and search for your zip code and choose Adoption as a specialty. If you are in the New York metropolitan area, Northstar Consulting is a group of therapists specializing in the adoptee experience located in Westchester, Manhattan and Queens. You can also contact me (or use the form on the sidebar) with questions and I will try to point you in the right direction.