Counseling for Adoptees
Adoption is such a life-altering event and experience that it can impact so many different life areas. The impact continues throughout life with repeated echos and adoption cannot be understood as a one-time event. At times, it can take an experienced adoption therapist to help connect other areas of life where you may be stuck or frustrated back to adoption.
I love working with adult adoptees on a variety of issues from career to relationships to emotional regulation to birth family search and reunion. Developmental trauma and early parental separation is often an important factor in understanding adoptees – whether adults or children. Encouraging adoptees through their emotional journey, equipping them with resources and information, and empowering them to be who they need to be is some of my favorite work.
Search, Reunion, & Open Adoption
Search, Reunion, & Homeland Trips can bring up many complicated emotions for everyone involved. Identifying those emotions and working through them is important to being able to approach the situation and everyone involved in the most whole-hearted way that you can. Search and reunion can bring joy, confusion, grief, and often all of these emotions and several more. I believe counseling can be important in preparation, in the midst of, and following search, reunion, and homeland trips.
It is not easy to stay on top of techniques and resources for searches such as databases, DNA testing, genealogies, and the laws of various states. I learn from my clients and conferences and research. I love celebrating the success of a search. I have even had the honor of acting as a Confidential Intermediary to connect a birth mother and adult adoptee. Personally I work to maintain an open intercountry adoption for my kids and their family.
Homeland trips are amazing and rife with big emotions. While we never know exactly how a child will react to a homeland trip, I believe that whenever possible, it is helpful for international adoptees to have the opportunity to visit their country of origin before starting puberty.
Doing so can be essential in helping them develop a full identity in which they can be confident. Returning to my son’s birth country for the first time was an amazing, beautiful experience for us both, mostly for me in watching him and meeting important people. It has benefited him in countless ways. Counseling before and after a homeland trip can be extremely helpful in managing and processing all of the emotions and integrating the trip into identity development.
It’s Not About You
As I have listened to the hearts and stories of hundreds of adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents, I knew there was a need for a book about search, reunion, & open adoption. It was not my story to tell, but eventually, I realized that if this book was to come to fruition, I had to make it happen.
It’s Not About You: Understanding adoptee search, reunion, and open adoption was a labor of love for me, love for my clients and love for all of those in the adoption triad. It was my honor to organize and edit it, immersing myself further into the hearts and stories of the contributors.
Counseling for Adoptive Families and Adoptive Parents
Counseling for adoptive parents may be centered on child and family issues or may be centered on parental issues. I believe, as Dr. Wayne Duehn has said, that “parents are the true healers of children.” I love working with adoptive parents, encouraging them through the difficult parts of parents, equipping them with resources, information, and training, and empowering them to be able to be the parent that their children need.
Parents create the environment for their children and have a much greater impact than any therapist ever could. To be the best parent that you can be, you may need to work through the stress of parenting or process your own hurts and fears. Adoptive parents often appreciate that my experience has allowed me to travel to their child’s country of origin and/or orphanage or other similar places. Being in those places with children in need of families gives me a unique perspective on current struggles the adoptive families may be facing.
I approach each family situation individually. I want to meet with the parents first to candidly understand the situation and concerns. With the parents, we explore treatment approaches and options and determine if and how often meeting with the children will be helpful. I rarely see children individually because I do not want to become an attachment figure but rather support the child’s attachment to their parents and support the parents as the “primary therapist”. In some instances, particularly with teens, we may agree that individual appointments will be beneficial.
Lesli Johnson, LMFT, and I put together this four page guide for Adoptive Parents about Talking to Kids About Adoption, including tips for every age level, talking to older children for the first time, and more
Lesli Johnson is an adult adoptee who lives in Los Angeles. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in adoption related issues. Her practice includes adults, adolescents, couples and families. Lesli is dedicated to helping her clients connect the dots of their story in order to achieve understanding, clarity, emotional resilience and a general sense of well-being. She utilizes attachment theory, interpersonal neurobiology, mind-body connection and mindfulness practices in her work with her clients.
When working with children, brainspotting is often my primary modality. Lifebook work can also be a helpful approach when working with adoptive families. Even children as young as eight years old have found emotional benefit in working through a Lifebook, while it has also made discussing adoption issues easier for both children and parents. Parents often feel better knowing I am there to observe and facilitate the discussion. It is recommended that Lifebook work be done in a neutral space rather than the family home.
Counseling for Birth Parents
Birth parents and grandparents can often feel forgotten in the world of adoption. The complex grief involved when your child has been adopted by another family often requires additional support. Navigating both open and closed adoptions can be difficult and complicated for birth parents. While counseling can feel like exposing a wound for some birth parents, it can also be important in healing.
As a found member of MLJ Adoptions, Inc., in Indianapolis, Indiana, I helped create and supervise the Adoption Preparation, Support Services, and Expectant Care programs. I have also served as an independent expectant care provider in private adoptions and inter-state compact situations.
I believe it is essential that expectant mothers are able to fully explore all of their options and have an advocate in making this extremely important decision for themselves and their child.
My Adoption Experience
In addition to my varied experience as an adoption therapist, I am an adoptive parent and kinship care guardian, and I have worked in various adoption agencies. I was a founding member of MLJ Adoptions where I served for seven years as Vice President of Social Services. MLJ started as both an international and domestic adoption agency but dropped the domestic adoption program after two years to focus solely on international adoption.
I served as the Interim Vice President of PR, Outreach, and Communications for KidsFirst Adoption Services, which focused more heavily on domestic adoption. For several years I served as a Young Professionals Advisory Board member for The Villages, Indiana’s largest not-for-profit child and family services agency, serving over 1,400 children and their families each day, including a very strong foster care and adoption program.
I am serving on the Board of Directors for Adoption Knowledge Affiliates. I am or have been a member of NACAC, Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), Adoption Knowledge Affiliates, and the Attachment & Trauma Network, Inc. I am an adoption competent therapist who graduated from the accredited Training for Adoption Competency.
I am a single adoptive mom, kinship care guardian, and a committed adoptee advocate. I adopted an older child internationally through a pilot program. I work to maintain an open international adoption and promote family preservation.