My go-to joke about this is probably outdated (because I’m old). But, well, here it is anyway. “Everybody in my family is in therapy. It’s like Oprah up in here—you get therapy, and you get therapy! Everybody get’s therapy!” Here’s the thing. I think everyone should see a therapist at least for a little while in their adult lives. Our parents didn’t have any more idea about how to raise kids than I find myself dealing with. The only difference I can spot is they at least pretended they knew what they were doing and I absolutely do not. There is no way in good conscience I can lie like that.
In the adoption triad (adoptive parents, adoptee, and birth family) everyone needs to acknowledge that there was a trauma. Even the most well-intentioned, prepared, thoughtful families need to be aware that adoption is an emotional situation.
A counselor can help you process the big feelings involved. I am literally sitting in a counselor’s office waiting room with two of my girls as I write this. They go every other week. Their siblings go on the off weeks. My husband sees his counselor twice a month, and I see mine once a week at the moment.
I could quip about how messed our life is, but that feels disingenuous. Our life is lovely. I have kids who I cherish. My kids have parents that take care of them the way they need. And yet, the reason my children are my children is because at one point, they were failed tremendously due to generational trauma and mental illness. The point remains that no one is untouched by the tragedy and miracle that adoption is in our family.
We all, of course, see different therapists for different things. Some of my kids have behavioral issues we are working through. One struggles mightily with anxiety. I struggle with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. My husband has his own bag of messed-up to work through. My oldest is in residential treatment being treated for a myriad of issues that have made it difficult for him to survive outside a therapeutic setting.
Even if you had an average upbringing and have faced no major trauma in your life, there is a good chance you should still see a counselor. If for nothing else than as a sounding board. Everyone is different. Everyone processes things in different ways. For about six months, I had somatic pain in my neck and back from the stress I was carrying. I had every test done and tried physical therapy, massage, and even acupressure. It turned out the issue was in my head—not in an I-was-pretending, kind of way, but in a your-mind-has-experienced-so-much-stress-that-you-are-ignoring-the-only-way-it-can-alert-you-is-to-cause-severe-pain kind of way.
After I was able and willing to talk to someone about what was going on, the pain went away. I never understood before what somatic pain was. I thought it was like being a hypochondriac. Not even a little bit. So, I’m really glad I got it checked out because I was making myself worse. I was anxious about what could be wrong with my back and was creating a feedback loop that made things worse.
One of my daughters hates counseling. She is unfortunately the one that probably needs it the most. I took her in to have a psychological evaluation done. The therapist asked if I had any concerns. I told her what I was concerned about and that I suspected my girl had ADHD, but sometimes trauma looks like ADHD, so I wanted to know. As I was saying this, my daughter interrupted the conversation 16 times, went in every low drawer to investigate the contents, and bounced on the couch on her bottom. The therapist looked at me and grinned. “You think she has ADHD?”
A person I haven’t mentioned much but may also benefit from therapy is the birth family. They are suffering a loss. They might even have wanted to parent but found themselves unable. They may have been facing obstacles in their lives. Maybe their families weren’t supportive. Or maybe the children were taken from their care by CPS.
Birth families suffer loss. If they wanted to or did not want to place their child for adoption, it is not a thing to be taken lightly. I remember hearing that my children’s birth parents cried when they signed their paperwork to approve the adoption (their rights had been terminated by a judge through a foster care case). I was cynical at the time that they really meant it. After all, their children had suffered at their hands. It took several months to soften my heart. I recognize now how much they must have suffered to surrender their children. Yes, they had done something very wrong. Yes, the judge chose to remove the children from the home.
Still. I can’t help but imagine the circumstances that led to adoption. Sometimes the obstacle of mental illness is too much. Sometimes it is too easy to get stuck in a pattern of negative behavior. I don’t think anyone sets out to wind up in that situation. I don’t think anyone starts out meaning to harm or disappoint other people. It still happens.
For that reason, counseling and therapy may be an option for healing and thriving.
If you’ve seen a therapist, or your adopted child has seen a therapist, and you didn’t feel comfortable with them, try someone else. I had to interview a few therapists before I found one I liked well enough to go back again. It can feel exhausting because it is. It is also worth it.