What Mental Health Treatment is Missing When it comes Adolescent and Adult Adoptees: Us!
Finding Good Quality Adoption Competent Care as an Adult or Adolescent Adoptee is HARD
My experiences as a Black adoptee have brought about some of the most painful and joyous occasions in my life. I've gone through my life with minimal culturally humble adoption competent support. I have worked my tail off and found places to do work within myself in the margins of what could be considered mental health treatment. I've done this because I have had to. I missed out on adoption competent care during some of the most challenging times of my life because of the lack of adoption competent, culturally humble therapists.
I am a biracial Black identified adult adoptee. I'm 37, and I have both a Bachelor's in Social Work (BSW) and a Master's in Social Work with a Concentration in Mental Health (MSW). I have learned what constitutes quality care and "Good" therapy in adult mental health. I've seen superb trauma work in action and, I also have never seen adoption competence and culturally humble racial awareness held to the degree that it needs to be in those spaces.
I want to clarify how I understand adoption competence which I define as adoption aware and culturally humble. I am a therapist, and being an adoptee does not automatically make me adoption competent. I've watched "This Is Us," which does not qualify me as adoption competent. I talk to many adoptees; you guessed it- does not make me adoption competent.
My own experience as an adoptee is valuable; however, The way I filter my experience through my education, my drive to learn, my understanding of spirituality, the healing I've done, and my deep sense of curiosity makes all of this priceless.
Working with adoptees is to acknowledge my own experience will never afford me the ability to sit in the seat of adoption expert with any adoptee even when we share that splendid ribbon of commonalities in our stories and truth. My job is to sit with an open mind and hold the space for their story and truth. My experience, education, and emotions allow me to name microaggressions that others may not connect with the hurt and pain that often punctuates marginalized experiences. I see a consistent lack of understanding of these basic needs of adoptees in mental health treatment, the medical system, and anywhere adoptees go to find healing.
One of the main reasons I know so much about adoption is listening to other adoptees, doing my own intensive inner work, and doing research on trauma's effects through the lenses of interpersonal neurobiology and attachment theory. None of this is simply because I am adopted. All of this is because I have had to push and dig and try to find as much information while also drawing from others' stories and my own. The truth of being adopted is within our words and our stories. No institution or group of people holds more wisdom on being adopted than adoptees. Yet there is a history in the United States (US) of policies that profoundly affect adoptees without drawing on the wealth of knowledge we hold. For example, four states in the US allow for unrestricted access to original birth certificates not contingent on Firstparent approval. When conducting an internet search for original birth certificates and adoptees, there are thousands of websites dedicated to helping adoptees access their original birth certificates. There are forums galore with adoptees discussing their struggle with not being allowed such a fundamental right.
US History is full of issues related to fundamental civil liberties of adoptees and people who have survived child welfare institutions being disregarded, which in turn have had catastrophic consequences for these populations and has established intergenerational trauma within our lineages. Societal narratives invite us to ask adoptive parents about adoptees' experiences rather than asking adoptees, and in doing so, we enter into the proverbial land of OZ. Adoption trauma becomes watered down, hidden behind rainbows, sunshine, and then coated with the stuff of jawbreakers. Adoption becomes about the process, and the adoptive parents work while failing to acknowledge adoption-related C-PTSD.
Adoption-related C-PTSD is one of the forms of trauma that the US asks survivors to be grateful for. If adoptees challenge this narrative we are branded the angry adoptee.
Yet we persist, there are adoptees who walk readily into the realm of speaking up and speaking out everywhere, and we need more of us in the mental health community and other spaces of healing.
Basic knowledge about current issues facing adoptees, the historical foundation of adoption, and the understanding of adoptee mental health across the lifespan in mental health treatment are still lacking. According to Zamostny et al. l (2003), 90% of a sample of practicing doctoral-level psychologists felt unprepared to work with adoptees and wanted more training about adoption to be included in doctoral programs. While I feel qualified to discuss areas of lack this does not address other healing professions.
In my own anecdotal experience as a Master's level clinician, very little was discussed around adoption and the complexities it can create for adoptees throughout their life span. However, I learned a great deal of information about the historical trauma related to adoption in my BSW program, which was a pivotal part of my journey as an adoptee and as an adoption aware culturally humble therapist. Just having insight into what predated the system we know as adoption and the foster care system of today was a step into understanding that adoption has and never will be perfect. We often look back throughout history with a critical eye and horror in our hearts. I've heard phrases such as "How could that have been the norm?" or "Why would that ever be an okay thing to do?" I have a hunch 50-years from now we may be saying these phrases about the state of spaces where adoptees seek healing.
Thank you for joining me here as I explore the many facets of adoption, mental health, policy, healing, and the many ways we can focus on Mending the Adopted Heart. In my next post, I will discuss the historical foundations of adoption and the child welfare system in the US, and how and why history has a fundamental role in helping shape mental health practice for adoptees today. I will cover some of my own experiences with understanding the history and how important my BSW program was in helping shape me into the therapist I am today.
Becca Flatt, MSW, CSWA
Please note this post is not a substitute for seeking out support from a qualified mental health professional. All views stated in this post are that of the author.