adult adoptee

Resource Spotlight:

Adoption-Competent Therapy

Who, What, & Why?

It is fairly common for parents and children to seek adoption therapy as they navigate emotional, behavioral, and psychological challenges following adoption. Even if the issue at hand does not appear to be directly tied to the adoption experience, it is crucial that families receive quality mental health services provided by therapists who are knowledgeable about the effects of pre-adoption experiences on children’s intellectual and social functioning, children’s ability to form attachments to their adoptive families, and children’s overall development in light of early abuse and neglect and foster care placements (based on information from Center for Adoption Support and Education’s Training for Adoption Competency). For more in-depth information, you can read this publication from the Child Welfare Information Gateway entitled Selecting and Working with a Therapist Skilled in Adoption, or, continue reading here for a brief overview and some specific recommendations.

Finding An Adoption-Competent Therapist?

The Karyn Purvis Institute at Texas Christian University has developed a training program for therapists in Trust-Based Relational Intervention, and you can also find a list of TBRI Practitioners. Similarly, the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) has trained many therapists through its intense program as well, and you can find a list at this link of Adoption Competent Professionals. C.A.S.E. is currently working on a nationwide training initiative so more therapists can be added over the next couple of years. Furthermore, therapists can be trained in adoption competency in specific university graduate programs such as Rutgers or Portland State, where they can receive an Adoption Certificate. You may also look for Adoption Competent Providers by asking local adoption organizations and agencies, other therapists, other adoptive families, your employee assistance program, or the AWAA Post-Adoption department.

Finding Good Adoption Therapy

Here is more information that may be helpful as you seek quality services:

  • Ensure the therapist is licensed to practice in your state; check the state licensing authority to look for complaints or ethics violations
  • Check with your insurance about in-network providers, coverage limits, copays, etc.
  • Interview the therapist before committing to work with him/her
    • What adoption experience and training do they have?
    • What other specialized training/experience do they have (trauma/grief/loss/EMDR/Theraplay/etc)?
    • What groups or individuals do they consult with when they need professional guidance?
    • What is their approach to working with children and families? (You want one willing to work with the family because 1 hour/week with a therapist will not “fix” your child nearly as effectively as well-supported and informed parents who function in healing role all week long)
    • How often will you evaluate the success of the adoption therapy together?
    • What are the crisis services available?
  • Regularly evaluate success and progress. (Do you feel comfortable and a sense of trust? Are you gaining insight and seeing small improvements?)
  • Remember that personal commitment to therapy is important. Unless you have major red flags about a therapist, commit to at least 3-6 sessions before making a judgment about success. Do the homework. Consistently attend scheduled sessions.
  • Don’t force “bad” adoption therapy on your child. You want them to have a good experience, so they are open to therapy as a lifelong option.

Option: America World’s ACT Coaching Program

If families can find adoption-competent, face-to-face, time and distance manageable, affordable therapy, then we encourage you to use that. But if you can’t, America World’s ACT program, available through video-conference, may be a good option for adoption therapy, and here are some details about that:

  • Coaches with adoption competency training
  • Individual, Family, and Groups available
  • Online video-conference meetings
  • $75/session for individual/family coaching
  • $25/session for groups
  • No insurance accepted

Limited to adoption-related issues only, and NOT in-depth mental health diagnoses.


If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at ACT@awaa.org, or call 800-429-3369.

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