Adoption Counselor  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotAdoption counselors work with adoptees, birth parents and adoptive families to help them understand and cope with the emotions surrounding adoption.

Adoption can have a deep impact. The better an adoption is handled at all stages, the more likely it is to form a healthy family.

"Most adoption counselors are sensitive to the harmfulness of secrecy," says Michael Sobol. He is an adoption expert and psychologist.

"Some adoptees never [get] a complete sense of wholeness, a sense of how they began. Many adoptees feel life began at chapter two because laws or others in their life prevent them from knowing."

However, Sobol warns that there are no certain issues. "One is never set upon a road that you can't get off of. So how the adoption is initially handled doesn't necessarily set you off on a certain path. Adoptive families need to identify the uniqueness, not deny it."

dotAdoption counselors may be social workers or psychologists who have decided to focus on adoption.

dotThey may work with individuals or offer group counseling sessions. They may also give talks at schools or to other professionals, such as health-care workers or school guidance counselors.

dotThere are six points throughout the adoption process where a counselor might be particularly needed:

  • When mothers or couples are considering adoption as an option for an unplanned pregnancy
  • When prospective parents begin the adoption process -- this might begin during the home study (a visit from a social worker is required before people can adopt)
  • During the period of transfer, both birth and adoptive parents will need counseling
  • Throughout the life of the adoptee, all members of the adoption triad -- birth families, adoptive families and the adopted child -- may need help looking at what it means to be adopted and to be aware of how it may influence their family life
  • During reunion situations
  • During adoption breakdowns

dotDuring a home study, a counselor might:

  • Assess the physical environment
  • Assess the emotional environment, including their feelings about becoming parents through adoption
  • Discuss feelings about fertility and adoption, counsel or determine if there is a need for more in-depth counseling
  • Discuss philosophies of parenting and how parenting adopted children is different
  • Assess the strength of the relationship between partners
  • Educate about different kinds of adoption
  • Counsel about any special challenges they may face as an adoptive family

dotSome families may require special kinds of counseling; for example, if they are adopting an older or special needs child or a child from a different race or culture.

dotBirth parents might feel uncertainty, grief, loss, fear, guilt, anger, confusion and depression. An adoption counselor can help them understand that these feelings are normal.

"They need somebody to tell them what adoption is about," says Glory To, a social work consultant. "They need somebody who is independent to help them examine their feelings about putting their child up for adoption."

dotPeople wanting to adopt have likely gone through some pain, grief or stress. An adoption counselor can help them understand these feelings. They can also help the prospective parents look at what they believe raising a child will be like, and how that may differ from what it is really like.

dotAdoption reunions may require a different kind of counseling. Dianne Mathes is an adoption counselor and therapist. She says reunions have a honeymoon period, followed -- usually about six months later -- by a time when the impact hits.

"Some people view [the] reunion as an event which will not have a significant impact on themselves or their lives," she says. The reunion may in fact trigger many feelings, such as loss or separation anxiety, about being adopted or having given up a child for adoption.

dotFor To, the most difficult time is when a placement doesn't work out. In most states, there is a period of time during which the birth family can change its mind.

"When a child is returned," says To, "it is like a death for the adoptive parents. They must go through a grieving process. Hopefully, they can resolve their crisis and grow stronger from the experience."

dotA difficult prejudice that adoption counselors face is the perception that they are baby stealers or baby sellers.

dotSome adoption counselors work for public agencies (such as a Children's Aid Society) while others work through private for-profit or not-for-profit adoption agencies.

As an adoption counselor, you should not expect to work 9 to 5.

At a Glance

Help families cope with all aspects of adoption

  • You will need at least a bachelor's degree in social work
  • It's a good idea to volunteer with adoption or family service agencies
  • Adoption counselors may be social workers or psychologists who have decided to focus on adoption