Adoption 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."
Adoption counselors may be social workers or psychologists who have decided
to focus on adoption.
They 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.
There 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
- When prospective parents begin the adoption process -- this might begin
during the home study (a visit from a social worker is required before people
- During the period of transfer, both birth and adoptive parents will need
- 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
During 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
- 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
Some 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.
Birth 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."
People 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.
Adoption 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
"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.
For 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
"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."
A difficult prejudice that adoption counselors face is the perception that
they are baby stealers or baby sellers.
Some adoption counselors work for public agencies (such as a Children's
Aid Society) while others work through private for-profit or not-for-profit
As an adoption counselor, you should not expect to work 9 to 5.