Adoptive Parent Mental Health Challenges and Therapeutic Support For Navigating the Adoption Journey

Adoptive Parent Mental Health Challenges and Therapeutic Support For Navigating the Adoption Journey

By Thrive Wellness Reno Therapist Falon Schnieder, MFT

Usually full of many unknowns, the often volatile process and major life transition of adopting a child can evoke uncertainty, fear, and other distressing emotions, causing adoptive parents’ mental health to suffer. Through specialized therapeutic support, adoptive parents can obtain comfort, guidance, and coping skills to feel less isolated on their journey and nurture their mental well-being. 

CHALLENGES THAT COMMONLY ARISE DURING ADOPTION 

Parents who go through a child welfare system to adopt face a multitude of hurdles. Typically, they have to undergo the extensive process of becoming licensed foster and adoptive parents, which requires training and a thorough home study. During a home study that assesses the suitability of the family for the child, the interviewer may ask questions about the parents’ childhoods, relationships with one another, and parenting styles. 

Once parents obtain their licensure, the foster child is placed in their home. For the parents to adopt the child, the adoptive family often must wait for either the biological parents to relinquish their parental rights or for the court to terminate the rights. Typically, this waiting period takes at least six months, which is the minimum time required, but could also last a year or more. Throughout this time families can become increasingly attached to the foster child, but acutely unsettled about the possibly temporary relationship with the child.  

During this time, the biological parents usually have the opportunity to attend scheduled visits with the foster child. These visits can be emotionally damaging to the adoptive family, despite whether the biological parents are present or absent at the visit. 

While a family is fostering a child, the biological parental rights may be neither relinquished nor terminated. If this is the case, the child may return to their biological family which can cause the foster family intense, complicated grief.

While adopting through a private agency is somewhat more straightforward than through a child welfare system, families who use a private adoption agency must plan for significant expenses. 

PREVALENT MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS ADOPTIVE PARENTS EXPERIENCE

In addition to the above distressing circumstances that can occur throughout the adoption process, adoptive parents may face other mental health struggles as they adapt and cope with the change of bringing a new child into their family.

 Some common mental health struggles of adoptive parents include:

  • Difficulty bonding with their adopted child: Many adoptive parents describe the attachment they feel with their adopted child as “different” than if it were to have been a biological child. Some express feelings of guilt, depression, and anxiety about not connecting with their child in ways they had hoped.  
  • Secondary trauma: Many adopted children have experienced trauma. When adoptive parents are aware of the child’s history, they can suffer vicarious or secondary trauma, which describes indirect trauma that can occur when exposed to disturbing stories or visuals. 

Related: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Symptoms, Triggers, and Treatment

  • Sense of loss over the idea of having a biological child: For families unable to conceive a child on their own, symptoms of grief and depression may manifest.

Related: How Infertility Disrupts Mental Health: Finding Specialized Support Amid the Isolating Effects of Infertility 

AVAILABLE MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT FOR ADOPTIVE PARENTS

For adoptive parents, family counseling can provide an opportunity to understand emotions and strengthen resilience as they navigate adoption. They may even seek a clinician with adoption competency training who can provide specialized treatment that addresses all facets of adoption. Additionally, many state human services agencies offer clinical post-adoption support to families.  

Related: Nine Tips For Finding a Mental or Behavioral Health Professional That’s a Fit

PROMOTING ADOPTIVE PARENTS’ WELL-BEING AT THRIVE WELLNESS

Through our It Takes a Village (ITAV) perinatal day program, adoptive parents of infants can join a healing community of perinatal specialists and other individuals navigating the early stages of parenthood. Program participants attend psychoeducational groups on perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) diagnoses (which also exist within the adoptive parent population), bonding and attachment, nutrition, culture and identity, emotional regulation, and other topics. Additionally, our experienced clinicians provide individual and family outpatient therapy to adoptive parents. Reach out to learn more about our therapeutic services for adoptive parents.

About the Author

Thrive Wellness Reno Therapist Falon Schnieder, MFT

Falon Schnieder, MFT, attended the University of Nevada, Reno, where she earned both a bachelor’s of science in human development and family studies as well as a master’s degree in counseling and educational psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy (MFT). She began her career as a therapist serving children and adolescents with significant mental and behavioral health needs in an outpatient setting. Since then, Falon has worked extensively within a child welfare system where she worked with children entering into foster care, biological parents, and foster and adoptive parents.

As a rostered child-parent psychotherapy (CPP), she provides didactic therapeutic services to infants, children, and parents, and specializes in infant and early childhood mental health, trauma, and attachment. Falon is also a board-approved secondary supervisor providing training in child-parent psychotherapy for aspiring marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and clinical professional counselors (CPCs).

As a therapist at Thrive Wellness Reno, Falon serves children from infancy to age 17, families, and parents struggling with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). She is passionate about infant and early childhood mental health as well as providing support to caregivers during what can be the most rewarding, yet challenging endeavor — parenting. Falon enjoys helping families learn new ways to connect with each other, overcome challenges, and experience triumphs on their journey. She believes that providing mental health care services to the community is an important element of well-being for all and is an advocate for destigmatizing mental health.