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What is Adoption Competent Therapy?

Annmarie Pagano, MSW works with emotionally sensitive children—setting goals, striving for DBT adherence, and teaching DBT skills to assist in creating a life worth living. Annmarie additionally has a passion of providing therapy for adoptees.

Adoption has lifelong effects on individuals and families who experience it—lifelong positive and negative effects that can impact the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of adoptees and the families adopting them. Since challenges can arise at any life stage after adoption, adoptive families should consider seeing an adoption-competent therapist, such as our very own Ann Marie Pagano who offers sessions in Suffolk County and online throughout New York.

Adoption & Mental Health

Cultures and society tend to have a general view of adoption—that it’s a beautiful thing for a couple or family to bring another person into their home to ‘give them a better life.’ And while adoption can be beautiful, it’s also important to recognize that it’s no easy mental, emotional, or social journey.

Many adoptees experience mixed messages about who they are and what they should feel

Societal messaging tells people who have been adopted that they should ‘be grateful’ to be adopted, but this ignores the impact the experience of being adopted can have on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being. It ignores that some people who have been adopted may struggle with their identity or feel disconnected from a culture with which they have visible ties.

Many adoptees feel an insatiable curiosity about their life before (and the resulting guilt)

A person who’s been adopted may have questions about their history and their birth family. They may feel misunderstood or unsure of themselves, like something’s missing since they may not know where they came from. Adoptees may also struggle with verbalizing these feelings to their “new family,” for fear of how that will affect them.

Many adoptees may feel mistrusting of others and carry attachment wounds

Understandably, life transitions may be complex for individuals who were adopted, even at a young age. Goodbyes, departures, and changes to one’s routine can be insufferable. Coping with circumstances that are out of one’s control may be difficult. In later years, they might struggle with loneliness and a fear of abandonment that keeps them from making meaningful connections with family, friends, and peers.

Adoption competent therapy can help

These challenges can ultimately impact one’s mental health in ways that affect their outlook, mood, and overall well-being. When this occurs—and before this happens—adults who have been adopted or parents of adopted children should consider seeking the help of a mental health professional.

Adoption-competent therapists are more aware of adoption’s effects than other therapists. They have specialized training and experience in responding to these effects when providing counseling and treatment. Their unique working understanding of trauma, brain development, attachment, and loss influences the type of therapy they choose to employ with clients. For instance, adoption-competent therapists providing DBT therapy in Long Island at Suffolk DBT know that DBT mindfulness skills and other skills learned in DBT can help reduce individuals’ daily distress. DBT skills can help people who have been adopted gain better insight into their feelings and manage their emotions effectively.

What Makes a Therapist Adoption Competent?

An adoption-competent therapist has completed accredited education, training, and experience in trauma-based issues specific to adoption and foster parenting, such as attachment, loss, brain development, and more.

Adoption-competent therapists receive education and training that enables them to consider a child or teen’s early history and traumatic experiences when trying to identify and respond to any struggles they have. They understand that children of all ages who have been adopted are at risk for alterations to their brain’s structure and chemistry, causing changes in how they function and interact with others. They keep this in mind instead of writing a person off as a ‘problem child’ or trying to create a magic cure or put a band-aid over the family.

Adoption competent therapists:

Image of a mixed race family with two black parents who adopted a young girl. The family would benefit from working with an adoption competent therapist on Long Island.

An Adoption-Competent Therapist Specializes in Creating a Sense of Safety in Adoptees

Trauma and child maltreatment negatively impact children and teens’ brain development, impairing their mental, emotional, and behavioral functioning. These effects can make it challenging for children from chaotic, threatening backgrounds to form attachments and adjust to new, safe environments.

For this reason, adoption-competent therapists implement trauma-informed and attachment-focused therapy in individual, family, or group sessions. These therapists recognize that even infants who experience trauma can exhibit trauma-related behaviors at an older age, even though they aren’t old enough to remember traumatic events.

In trauma-focused and attachment-focused therapy, adoption-competent therapists help children and parents build a secure emotional attachment that can empower the child to initiate positive relationships in all aspects of their life. They help families cope with behaviors that may stem from previous attachment disruptions.




A young child with Asian features shares a drawing titled "My Family" with an adoption competent therapist while the girl's mother looks over her shoulder.

Adoption-Competent Therapists Understand that Every Adoption Experience is Different

A critical aspect of being an adoption-competent therapist is knowing that, like other children and families, adoptive children and families are all different. And they require different types of support according to their needs—needs which may change over time as children grow and experience developmental changes. Adoption-competent therapists specializing in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), for instance, may teach DBT mindfulness skills to help children and teens who have been adopted become aware of, understand, accept, and manage their feelings and emotional responses to changes and challenges they experience.

DBT Mindfulness Skills Empower Families to Heal From Their Unique Experiences

To be mindful is to be fully aware of the sensations you experience. It’s being aware of your feelings and thoughts and identifying and labeling them without judging them or criticizing yourself. When adoption-competent therapists teach DBT mindfulness skills, they guide and empower adoptive parents and children to be aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; accept them; and change the negative ones when they’re ready to.

Using DBT mindfulness skills is crucial for adoptive parents and children, as these skills equip them to live in the moment and get out of their heads. With DBT mindfulness skills, parents and children don’t have to dwell on the past or what-ifs. They’ll be able to appreciate their family for what it is. Mindfulness can equip parents and children to support each other in therapy sessions, especially if the conversations focus on the trauma and abuse the child experienced early in childhood. Together, parents and children will be able to navigate situations like the child’s search for identity or even their search for their birth parents and desire to meet or reunite with them. At Suffolk DBT, our team of experienced therapists is ready to support your family through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Long Island and Manhattan.

Learn DBT Mindfulness Skills from Adoption-Competent Therapists Providing DBT Therapy in Long Island

In DBT therapy sessions led by adoption-competent therapists, clients receive compassion, support, and guidance in identifying any core issues they face to help them gain insight into the source of their emotions and how they impact their thoughts. DBT mindfulness skills acquired in DBT therapy in Long Island at Suffolk DBT help individuals and families gain a deeper awareness of their triggers, communicate their feelings more effectively, and develop healthier coping methods that contribute to a more enjoyable, relaxed life.

If you are searching for an adoption-competent therapist in or around the 10019 zip code, Suffolk DBT proudly provides quality dialectical behavior therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, at their offices in Manhattan and Long Island, New York and online. When you’re ready, reach out to us at Suffolk DBT. In therapy sessions with our compassionate, trained adoption-competent therapists, you’ll not only enhance your emotional regulation and responses to distress, but you and your loved ones will also be able to explore your experiences in meaningful ways congruent with acceptance and healing.

Hear How We’ve Helped Other Families

See testimonials from parents and individuals like you here.

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