As an adoptive parent, you will hear about all sorts of different therapies that may or may not be of use to your child and you. Below, are brief summaries of some of these therapies. This list is by no means exhaustive (it will be added to from time to time) nor definitive, but it will give you an idea of what the therapy is about before investigating it further for yourself.
Contributions from practitioners in any of these therapies who may want to provide more detailed information about them are very welcome. Reviews of the therapies by people who have undergone them will also be published. Potential authors should note, though, that this is not a forum for people with personal axes to grind, and only measured and considered reviews will be published.
The reviews do not need to be positive, but criticism must be well-founded and backed up by evidence. Obviously, nothing defamatory will be published. Equally, therapists should only make claims for the efficacy of their particular therapy that can be substantiated by legitimate research.
Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy
Developed for children who have experienced early childhood trauma and who, as a result, may have attachment issues, this therapy works with the child and parents together (the dyad). Parents are helped to interact with their children in such a way as to foster the attachment bonds between them, and children are helped to explore and hopefully overcome the mental wounds inflicted by their early trauma experiences. A key component of the parenting style that is taught is something called PACE – which stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.
Also known as Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP). In this, the participant interacts with the horse in its natural environment, together with a trained therapist. (The horse is usually not ridden.) The idea is that the experience of contact with the horse (which by its nature is non-judgemental and friendly) can help the participant to process feelings, bring about emotional self-awareness and facilitate recognition of problematic behavioural patterns
Disappointingly, the Post Adoption Fund no longer pays for this therapy, perhaps because its efficacy has been challenged in some quarters. However many users report good outcomes from it, and parents of children with attachment issues often remark on how helpful pets can be for their children to build emotional bonds with another living being. That said, cruelty to animals is also a well-recognized aspect of attachment disorder and great care and close supervision needs to be used when children with little or no feeling of empathy come into contact with vulnerable animals.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
This is a type of psychotherapy specifically aimed at those who have experienced either single or multiple traumas and who may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. The belief is that the mind’s natural propensity to heal can be harnessed to overcome the difficulties associated with mental trauma. The therapist physically stimulates the brain by left-right eye movements, sounds or taps, which seems to unblock past trauma memories and transform them into more manageable ordinary memories. For a more detailed (and much better, clearer) explanation of what the therapy entails, have a look at http://emdrassociation.org.uk/what-is-emdr/background-and-basics/
This is a more classical “talking” therapy, applied to whole families, either together or as individuals within the family context. You are encouraged to explore the existing family relationships and structures and how they affect your own life within the family. For this to be successful, the various members of the family do need to be able and willing to engage with the therapy. Packing your unwilling teenager off to family therapy is not in itself going to “fix” any problems you may be experiencing. You can access family therapy on the NHS by being referred by your GP to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or you can try to find a private therapist for which you will, of course, have to pay. The Association of Family Therapy and Systemic Practice is a good place to start finding out more: http://www.aft.org.uk/view/index.html The leaflet found at the address below is a useful summary of what it is and what it offers: http://www.aft.org.uk/SpringboardWebApp/userfiles/aft/file/Information%20Sheets/What%20is%20Family%20Therapy%202015%20A4%20version.pdf
Non Violent Resistance
Don’t be put off by the name of this therapy – it is not intended for violent parents to learn to do better, nor is it intended solely for parents of violent or self-destructive children. When it was initially developed by Dr Haim Omer in the early 2000s, it certainly was aimed at the latter, but it is now far more widely applied. Based on the non-violent protest principles and practices advocated by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the idea is to use techniques that are successful in broader political action to effect changes in personal situations.
Therapists work with parents to teach methods that help to de-escalate potentially violent and destructive situations and behaviour, without “giving in” or giving up. They are helped to understand that interactions between them and their child are not about winning and losing or having control of the child’s behaviour, but instead focus on their own responses to the situation. They learn to use techniques such as “sitting-in” and increasing parental presence to establish a positive connection with their child. They are also encouraged to gather and use outside supporters who can help to diffuse situations as well as back them up in their parental role.
Theraplay® is designed for children and parents to undertake together. The therapist guides them through a series of games or activities that have been formulated to allow them to revisit some of the things that happen naturally when infants and carers are forming early bonds. The idea is that by repeating these behaviours, an emotional connection can be forged and the relationship between them healed or built up if it does not exist already (in the case of adopted children). On their website they call it “building relationships from the inside out.” This is not a talking therapy as such, and is practical and structured, which people who find all the psychobabble stuff off-putting, will find appealing.
As with therapy, adopters are frequently offered a variety of courses, mostly intended to help them parent their children more effectively. Here are summaries of some of the courses available — some in person and some online. Online and home study courses can be very useful in that you can squeeze them into a crowded schedule. The only drawback is that you don’t get to meet other adopters who are “in the same boat” as you. The friendships I have formed with other adopters have been, in my experience, easily the most helpful outcome of any parenting course I’ve attended.
Again, contributions from course providers, as well as reviews by those who have attended the courses, will be most welcome. Potential authors should note, though, that this is not a forum for people with personal axes to grind, and only measured and considered reviews will be published. The reviews do not need to be positive, but criticism must be well-founded and backed up by evidence. Obviously, nothing defamatory will be published. Equally, course providers should only make claims for the efficacy of their particular course that can be substantiated by proper research.
Incredible Years ® aka Webster-Stratton
(Caroline Webster-Stratton being the person who devised the course initially)
This is a general parenting course. The main focus is on time spent on child-led play with the carer commenting in a non-challenging and non-judgmental way. Many adoption agencies and some local authorities run this course, modified to suit adoptive families. For example, techniques such as reward charts and “time out” might be changed to include “time in” and short term reward systems that have proved to be more effective for adopted children who may have attachment and trauma issues.
Inspire Training Online Courses
These are short courses targeted at a range of common problematic behaviours that adopted children can present. The modular design means that you can pick and choose to address whatever is the current most pressing issue in your household. The courses are very inexpensive, with some of the bite-size videos dealing with problems such as “nonsense chatter” and “’mad’ lying” costing as little as £5. The courses have been developed by highly experienced foster carers and adopters and have an authentic “we’ve been there, nothing can shock us” tone to them. You can find out more here: https://inspiretraininggroup.com/index.php/training-and-development/test
Parenting Attachment Challenged Children Home Study Course
A parenting course by American expert, Bryan Post. You can find out more about it here: https://postinstitute.com/store/parenting-attachment-challenged-children-hands-on-home-study-course/ and more about The Post Institute here: https://postinstitute.com/
It is quite expensive, and I have not seen any reviews of it, but I do know many parents who rate his approach, especially when it comes to dealing with stealing and lying.
Parenting our Children
Together with Family Futures, Adoption UK has developed a new parenting programme to replace their previous course, “It’s a Piece of Cake”. According to the Adoption UK website: “It has been designed to equip parents with knowledge and understanding of developmental trauma and give them the tools they need to parent children who have had experienced this(sic), along with attachment issues.” You will need to be assessed beforehand, and the course can be funded by the Adoption Support Fund.
After Adoption also offer a therapeutic parenting programme for adoptive family. It consists of a family session (based on Theraplay®), a 4-day parenting programme, followed by ongoing parent support groups. You can find out more here: http://www.afteradoption.org.uk/i-am-thinking-about-adoption-support/as-an-adoptive-family/safebase/
Therapies and Courses are presented in alphabetical order and not in order of importance or efficacy or any other subjective measure.
All pictures used in this article are stock photos and are not directly associated with any of the therapies or courses mentioned.