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COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on the Core Adoption Issues

Probably the most popular thing I have ever written is the blog on the 7 Core Emotional Issues in Adoption. It has been on my site since 2014, but I still regularly get emails from people who found that blog and just wanted to share with me that they felt seen by what I had written and often that they were able to make new connections between their behaviors, feelings, and past experiences. (I should probably update the image on that blog which feels very 2014 in design).

As we started hunkering down to shelter in place, I watched carefully the reactions of adoptees - adults and children - and how those were different from non-adoptees. While we have observed regression in children across the board, many young adoptees are responding positively to more time with family and having to navigate fewer relationships. Cocooning is very helpful during adoption adjustment, but several families are now re-thinking “normal” and how to integrate what is working now even when restrictions are lifted. Adult adoptees and birth parents on the other hand may find they are struggling with restrictions and isolation. Recently, I was asked to lead a discussion for the Indiana Adoptee Network and we talked about many ways this pandemic is touching on the Core Emotional Issues in Adoption. 
Core Adoption Issues in COVID-19 pandemic


Adoption in itself can be a trauma, not to mention the traumas that may have led to needing adoption or the traumas that may have occurred while waiting for adoption. It is not surprising that a child placed in the care of strangers who may not look like anyone else he or she has ever seen and may speak an entirely different language feels afraid. *The more fear one has experienced, the more likely one is to react with fear to experiences in the future.* There are many things to fear in this pandemic, but adoptees and birth parents may find that they have more fear reactions than others. A common fear for both adoptees and birth parents is searching for each other and finding a grave; with so much death right now that fear has only been magnified. One birth mother shared that she was afraid she would not even be notified if something happened to her child. 


In adoption, major, life-altering decisions are made for the adopted person and sometimes for the birth parents, often without their consent. It is no wonder that those impacted by adoption often have a need to control certain things. This can play out differently for different people and may be recognized in anxiety disorders, dysfunctional relationships, eating disorders, etc. Some who control their environment are finding it distressing right now to not have access to the cleaning products they usually use. Some may find they are very resistant to restrictions because it feels like control. In our discussion though it was agreed that trying to control things can be exhausting, especially as this pandemic is teaching us that there is almost nothing in life that we can truly control. 


Just like with fear, all subsequent losses are a reminder of past losses. No matter the details of the adoption, the age at which adoption occurred, or whether there are "memories" of the birth family, loss is a major component of adoption. Loss of the birth/first family can be extremely powerful even if the child was placed with the adoptive family at birth. Loss of culture can complicate identity issues, particularly in transracial adoptions; however, this loss may not be able to be fully grieved until children reach adolescence and sometimes even adulthood. Loss of country, language, etc. can be involved in international adoptions.
Each subsequent loss is more powerful and may be experienced more powerfully than others might expect. During this pandemic, we are grieving several losses: places we wanted to go, trips we had planned, people we miss, changes in employment, and deaths. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but those with a history of loss may be feeling especially fragile right now. 


Adoptees and birth parents both carry guilt and shame for different reasons. The shame experienced when rejected by a potential date is nothing compared to feeling rejected by one's mother. Some believe that their behavior was the cause of rejection or abandonment. Some believe that they do not have value and were not good enough a or cute enough. This is too heavy of a burden for anyone, especially a child, to bear in my opinion. Birth parents often carry guilt or shame for not parenting. Enduring feelings of guilt may lead to a greater likelihood of experiencing guilt in the future. One specific concern right now is the potential to unknowingly spread COVID-19, causing someone else to fall ill or even die. 


While these are separate ideas, they can play out very similarly. Even when we know that an adoption plan was created out of love and with the child's best interests in mind, it doesn't mean that the adoptee (child or adult) doesn't feel rejected or abandoned. Birth parents may have experienced rejection or abandonment by others in their life as a result of events surrounding pregnancy and adoption. Rejection and abandonment are fears both birth parents and adoptees have in search and reunion. Often when an individual feels he or she has been rejected or abandoned in the past, they are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop with the next person. While they may rationally understand why friends and family members do not want to see them while social distancing, it can still feel like rejection or abandonment. 


Many times it is relationship or marital issues that cause adult adoptees to seek out counseling services initially. Often adoption issues are the cause of relationship issues, but sometimes they simply exacerbate the concern. One reason for this is that it is often not until late 20s-mid 30s (depending on a variety of factors) when we are neurologically developed enough to fully process all the complexities and impacts adoption has had on one's life. Feeling cut off from close relationships - friends and family members - may be especially painful for adoptees and birth parents. 


"Where do I fit?" Is a question that many adoptees ask again and again from a very early age. Even in same-race infant adoptions, children seem to innately understand that genetics contributes to who they are and what they will become. When adopting across country borders or racial lines or at an older age, the question of identity becomes even more complicated. If we have used a job or an activity or a social group to help define identity, feeling cut off from those things may be extra distressing. We were also able to discuss how holding on to things that feel like a part of one’s story can lead to hoarding-like behaviors when there is a greater need for identity development. 
Indiana Adoptee Network is open to all members of the triad (including those outside of Indiana). In place of the conference this year, they are hosting a series of Friday night “Happy Hour” online events

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4 Types of Music Used in Therapy

Therapists may integrate any of these four types of music into your sessions for part or all of the counseling session to specifically reach your brain and enhance your brain’s healing capacities. Music Therapy, on the other hand, is the use of creating music, singing, moving to, and/or listening to regular music as a part of therapy. 

Bi-lateral music is used as a part of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The sound alternates between the left and right sides of the head in a steady, rhythmic pattern. The rhythmic shift is predictable and can be alerting to some. 

BIO-lateral music was created by Dr. David Grand, the developer of Brainspotting (BSP), and is used as a part of Brainspotting therapy. It is hand panned to increase in volume in the left ear then decrease in volume before slowing increasing in volume in the right ear then decreasing, back and forth…rocking gently between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It is intended to be played through headphones at a very low, almost imperceptible volume. Many people find it calming while also deepening access to the midbrain for deeper processing. 

Bilateral and Biolateral music can be found readily online and through popular music platforms; however, it is always recommended that you try it first in the presence (physical or via Telehealth) of an attuned therapist to determine how your brain is likely to respond. If you and your therapist believe it fits for your process, you may use them at other times during your week or you may only use these types of music while working with your therapist. While the two can easily be confused, they are different. I recommend searching for “David Grand” or “Brainspotting” if you are looking for biolateral music, although other options do exist. I believe these free options qualify as biolateral 

Safe & Sound Protocol (SSP) uses prosodic vocal music that has been filtered to train the middle ear to tune out low frequency sounds which can be considered signals of danger, while tuning into high frequency sounds that signal safety, like human voices. SSP is a stand alone protocol recommended for those with trauma, autism, auditory sensitivities, etc. SSP is a protocol that requires oversight by a trained SSP provider. As a therapist licensed in Indiana and Massachusetts, I am able to work with individuals in those states through remote delivery. You can find other providers in your area here

Binaural beats is a technique of combining two slightly different sound frequencies, one in each ear, to create the perception of a single new frequency tone in the brain. Different frequencies are used to promote relaxation and positivity or concentration and alertness. While it can be used as a part of entrainment, binaural beats is not a part of a specific therapeutic treatment. Binaural beats are also readily available online. While some therapists have introduced binaural beats into the therapy process, it is not a part of any specific therapeutic process. Please proceed with caution if trying binaural beats. 


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Consumer Mentality v. Commitment Mentality in Adoption

This blog was originally posted at MLJadoptions in 2013. It is reposted with slight updates 

I am so grateful that I was asked to speak at NACAC again this year. Attending adoption conferences makes me a better parent by providing a bit of respite (thanks to wonderfully supportive parents that my child loves spending time with), re-inspiring and refocusing me on the most important aspects of adoptive parenting and the work I do, and creating opportunities to connect with adoption professionals, adoptive parents, and adult adoptees who can all offer important insight and support. I am particularly thankful for the confirmation provided by an international adult adoptee on parenting choices I have made while I was at NACAC this year. I hope more adoptive parents consider attending adoption conferences, especially those like NACAC geared towards adoptive parents striving to be the best that they can be by seeking out new information, new resources, and different opinions.

I have met some inspiring professionals by attending adoption conferences. This year I got so much more out of Maris Blechner’s session than I had even hoped. Her emphasis was on inspiring a commitment mentality in adoptive parents rather than the consumer mentality that is rampant in our society. She reminded us that we may not realize just how self-focused we are individually because the consumer mentality is so built in to our society. We are taught that ‘the customer is always right’ and if we don’t get what we want, complaining to the manager or calling the company out on twitter is likely to get us something for free. 
Adoption is a commitment that you enter into blindly, but it is no different than adding a child by birth. It is essential that adopting parents are committed to making it work, committed to parenting this child for the rest of their lives, and committed to parenting through the tough stuff. Parenting is the most important, most difficult job you will ever have and this can be even more true in adoption. Whether you add a child to your family through birth or adoption, you cannot guarantee personality, health (in the short term or the long term), or even physical resemblance. Commitment mentality is selfless and puts aside all of what we have dreamed and envisioned our child to be to meet him or her where he or she is, to love all that he or she is and all that he or she is not, and to do the hard work of parenting when it is difficult and not what you had envisioned. Commitment mentality leaves little to no room for disruption or rehoming.
Nearly all will immediately want to state that they come from a commitment mentality rather than a consumer mentality in adoption. In general we don’t like to face our entitlement. Commitment mentality faces head-on the struggles of adoptive parenting. Commitment mentality looks for the child’s needs before being concerned with the child’s behavior. Commitment mentality accepts the potential that the child’s age may be mis-approximated, health issues may be unknown, and you may learn about siblings that also need you at a later point.
I do believe there are some expectations you can have of your agency. You can expect honesty and responsiveness. You can expect ethical practices, but please do your homework. You can also expect that there are many aspects of the process that are as out of your agency's control as they are yours. There should be customer-service from an agency, but as far as the child is concerned, Mrs. Bletchner says, "there is no room or place for consumer mentality in any successful adoption." Because consumer mentality is so built into our culture, it requires constant vigilance to remain in a committed mentality. The child that joins your family is your child. Entering into the adoption process, you have committed to parenting and committed to this child. Claiming is an important part of helping your child feel safe and integrated into your family. While it is important for my son to hear my refer to him as "my son", it is even more important for him that my heart has claimed the role of "his mom". I am his; I have given myself to him, but it is up to him if he will claim me. No matter how difficult it may get, he can count on me.

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Start Right, Stay Connected: A One-Day Premarital Workshop

While wedding planning can be stressful, there is something so fun about an engagement and that first year as newlyweds. There is hope, excitement, and often lots of heart-warming appreciation and loving gazes. It has always been fun for me as to work with premarital couples and newlyweds. Typically marriage preparation counseling and education programs are completed prior to the wedding, but research supports that the window of opportunity can last into the first year of marriage and will reduce the chances of divorce and increase marital satisfaction, both immediately and long-term. 

  • In 2003, Carroll & Doherty found 92% of couples reported premarital counseling helped during their first year of marriage. Four years later, 80% still reported premarital counseling was helping in their marriage. 
  • In 2004, the same researches found that those who participated in a premarital education program were significantly better off afterwards than 79% of those who did not participate. 
  • In 2006, Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markham found that premarital education increased satisfaction and commitment in marriage and reduced conflict and likelihood of divorce regardless of race, income, and education. 

I believe so strongly in premarital counseling and education, that I will not officiate a wedding unless a couple has completed a premarital counseling/education program. (Yes, I am also an ordained wedding officiant - I love weddings!) Those who participate in premarital counseling and/or premarital education programs report they are better at resolving conflict, better able to communicate effectively, feel a stronger connection, and are ore satisfied with their relationship than ever before. One thing I appreciate is that if couples do come back to work through a conflict or issue later on, it usually takes us much less time to do so than it would with other couples, primarily because they already have the knowledge and skills needed to work through conflicts; they simply need a bit of support and guidance. In so many ways, premarital counseling and education can save you money. 

In 2019, I will be offering my first premarital counseling/education workshop. Start Right Stay Connected is a program founded on the most recent research as well as the clinical experience of hundreds of marriage counselors from around the world. In this one day workshop, engaged and newly married couples will learn 

  • Powerful communication skills 
  • Practical tools for relationship “hot buttons”
  • Effective (and peaceful) conflict resolution
  • How to remove negativity from the relationship
  • How to keep romance alive, nurture, and grow your relationship
  • And we will have fun too

Start Right, Stay Connected is relationship education, not therapy, and includes lectures, demonstrations, couple’s dialogues in break out rooms, and written exercises. There are many opportunities for group sharing, but the seminar emphasizes partners’ sharing privately with one another. You are not required to share anything with the group except for a brief introduction and closing.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


447 E. 38th Street

Indianapolis, IN  46205


$300 per couple (less than two individual sessions)

Coffee, tea, water, and snacks provided


Register here and choose any date (quirk in the system)

For more information



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Inviting Your Partner to say YES to what You Want

One of my big takeaways from the 2018 Imago Conference was this quote taken from a dialogue created by Kelly Patton, LMHC. She wrote, “ask for what you need ~ in a way that invites your partner to want to give it to you”. Now Kelly was referring to sharing how you want your partner to show up when you are sharing something difficult, but I think this instruction of intention is packed with so much power and possibility. 

We all know that if you are wanting to experience some physical intimacy with your partner, there are ways that you can suggest that which are more appealing to your partner than others, ways that are more likely to get you want you want. And there are ways that you can ask for what you want that do not inspire your partner to give it to you or may even turn them off. What may be an exciting invitation to you may not be appealing to your partner. It’s not just your words, but your tone, body language, etc. The same is true for just about anything we communicate. 

When I was working in Community Mental Health as a new therapist, I also taught dance classes to reduce stress and make ends meet. I have danced with complete beginners and with professionals; I even had to learn to lead a little. I tried to teach my students that a good lead is an invitation. In dance the communication is primarily through body language. The lead should invite the dance partner to do a turn or a move, but the lead should not physically force the partner to follow. In the same way, the lead has to be clear enough that the dance partner wants to follow it. If done well, an experienced follow can “quit thinking” and simply follow the lead smoothly, sometimes even with eyes closed. Sometimes the “fancy” dancers are pushing and pulling their partner through the moves. While there will always be a few newer follows who enjoy feeling like they did something they don’t know how to do, the majority of follows don’t want to dance with that lead (it can be painful!). We also don’t want to dance with the lead who is unclear, causing all kinds of confusion. I would much rather dance with someone doing a lot fewer fancy things but leading them well, inviting me to follow. 

When you ask your partner for something, ask in a way that invites your partner to want to give it to you. You could be asking for help with the dishes, to attend a relationship workshop together, or to try something new in the bedroom. There are many ways to ask for all of these things that will not necessarily inspire your partner to want to say yes. How can you use your words, your tone, and body language in a way that truly invites your partner to want to say yes to your request? 


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Effective Listening Skills can MOVE Your Relationship Forward

Communication seems to be the #1 thing that couples want to improve in their relationships, or the lack of communication is what they see as causing problems in their relationship. Often there are lots of words exchanged, but not the kind of communication that raises consciousness, inspires empathy, and creates connection. For productive communication, I encourage couples to trade in the ping-pong style of communicating that most of us are familiar with for a style of communication that actually MOVEs things forward. You can change the conversation simply by how you respond. The acronym MOVE can help jog your memory about the steps involved.

The first skill to master is how to be an effective Mirror. When we listen to our partners, it is important that we leave behind our opinions, assessment, and perceptions, and travel into the foreign world that is our partner’s experience. I was once told a story about an American woman who traveled to China, expecting that people would speak English, and frustrated that she could not find french fries - don’t be that traveler. When visiting a foreign country a good dose of curiosity will make for a more enjoyable experience (for you and the locals). Effective communication requires that you are getting what your partner is saying. Mirroring is as simple as listen and repeat, but it is so powerful. Sometimes it is important for your brain that you say the words your partner says, and sometimes it is important for your partner’s brain to hear the words that he or she just said. Even if your partner says “the sky is purple and gravity makes trees grow up”, all you need to say is “If I’m getting you, the sky is purple and gravity makes trees grow up. Did I get it?” A curious traveler will want to know how your partner came to those conclusions; be curious. 

The next listening skill is keep doing it; listen and mirror, on and on and on until your partner has shared everything he or she can on that topic. For effective communication you want to take long turns (or extended trips into your partner’s world), taking things to a deeper level. In my office I remind couples that we don’t want to communicate like playing the card game “war” where we lay cards immediately after one another (practically at the same time), the game really does go on and on, and no one ever wins. At first people sometimes think that I am slowing down their communication, but in actuality this method is quicker because it is actually productive. Instead of playing “war”, I am reminded of playing “Phase 10” with my kiddo. “Phase 10” is a version of rummy where you have to lay down the entire phase at one time. On my turn, I may lay down the 8 cards needed for 2 runs of 4 and discard a ninth card, then on his turn, my kiddo may lay down his 8 cards for 2 runs of 4, lay a card on one of my runs, and discard his tenth card to win. Think long turns with as much information as possible. Remember to keep mirroring “on and on”. To do this, after your partner confirms that you got it, simply ask “Is there more?” (with curiosity of course!)

The third listening skill is Validation. Even if your partner believes the sky is purple and misunderstands gravity, using “on and on”, you likely were able to figure out how he or she came to those conclusions. If you are curious and willing to understand your partner’s perspective, you will be able to say “that makes sense”. Even if you do not agree, your partner really wants to hear that you understand their perspective. Beyond “that makes sense”, ideally you will be able to give your partner more detail such as ‘it makes sense that you feel scared and angry when I slam a door accidentally given the fact that your father slammed doors when he would leave and not come home for the night.’ The more you can connect to what your partner has shared with you, the more powerful your validation will be. 

Finally a good listener will Empathize. Empathy connects us to our partner’s emotional experience, and building connection in a relationship is so important. I use two phrases to help couples communicate empathy, “I imagine when that happened you felt…” and “I imagine right now you are feeling…”. Allow them to clarify (in all steps of this process), and ask if there are any other emotions that you may have missed. One important hint is that emotions are just one word (i.e. angry, sad, disgusted, nervous, excited, etc.). When people say ‘I feel that…’ what they are really sharing is how they are trying to make sense of something. With emotions, keep it simple - it can be profoundly powerful that way. 

M - Mirror
O - on and on
V - Validation
E - Empathy
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How to Talk to Your Child about School Shootings with Indy With Kids

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