Friday, March 18, 2011

Attachment focused family therapy with foster/adopt children

What is attachment focused family therapy and why is it particularly important for foster/adopt children? Firstly, as a therapist who works with foster/adopt families, I am always cognizant that the focus of the therapy is on the healing power of the family - the empowerment of the parents in their relationship with their child - not on the child's 'issues' and her relationship with the therapist (as in child therapy).

This is most important when working with adopted children who have experienced relational loss and trauma, as a dyadic weekly 'bonding' with a therapist can easily disempower the parent and the sometimes fragile parent/child attachment, especially when the parent is "at their wits end "in knowing what to do. Also, when a 'safe haven' of a secure relationship with the parent is established, then past trauma can be processed more easily.

When a family comes into my practice it is usually due to a child expressing distressing and disruptive behaviors, which have been increasing in intensity of expression and in frequency. The parents/caregivers are often experiencing a mixture of anger, saddness and confusion and are at their' wits end' in knowing how to stop; reign in or 'control' the behavior, which is escalating without any compliance to rules or reason. Often the request of the parents, out of exhaustion and frustration, is to just fix my child!

Attachment family therapy focuses on a continuum of interventions practiced in session and at home. The goal is to address the child's acting-out behaviors (literally, the externalizing of unmanageable and distressing feelings and thoughts) together. This way the parent learns to focus on and attune to the feelings that the child is experiencing , at the same time putting a limit on the behavior. It might be something like: "WHOW! you are REALLY , REALLY. angry and frustrated that the homework is hard. You want to do it yourself. (pause) Hitting your sister because you are angry is hurtful and not OK. Maybe you can find a better way to express your anger when it is boiling up inside"

The therapy usually involves parent support sessions where the therapist meets just with the parents and then dyadic sessions with the child and one parent at a time. In this way the parents learn how to decode the child's behavior and practice at home and in session how to set strong, nurturing limits. The entire family learns new skills and engages in experiences of attunement (one of the hall marks of a healthy attachment in relationship).
Attunement is the experience of "feeling felt" by another person (which is reciprocal and has its foundations in the healthy infant/parent relationship) and "forms the nonverbal basis of collaborative, contingent communication" (Siegel, 1999).
The best reward for a child, who has been neglected; abused; traumatized or experienced multiple early relationship losses, is settling into a positive, stable, secure and attuned relationship with a loving parent.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Choosing Single parent adoption

My daughter came home the other day and began telling me about the number of children she had noticed in her school with divorced parents. She was clearly processing what this experience would be like as she said "I am glad I do not have to go through that." In the same week a good friend (who is recently divorced) and I were taking a walk and she asked me with a great deal of curiosity why someone would actually choose single parenting. How had I come to that decision? Both these conversations made me think deeply about how I had come to the decision to adopt my daughter and be a single parent. All of us who are single parents of adopted children have our own specific reasons and circumstances that bring us to this decision and I also think that there are some common factors.

The path to becoming a single adoptive parent is more likely to be a very conscious aware process, and is not just about your need to have a baby or a pleasant surprise when you realise you are pregnant.
In other words the ability to parent alone and provide for a family by yourself is considered deeply by most single adoptive parents I know, and ultimately, the joy of parenting and sharing your life with a child, often out weighs the challenges of parenting alone.

Often, the decision to be a single parent comes out of a lot of thought and introspection and scrutiny by yourself and all sorts of professionals! The copy of your bank statements; The Home Study; the baby proofing of your house and the multiple finger printings that occur is all part of this. You also have to wait and prepare for a very long time. You have to prove you can be a 'good' parent on paper, even before you have become one!

Also, for many adoptive parents I know, being a parent has come out of experiencing and resolving losses related to the unsuccesful attempts of forming a family in the traditional way. Making peace with the losses allows you the freedom to make the right and informed decision for youself and your child to be. This way being a parent comes out of a well thought out decision making process rather than just an emotional one. It makes space for joy.

Yes, single parenting is exceptionally challenging, as you have to do it all. And, I have to say, there are so many delights which I had not predicted. As the sole parent, I do not have to consult or interact with another parent's busy schedule or make allowances for their deficits or contradictory (to mine) parenting practices! Our schedule is fairly predictable and dependable. My daughter and I get to practice regularly, talking out our disagreements as there is no one else to go to take our side! There is also not the time or the tolerance to bare grudges or hold on to uncomfortable feelings. We also spontaneously make time to discuss and share the daily events of our lives in a very rich and meaningful way. What it will be like when she becomes a teenager? We will have to wait and see!

My daughter does not miss out on having a close relationship with a trustworthy kind adult male. She gets to experience the caring and support of adult male friends who love spending time with her on a regular basis while I am taking adult time for me. Living with a single mother or father does not have to be seen, or known, as a detrimental deficit to a child when there is a large loving supportive community surrounding the family. For this I am grateful.