Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Finding a Therapist Print
Getting Professional Help

Since most of our children's attachment symptoms looked like "normal" infant/toddler behaviors, we strongly encourage adoptive parents to consult an attachment therapist automatically, much as the healthy child is taken for well-baby check-ups. Yet then comes the tough part: how do you find someone qualified to evaluate the attachment health of an infant or toddler? One adoptive mom relates her story of trying to receive help with attachment:
The lady in Membership Services at our provider says that I just have to relay my concerns to a therapist in their mental health department and the therapist can make the referral. I called and told the therapist what was going on and what I wanted. She said, "We don't really DO attachment therapy. I've actually never even heard of an 'attachment therapist'." Why am I not surprised?

But wait, it gets better! "She's only, hmmmm, 23 months old. We wouldn't even SEE anyone that young," she says. No, of course not. Let's wait until the problems are 10 times harder to cure!

"I could make YOU an appointment, if you think that would help?" With you? I highly doubt it.

Now for the kicker--"I can't give you an outside referral because we don't offer that kind of therapy." Um, am I on Candid Camera? So let me get this straight--if you OFFERED attachment therapy for 2 year olds, you'd GIVE me an outside referral? But since you don't offer the therapy I need, you CAN'T refer me to someone who does? Of course.

Her main issue is that they only cover mental health services for short-term issues, not long-term issues. Since she's not really familiar with attachment issues, I'm not sure how that qualifies her to decide whether we'll need short- or long-term services.
How entirely frustrating! And given that experience, many parents may naturally gravitate to their adoption agency staff or pediatricians, who are often untrained in the subtle signs that reflect a young child's attachment health. Many trained therapists, including those versed in reactive attachment disorder symptoms in older children, may be unacquainted with the symptoms in babies/toddlers…or even deny the possibility that they exist. Even international adoption specialists that specialize in physical health may not be well-versed in mental health issues encountered in int'l adoption. A specialist in physical health does not necessarily equate a specialist in mental health. One adoptive mom shares her story:
Before I took my son to the highly reputable international specialist in our area, we were already in attachment therapy with our baby. Our therapist sent us to the specialist to look into physical issues our son was experiencing. The international specialist was wonderful. She helped us uncover feeding problems and had us seeing a feeding therapist in less than a week; on my own or through any other doctor it would have taken up to six months just for an evaluation with a feeding therapist.

We discovered our son has acid reflux and other intestinal problems. The international specialist was thrilled and chalked up all of his poor attachment symptoms to the acid reflux. In her mind there was no other concern. She felt he was very much attached. But she did not go home with us. She did not see that he was very anxious, that he wanted me desperately only to push me away, that he could not trust me and tried to live in his little world where he could take care of himself. An hour with this international adoption pediatrician did not give a true picture of what attachment related issues look like. She saw a very happy, playful boy who nestled into his Mommy's neck when she greeted him. How wonderfully attached he looked! I am often saddened when I learn that other moms are also concerned and don't go further than seeing an international specialist. Ours was and still is wonderful when it comes to getting us services that our son needs for physical issues, but I do not trust that she is experienced in the emotional areas we are working on every day. (a. 6mo, FC)
So, now what? You need to get your child a routine attachment check-up, but where do you start? We believe you start with professionals who have known track records with successfully treating babies/toddlers. They are out there! But you must be very clear on what you want: a mental health professional who has successfully diagnosed and treated babies/toddlers with attachment spectrum disorders.

One mom's reflections:

After our experience, I know that the right therapist can make all the difference.

For us, therapist #1 knew what an attachment disorder was,
therapist #2 knew how to FIX it!

#1 had kids at home with attachment disorders and related a lot to our struggles,
#2 had worked with a child (also in her home) with an attachment disorder and could relate stories of success...telling us how she FIXED certain behaviors.

#1 sympathized when the going got rough,
#2 told us what to do & say when the going got rough.

#1 would listen to a behavior and say that we may need to settle on lessening some behaviors rather than on permanently fixing them,
#2 would listen to a behavior and give us ideas A,B, & C on how to change the behavior. Usually A worked and we didn't even need B & C.

When we left the office of #1, we often felt like we knew as much as she did, just from our own reading.
When we leave the office of #2, we feel like we've just been to an attachment intensive workshop.

If I were looking for a therapist, I wouldn't stop until I could find someone who:

1. Was very educated about attachment disorders (I'd interview them!)

2. Had worked with many attachment disordered children under the age of 2 (if I was bringing a young child in.) If I was bringing an older child in, I'd want to know how many kids they had worked with who had "graduated."

3. Could teach me parenting skills designed specifically for kids with attachment disorders....because just about every parenting technique ever invented does not work and does not apply to attachment disordered children.

4. Would demonstrate right in the office exactly what to say and do with the behaviors. I still remember our first meeting with therapist #2. She noticed that my son was crawling in and out of our laps. She called the behavior on the spot and told us exactly what to do and say to him. She does that all the time. Now we're all trained!

5. Could articulate some knowledge about early trauma/separation and the affects it has on the brain.

6. Supports holding therapy and could confidently teach it in the office.

I KNOW that if we had stuck with therapist #1, we'd still have an attachment disorder!!!!! Here we are, only one year into #2, and we're almost "cured!"
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