Yesterday I attended a 3 hour workshop offered by the “grandfather” of adoption psychology, Dr. David Brodzinsky. His book, Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, from 1991, is still one that I recommend to members of the adoption constellation. His workshop reviewed his decades of research and clinical interventions. Although the workshop had enough meat to really be a week long intensive I was excited to review old but important concepts. Mainly his identification with grief and loss in the adoption system, especially “disenfranchised grief”, and its impact on all members of the constellation. He acknowledged that there are many many other concerns and issues that are present in adoption but grief and loss are not to be forgotten. Another interesting perspective for me was experiencing the workshop within a majority Caucasian crowd – many of whom self identified as adoptive parents. After the St. John’s Adoption Initiative Conference and its diversity of perspectives I realized, again, how crucial it is to continue to offer the St. John’s and other conference like it where adopted person and original family perspectives are offered directly and with great respect. I am not implying that other conferences are not respectful, rather, historically speaking, many adoption conferences are products of adoptive parent viewpoints and stances. St.John’s Adoption Initiative and the growing adopted person as professional movement offers much needed balance.
Some may recall that in September the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) submitted the following letter to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. I am pleased to say that I had an opportunity to speak with one of the conference organizers and not only did we have a productive conversation but she also offered recommendations for future panel presentation best practices.
The letter sparked interest by a DC metro area adoption agency, Adoptions Together, to request that I lead a three hour CEU workshop on this topic for their staff. I was enthusiastic to put together this workshop and present on October 16, 2012. Please see the workshop summary below:
Adoption and child welfare agencies historically have offered panels comprised of adopted persons, birth parents, and/ or adoptive parents, to train prospective adoptive families and other social service or mental health professionals. Little is known about best practices when offering such panels. Potential ethical issues surrounding confidentiality, dual relationships, conflicts of interest and testimonials for advertising are often under examined if recognized at all. This 3 hour workshop will address ethical issues and solutions to common potential pitfalls that agencies increasingly encounter. Specifically, the workshop aims to address the following:
- Review the ethical codes of conduct for the four major mental health professions as they relate to adopted person, birth/first parent, and adoptive family publicity
- Offer best practice guidance on selecting, preparing for, and debriefing panel participants
- Explore how to best utilize both the personal and professional perspectives of each member of the triad in agency practice
- Consider alternatives to panel presentations and testimonials for recruitment and advertising purposes.
The workshop was engaging and thought provoking for both the participants and myself. Most exciting was the agency director announced by the end of the workshop that systemic agency changes such as consent forms and post panel mental health check ins would be applied immediately in preparation for an upcoming panel.
A summary of best practice guidelines are below:
- A careful review of each helping professions codes of ethics in regard to dual relationships and testimonies must be in place PRIOR to using panel participants.
- Agencies/ child welfare groups should create “panel committees” to review ethics, appropriateness of panel candidates and usage, and plan for pre, during, and post training and mental health safeguards.
- Consent forms outlining both the risks and benefits of panel participation should be issued, reviewed, and signed by the panel participants prior to the actual panel engagement. Consent forms should be placed in participants’ agency files with additional documentation of the consent review process, the individual risks and benefits to the potential participant, and a safeguarding plan for mental health care.
- Training and preparation for panels should follow the Case Family Programs and Foster Care Alumni Strategic Sharing recommendations.
The APRC will soon issue a policy statement offering these best practice guidelines with the goal of national agency support and eventual implementation.
I promise that I will get to journal summaries soon! But in the interim I share a letter that the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC), www.adoptionpolicyandreform.com, sent to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration today in response to the use of adopted person testimonials. These testimonials were offered as part of the SAMHSA sponsored Domestic and International Adoption: Strategies to Improve Behavioral Health Outcomes for Youth and Their Families forum that took place August 29th and 30th in Rockville, MD. I was one of the representative’s of the APRC at this meeting. I was greatly concerned about the testimonials, their purpose, and potential exploitative nature. In response the APRC submitted a letter outlining the ethics from the major, non – medical mental health associations, including the American Counseling Association, as they applied to testimonials. I strongly feel this action needed to be taken although I am prepared for push back. If you are interested in reading the letter here is the downloadable link:
Part of being a doctoral student includes building your professional identity. I am often asked “how is professional counseling different than psychology or social work?” So to begin I looked up the American Counseling Association’s definition of counseling. ACA describes counseling as the following:
Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.
I never intended to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. I completed a master’s program in Rehabilitation Counseling where one pursues a different credential than the LPC. But in time I grew into the role. I especially liked the strengths based, non pathological, foundation in counseling principals. It seemed to mesh well with what I intuitively knew about people, even after working with persons with severe and chronic mental illness, and about myself as a person. It definitely couples well with the “survivor brain” idea I often talk about.
If you are interested in more information about the American Counseling Association please visit http://www.counseling.org/
This blog is time limited to run concurrently with my research practicum for my doctoral studies. So come December, I will determine if and how I will continue. My main goal for this blog is to disseminate journal information related to adoption counseling and adoption clinical research. Given that I attend adoption related conferences full of good information – there may be posts about those too. My hope is that this blog will keep me motivated to review and summarize journal articles so that more than 5 people read them. I read somewhere on FB (I forget exactly where) that only 5 people, including the authors’ mothers, read journal articles. Hopefully this blog will get important information out to those interested. I welcome any journal suggestions and comments too! Please send them my way.
Thanks for reading,