Narrator: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. Now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Tera: Welcome back to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Today, we’re privileged to have Carol Lozier to discuss how to select a therapist for your child. Carol is a well-respected licensed clinical social worker in Louisville, Kentucky who specializes in counseling those who’ve experienced trauma. She’s the author of several books actually, all of which I own. “The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide: How to Heal Your Child’s Trauma and Loss,” a devotional book called “Devotions of Comfort & Hope for Adoptive Moms,” and she also has a Bible study out for kids called “Clothed in Armor.” In February, she’s going to have a new book out called “DBT: Therapeutic Activities Ideas For Working Teens.” That’s awesome, Carol.
Carol: Thanks. Thank you so much.
Tera: Yeah, thanks for being here today. You know, when it came time for us to find a therapist, we didn’t know where to begin. Before we jump into that “how to select a therapist,” maybe our first question to you today is when and why should I consider counseling for my adopted or foster child?
Carol: Okay, that’s a great question. Actually, I have a couple different answers. One, my first answer would be that you want to be prepared for anything that might come your way and for any child that has any kind of history of trauma or loss, we want to be prepared for those developmental milestones that come because with each developmental stage, kiddos might run into a snag. You want them to have a relationship with a therapist that you guys feel comfortable with as the parents and that the child feels comfortable with, and is a good match. You don’t want to wait until you’re in crisis and then start thinking, “Okay, who are we going to get to help our child?” You really want to research, be ready. Go ahead and schedule an appointment. I’ve even had families that have come in and just said, “Hey, we just want to have someone in case something comes up,” and I’m all in favor for that.
I meet the kids and then I say to the parents, “Yeah, I think they’re doing great. Keep doing what you’re doing,” or I might say, “Hmm, I think we have this one little issue we need to work on, and maybe do a session or two.” Then they don’t come back to me for sometimes several years, maybe until they hit adolescence or until something comes up. That’s one way to think about finding a therapist. Another is, you really want to look for, is my child having difficulty and are those symptoms or those behaviors that are coming up? On the one hand, it could be something that fits that developmental stage for the child, like for example, there’s lots of kids [inaudible 03:01] difficulty that have temper tantrums. Well for young kids, they have temper tantrums. That’s normal.
Carol: Especially three and four year old kiddos. They have lots of temper tantrums. Two, three, four, that’s prime time. What you’re looking for is, does the behavior fit with the developmental stage that my child’s in and is the intensity and the duration of the problem out of whack? Is it more intense or in longer duration for what is average for this aged child?
Tera: That is fantastic. That’s a great way to just step back and ask your family this question like, “All right, let me stand back and see what’s going on here at this developmental stage.”
Carol: Right. If you’re not sure about developmental stages and what average behaviors are, I love this series of books. When my kids were little, I used them all the time for my kids, and this is the work I do every day. We can’t remember every single developmental stage. We can’t remember, I’m sure there’s some people who can but I can’t, every single behavior that falls in. There’s a series of books based on children’s ages. It begins with “Your-One-Year-Old.” “Your-Two-Year-Old,” “Your-Three-Year-Old.” They’re particular for that age, and they’re written by Louise Bates Ames. I think the last book is for ages 10 through 13. The last book is sort of those ages altogether.
Tera: That’s a great resource, and very helpful because many times we have moms, or moms or dads, come to us and say, “Do you think this is an adoption issue or is this a three-year-old issue?”
Tera: Because we’ve parented a lot of three-year-olds, we’re like, “Total three-year-old issue.”
Lynette: In the teen years, it can get clouded when they’re trying to make life decisions.
Tera: I like what you said, Carol, about the development because you know at certain developmental ages, our children accept their story for what it is, but then at certain developmental ages, they’re thinking about it differently and their world view is a little bit different. It may be that things that didn’t bother them in the past are all of a sudden a huge trigger.
Lynette: They can resend it, right.
Carol: Absolutely, absolutely, and that’s especially true around the teen years. That’s why we want to start telling children their story at a very young age so they grow up, and life books are a wonderful way to do that, so they grow up with their story. One of the things I don’t even worry about when parents wait and wait to tell kids is, we don’t want to create any area where they can feel betrayed that the parent kept information from them. I like kids to know it as early as possible so they grow up with it, especially before those teen years because again, developmentally, the teen years are about identity and independence. They’re really looking at “where do I come from? Who do I look like? Where do I get these certain hobbies or strengths or weaknesses? Where does it come from?” Some of it is going to come from the adoptive family, or the foster family even, but part of it also is going to come from birth family. Kids are really looking at all of these qualities that they have in getting to know who they are.
Carol: It’s definitely going to come up to some degree in the teen years.
Lynette: That is so true, and we’ve seen that in our own family. There’s so many factors, though, to consider when you go to select a therapist. We didn’t really know where to begin, but if you could just help us today, Carol, like what questions do we ask? How do we get started? What track do we get on to pick the right therapist for our family?
Carol: Well, in particular with adoptive and foster families, you really want to choose a therapist who understands all the intricate details about a family, one that’s made up of adopted and/or foster kids. It needs to be a therapist who really understands those dynamics. You would hope in their practice that it’s at least 40% to 50%-
Lynette: That’s great.
Carol: Adoptive or foster families. That’s probably the first thing that you’re looking for, is what’s their experience. You would hope that they have a varied experience, but sometimes they may not because a varied experience comes from a lot of years.
Carol: Some young therapists are great, too. I was a young therapist, my daughter’s a young therapist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you want them to have been in the adoption community for a while. At least two or three years.
Tera: That’s a great point. So aside from the 40% to 50% of their clientele being adoptive or foster parents and having some experience, what’s something else that you really feel like is really important to look for in a therapist?
Carol: Well, I think the other important thing to look for is what type of therapy they use. There’s lots of great paradigms that we can use with adoptive kids, but we want it to be one in which you’re working on their past trauma and really helping to heal that while also working on current behavior and making behavioral changes. It’s got to be this great marriage between healing the past and working on the current.
Tera: That’s good. They can continue to move forward in their life. It’s not just continually thinking about or dealing with the past, but it’s dealing with the past and then by dealing with that, how does that help you grow as an individual-
Lynette: And move forward.
Tera: And move forward, right.
Carol: Exactly. Each therapist is going to have different ways that they’ve been trained. Again, as long as they have past and current ways of working with the child, then I think that to me is the most healing.
Tera: Do you find that many therapists don’t recognize adoption and foster care as an area of specialization?
Carol: Absolutely, absolutely, and it drives me absolutely, insane. There are so many times that I’ll see kiddos who have been in therapy for two or three years with a therapist who works with kids, but has little knowledge in adoption. They’re well meaning. They don’t realize that adoption and foster care is a specialty just like eating disorders, substance abuse, chronic mental health, all these areas that are specializations. Well, adoption and foster care is too. Sometimes I’ll even go to consultation groups or trainings and hear other therapists talk about how they have maybe one family that’s an adoptive family, and I just cringe. I’m just thinking, “Oh my gosh, that poor family.” While the therapist is well meaning, they don’t have the correct training to be treating that child.
Tera: Right. As far as when you bring in a new child into therapy, are parents in the room with you during therapy, or do you treat a child without the parents in the room? How does that work? I feel like it’d make me uncomfortable to send my child when I’m trying to attach and maintain that attachment to send my child in the wrong, but I don’t know. Is that wrong thinking?
Carol: Not at all. Traditionally, and gosh, when I went to school ages ago, I think it was ’89, the way I was trained and the way everybody worked with kids then, and I already was in the adoption arena at that point but the way pretty much everybody was working with kids and still do is to separate, even very little children. They’ll bring back into therapy by themselves and the parents wait in the waiting room. As far as working with an adopted or foster child, we always, for the most part until we hit those teen years, and even then sometimes I keep the families in the room quite a bit, but especially for younger than teen, we always want to keep the parent in the room with the child for quite a few reasons. One is to work on that attachment, and one of the ways that we work on attachment is as we’re working on the past, the parent will develop even more compassion and connection with the child because they’re hearing what the child went through.
Carol: They’re hearing not being fed when they needed to be fed, not being held when they needed, feeling neglected, feeling unloved, all the things that occur for kids when they’re in situations like that. It helps build the compassion and attachment. If the child does feel sad or begins to cry, the parent can be there-
Lynette: To comfort, yes.
Carol: To comfort the child. That’s not my role.
Lynette: Oh, I love that, Carol. That’s really, really important.
Carol: It is. Then the other piece is that sometimes parents are at a loss for how to set limits. They’re sort of a little lost with, “Okay, how do I do this therapeutic parenting thing?”, because it’s very different than traditional parenting. In the session, they see me doing that with their child, and they can kind of follow what I’m doing. It helps the parent see, “Oh, okay. I can tell my child, ‘Hey, buddy. Eyes on me.’” Listening ears, kind hands. They’re hearing all the ways that I’m talking with their child, and they can continue to do that at home.
Tera: So you’re not only doing therapy with the child, but you’re also helping train the parent-
Tera: To be a therapeutic parent at home on a daily basis.
Tera: Right. The both and there is really important because once a week or however often you see the child is not going to maintain those things if the parent is not being therapeutic at home.
Carol: Exactly. There’s a big different between traditional parenting and therapeutic parenting. Traditional parenting most of the time does not work well with kiddos who have trauma and wounds.
Tera: How would you describe therapeutic parenting?
Carol: Well, the contrast is traditional parenting is just kind of go with the flow, do what you grew up with. Do what you think you need to do in the moment. It’s pretty relaxed kind of parenting whereas therapeutic parenting is really very purposeful. You’re really thinking about, “Okay, how do I encourage this behavior? How do I reduce this one? What do I say here to help with my connection?” There’s not a lot of relaxation there.
Lynette: No, there’s not.
Carol: You got to be on your toes quite a bit.
Lynette: You have to bring your A-game to the therapeutic parenting.
Carol: Yes, absolutely. You have to be very purposeful with pretty much everything you do.
Tera: Carol, one of the questions I have is that because you’re looking for a therapist who has adoption experience and foster care experience, what if you live in an area that doesn’t seem to have anybody? I’m sure there are a lot of people in more rural areas that don’t have a therapist close by, so what do you do?
Carol: Mm-hmm. That’s a great question, and hopefully there are therapists who’d be willing to learn that are close by. The one thing that I would look for, even in a rural community, is therapists that work a lot with child protective services because child protective services, they are the body that oversees and removes kiddos. They have to refer to counseling often for foster kids. You want to first look at, where did the foster children in town go for counseling? There’s got to be at least one or two therapists in town who are serving those families.
Tera: That’s a really good point.
Carol: That’s what I would look for first, and then the other thing is, do you have a therapist who’d be willing to learn? They could read my book, they could read Karyn Purvis’s book. There’s so many books that are out there that a knowledgeable therapist could read and say, “Okay, I see what I need to do.” For example, when I was learning way back when about specializing more in adoption, I contacted Debora Grey and I said, “Hey, would you be interested in supervising me.” She was wonderful. She said, “Yeah, I’d love to.” I was in Louisville and she was in Seattle, and we would talk every other week. I would discuss cases with her, and she would direct me with, “Okay, try this, maybe do this idea.” I would consult with her and she would give me great help and feedback.
Tera: That’s really great. As a therapist, you can find people to be able to help you and train you up in this way. So you just really have to have a willing learner that would work with you and try new things. That’s a really great point. I am going to plug your book “The Adoptive & Foster Parent” handbook because I’ve referred that to a lot of people because it’s really, really practical. People who can’t seem to find a therapist close by, while you’re looking for a therapist, start here.
Tera: The practicality of that has been really beneficial to many families that have used it, so I really appreciate that.
Lynette: Carol, here’s what I need some direction on because I talk with families who are with a therapist and they’re not sure it’s going to work for their family, but how long does it take or how long do we give it to make sure that this therapist is a positive and comfortable fit for our family? How long do we give that?
Carol: Well I think within a session or two, the family would know whether or not they feel comfortable with that person. You do want to give that person a little bit of time to build that rapport with your child and your family, and also it’s going to take a little while for the therapist to get to know your family and begin to work on the past trauma, but also to give you some great ideas in terms of current behaviors. I would say by session four, you should feel like you’re headed in the right direction.
Tera: I think one thing that we as parents have to recognize and consider is that when you do find a good fit for therapy, when you start working on it that it’s an endurance factor, that we have to persevere through it. The Lord calls us to persevere and to endure to be able to help bring restoration to our children. Do you find often or ever that people just tend to give up because you start and you’re not seeing the results that you want to see-
Carol: I don’t think I see that that often because I think I’m also reminding families, “This takes time.” On average, depending on the issue, depending on the child and the family, but when you begin working on an issue, it could easily be six months to a year to work on some of those first levels of things that are coming up. Really it is, Tera like you said, it’s a marathon. Maybe at age six, you come in with your child for the first time and we work on as much as we can for a six-year-old. That doesn’t mean that we’ve gotten to everything and there’s full healing; it just means we’ve kind of put into place as much healing as we can, and then maybe you don’t come back for a couple more years. Then those issues will come up again at the next developmental stage, and we work on it again as much as we can for an eight-year-old. Then maybe when they’re 13 or 14, you come back. It’s not like it’s a “you start in therapy when they’re three and you don’t finish until they’re eighteen.” It’s a “you work on it, take a break, come back, work on it, take a break, come back.”
That’s why I really like for kids, as much as I can, I do want them to work hard when they’re here, but I also want it to be as fun as inviting as I can make it. For children who have trauma and loss, this is a lifelong thing. It doesn’t mean they’ll be in therapy every week for their whole life. What it means is, they will need to go back into therapy and work on things at every developmental stage. Things like maybe when they get married, maybe when they first have children.
Lynette: That’s when I’ve seen the triggers hit, yeah.
Carol: Yeah. Maybe a big one is when they first go away to college. I see that a lot. That really brings up abandonment for kids, even though it’s a natural time to move away. It’s a really, really tough one for kids.
Tera: Your initial point at the beginning of us chatting was making sure that you’re building a relationship with the therapist so that they can say, “You know what? I’m not just dealing well with this.” Then even when they’re in college to be able to say, “Hey Mom, I think I’m going to call Mrs. Lozier because I’m really struggling with this” and it’s not a big deal because they already know you.
Carol: Exactly, that’s right.
Tera: I think that’s so, so wise. You know, I think we really, as believers, remove the stigma that just because you go to counseling doesn’t mean that something terrible is wrong with you. The Lord gives us people in our lives to help us move past things. An example of that is in Exodus 17 when Joshua is fighting the Amalekites and Moses goes up with Aaron and Hur up to the mountain, and it says, “But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other. And his hands were steady until the going down of the sun, and Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” We have people in our lives that are going to need to help uphold our hands. Sometimes that person is a pastor, and sometimes that person is our counselor, and sometimes that person is our friend, but there should be no stigma whatsoever with this. We’ve just got to move on past that.
Carol: Absolutely, absolutely. Any of the people in our lives that are there to help us are a gift from God. He’s given all of us different gifts to help one another.
Tera: That’s exactly true. Well Carol, really quickly before we leave, I would like you to tell me, you’ve also written a Bible study for children called “Clothed in Armor.”
Tera: The reason that I bring this up is because we often say we can do lots of things but we can’t take the Lord out of it. Tell me a little bit about the Bible study that you have for kids and why you felt like it was so important to publish that.
Carol: Well, I started noticing with the kiddos that I worked with, I mean I always noticed spiritual warfare, but I really started noticing how out of their trauma, they were of course having lots of negative thoughts about themselves. I just really noticed how much Satan just loves to get in and stir up those negative beliefs. As Satan whispers those negative things in kiddos’ ears, they begin to believe them. I really felt like God placed on my heart the importance of writing this Bible study for children just to make, again, a fun way for kids to look at themselves and learn. I just felt the importance of helping kids see that these negative thoughts are not from God; they’re from Satan, and the importance of really seeing that they don’t have to believe it. They don’t have to believe these things, and just really being able to put on the armor of God to be able to fight that battle against Satan and his lies that he loves to tell all of us, but for kids, I think it’s even more important for them to recognize those are lies. Those aren’t the truths about who they are.
Lynette: What a perfect example, Carol, of the need to start establishing with a therapist or asking the questions, or make a step toward therapy for our children before even they come home, and before these triggers hit, these different levels of maturity. Middle school years are difficult, the teen years are difficult, launching from the home and leaving the nest is a difficult time for them. What a perfect example and some great wisdom you’ve shared with us today on getting all of that settled before the triggers set. We’re so grateful for your time.
Carol: Sure. Oh, I’m so glad you all invited me. Thank you.
Tera: Yeah, thanks so much, Carol.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Adopting & Fostering Home podcast, a ministry of the North American Mission Board and funded through the cooperative program. This month and through the end of the year, we would like to ask you to consider giving to the Minister’s Adoption Fund. This fund provides grants to southern Baptists ministers and missionaries who are adopting. By giving financially, you are able to be a part of seeing many children become beloved sons and daughters. For more information, visit sendrelief.org.