Monday, July 11, 2011

Raising a Healthy Adopted Child: Therapy

Ah, therapy. While it used to carry a stigma, it is very common now for people, both adults and children, to be in therapy at some point in their lives. For our emotionally fragile children, elements of psychotherapy can greatly help them sort out their emotions, as well as provide an outlet for their anger or frustration. There are so many kinds of therapies, and we will cover Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapies later in July.

Psychotherapy, or personal counseling with a psychotherapist, is an intentional interpersonal relationship used by trained psychotherapists to aid a client or patient in problems of living. (Wikipedia)

Many adoptive parents, myself included, turn to counseling to help them cope with the demands of their child. And while this therapy can prove invaluable to the parents, the child can also benefit. Many aspects of therapy can be integrated into a child's life as a simple "extra activity" like swim lessons or art class.

Here are seven common therapies that can help an adopted child (and her parents):
  • Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is often used with babies who are abnormally tense or fearful. We used massage therapy on Mae when she was about two, and within a few sessions, she went from arching her back to completely melting into me when I held her. It was wonderful.
  • Play Therapy
Play therapy is the bread and butter of child therapies. For pre-verbal, or very shy, children, playing with specially chosen toys is a way to "work out" their sadness, fear, anger, or any other emotion. Our therapist suggested a dollhouse for Mae, equipped with Caucasian family people and an Asian baby.

She very clearly refused to play with the Asian baby, which was a surprise but was also a valuable way for her to express her anger at being different. As she matured, she began to choose Asian dolls over Caucasian ones, but as a toddler, it clearly upset her and needed to be "played out." Interestingly, when we put our four-year-old son into Play Therapy after his sister came home, his play involved mommy animals leaving their babies behind in the forest. After many repetitions of the same game, he began to have a different animal mommy care for the abandoned baby. Heartbreaking, yet beautiful.
  • Music Therapy
Music Therapy is relatively new in the world of child therapies, though it has been used in other areas for years. Music's therapeutic benefits cannot be disputed, and while we never brought Mae to a therapist in this area, it was easy to observe her demeanor change from frantic to peaceful as soon as the Chinese lullaby CD started playing.  It still calms her, and I think learning more songs in Chinese school will both link her to her heritage as well as provide more ways for her to comfort herself.
  • Art Therapy
Art therapy, like music, is a newcomer to child therapies, but it too has shown to be beneficial.

It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight. (The American Art Therapy Association)

While we haven't explored this with Mae yet, it is clear that pummeling play doh and drawing are great ways to relax her. She will often draw the same picture, which is herself in our house with a tree and a sun. Very typical. Recently, she's begun drawing the same picture upside down - so that there are two pictures on the page, upside down from each other. When I asked her about it, she explained that the other picture was of her in China. Ah ... oh course. I do love art. 
  • Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy, the meat of all therapies, is often referred to as 'counseling.' Most children are too young for this type of therapy, which is why play therapy works so well for them. However, time marches on and I know the day will come when Mae will need to talk out some of her feelings with someone other than her mother. (I suppose we should start saving now...)
  • Narrative Therapy
I hadn't heard of Narrative Therapy til working with our counselor.

Narrative therapy holds that our identities are shaped by the accounts of our lives found in our stories or narratives. A narrative therapist is interested in helping others fully describe their rich stories and trajectories, modes of living, and possibilities associated with them. At the same time, this therapist is interested in co-investigating a problem's many influences, including on the person himself and on their chief relationships. (Wikipedia)

Fascinating, as Spock would say. Our therapist had us create a narrative for Mae by way of a simple Lifebook, softcover, with lots of room for growth and change. By reading this simple little book to her each night, or whenever she asked, she was able to learn the skeleton of her life story which naturally led to further probing about possible details. It is a constant process with our children - those "what if's" of their life before we met them.
  • Sleep Therapy
This form of therapy is perhaps the most common one for families regardless of how their children came into their lives! Our therapist's method of "sleep training" Mae was an arduous procedure of patting her back every 40 minutes, disturbing her 45 minute sleep cycle just enough to get her to sleep through it. Once you have a child who wakes screaming in terror every 45 minutes, you quickly value this avenue of therapy.

Our family has explored many of these therapies, not only with Mae, but with our sons as well. This is another area to recognize that many children suffer issues in their childhood and sometimes adoption has nothing to do with it! A sensitive child is just that - sensitive, and therapy may help.

What, if any, therapies have you explored with your child? Do you think therapy can help some of the issues your child faces, or are you dealing with them successfully on your own? 

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