I recently have had an influx of children who are adopted in my practice. This has reminded me of the unique challenges that families of adopted children face and that play therapy is extremely well-suited for them. Not only does it give kids the opportunity to address their experiences, but it also provides a method that doesn’t require conversation. This is especially helpful for children who were adopted in infancy or toddlerhood, as their memories are subconscious.
One of the more common struggles for children who were adopted, especially from foreign countries, is that they must learn and develop healthy attachment. Filial therapy (training parents to use play therapy with their children) is especially helpful for this. As parents learn to unconditionally accept their children, and encourage communication through the natural process of play, kids begin to let their parents in, realize that they are safe, and that they long for healthy interaction.
Another common occurrence observed in children who were adopted is hoarding behavior, especially with food. This is well-suited for play therapy as well, because the play room is full of items and foods that the child can take, hide, control, use, and practice letting go of the need to stock pile things. Over the course of weeks, children realize that it is safe to trust people and places. They also learn that there are healthier ways to communicate their need for attention, care, and nurturing.
Although there are adoptions of newborns for whom this is not the case, there is almost always a history of trauma to some degree in children who are adopted. This is either due to neglect, abuse, insufficient attachment, or being removed from the care of biological parents. These experiences are usually too difficult to understand and become underlying issues as children grow older. Play therapy allows them to rewrite the ending, create a different narrative, rehearse the memories, or practice dealing with the situation so that it no longer seems as confusing, difficult, or scary.
Children who are adopted have their own unique challenges based on their circumstances. However, play therapy is well-suited and well-received. They have already been given a happier home environment, and through therapy they will become more well-adjusted and happy.