Meet Adoption-Competent Therapist Michelle Collins
Michelle Collins, LCMFT is an Adoption-Competent Therapist serving foster and adoptive families in Baltimore at our NEW office in Towson, Maryland.
She is a graduate of the University of Maryland with an M.S. in Couple and Family Therapy. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a focus on Child Development and a B.A. in Hispanic Studies from East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. Michelle has experience working with children and adolescents struggling with issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and complex trauma. She has worked in various community settings providing group, individual, couple, and family therapy. She has received training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Play Therapy, Theraplay, and relationship enhancement therapy. Michelle is bilingual, fluent in English and Spanish.
Michelle was recently spotlighted in C.A.S.E.’s e-newsletter. Below, she provides some guidance to adoptive parents:
Q: Michelle, why is it important to seek the services of an adoption-competent therapist when concerns first arise and not wait until adolescence or when a crisis arises?
A: I am pleased to answer such an important, excellent question! I’d like to begin by stating that it is never too late to pursue adoption competent therapy. Adult adoptees and adoptive parents who have found previous therapy unhelpful or even hurtful may be understandably discouraged and skeptical, questioning why they should believe that “this therapy will work when previous therapy has not.”
Being proactive and engaging an adoption-competent therapist when concerns first arise in childhood can prevent problems from becoming worse. Many well-meaning parents ignore the “red flags” until their child reaches adolescence and difficulties reach a crisis point. For example, intervening early when a child is first beginning to have difficulties navigating friendships or developing lasting friendships, can prevent more serious consequences in adolescence. Teens who experience difficulties in peer relationships are at greater risk for depression and substance abuse. Armed with an understanding of how early trauma and loss likely has impacted their child’s ability to read social cues and respect boundaries, parents and therapist can work together to help the child to develop those necessary social skills.
Therapists who are adoption-competent have the training and experience that equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to provide effective treatment to members of the adoption constellation. For example, adoption competent therapists understand how a youth’s pre-placement history and unique experience of loss/grief and complex trauma, including breaks in attachment, can impact their emotional, social and cognitive, and behavioral growth and development. As adoption therapists, we consider how a child’s challenging behaviors may be rooted in fears around loss and rejection; lack of trust and insecure attachment. We then work with the child and family to understand the child’s early experiences to promote healing and family well-being.
In previous treatment, clients often tell us that they felt “blamed” and “left out” of the therapy. Adoption competent therapy is strengths-based and family-oriented. Parents are an integral part of treatment and always receive invaluable psychoeducation regarding the challenges they are experiencing with their children, which is empowering and supportive. In adoption-competent therapy, parents learn why the parenting approaches and behavioral interventions tried in previous treatment were completely ineffective and even harmful for children from compromised beginnings. For example, as they learn about the impact of trauma on the brain, parents are often relieved to understand that their child’s tantrums are likely driven by an inability to self-soothe (likely caused by early neglect). Parents are then receptive to learning trauma/attachment focused parenting skills.
Adoption competent therapy arms parents with knowledge about how adoption can impact adolescence. Parents can then provide their teen with the support needed to navigate issues related to identity and self-esteem. Adoption competent therapists assist parents to feel competent and confident in communicating and working with school personnel to understand what their child needs to be able to succeed in school.
A proactive approach allows families to receive guidance and support before they feel completely overwhelmed by a teen’s extreme behavior. Borrowing the lovely Chinese proverb from C.A.S.E., “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” Let’s get planting!