Oct 06, 2016
by Julie McGowan, LMSW, Family Counseling Supervisor and Therapist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Holland
When you think “therapy,” do you picture lying on a couch, being psychoanalyzed, as you talk about your childhood? Surely this can’t be appropriate for your foster child…?
Good news—therapy has come a long way since the days of Freud!
Many therapists offer family-centered, play-based, trauma-informed therapy for children and families. This type of therapy allows children to speak in their primary language (play) in order to express feelings, process life events, and increase regulation and coping skills… all of which help decrease behavioral and emotional outbursts. It also offers an opportunity for children to process relationships and improve attachment and attunement between themselves and foster parents, biological parents, and siblings. Family therapy can also offer a place for parents (foster, adoptive, and biological) to better understand their child as well as learn and implement effective parenting strategies.
As a foster parent, it is crucial that you are involved in therapy with the child in your care. Sometimes this will mean being in the room for the session. Sometimes it will mean giving the therapist an update and getting an update from the therapist at the end on how the session went.
When I begin therapy with a child, I meet with the parent first to gain background details and reasons for counseling. Next I meet with the child alone (if they are willing) so I can begin building a relationship with them. After I have assessed the child’s needs and ensured that everyone is comfortable with the therapy process, I may do some joint sessions with both parent and child and some individual sessions with the child and/or parent based on need.
While there is no one “right” way to do it, it is important that you are communicating with the therapist and have a good understanding of how treatment will proceed and why the therapist believes this is what is best for the child. Ideally, biological parents would also be involved in therapy, although this tends to happen less often while the child is placed outside of the home due to all of the other things biological parents are being asked to do during this time.
Determining if and when your foster child needs therapy
Every child in foster care (that is an appropriate age for therapy, typically 3 and above) should be assessed by a therapist after being placed in your home. Foster care is a huge adjustment for both the child and the foster family, and everyone involved could benefit from the added support a therapist can provide.
If you are wondering if a child in your home needs treatment, watch for these three indicators:
- The child is displaying behaviors that do not appear to be typically age-appropriate, and they are causing disruption to their daily life
- The child is overly compliant and does not display any behaviors or emotional outbursts (the child has been removed from their home…there should be some emotional or behavioral reaction to that.)
- You are struggling with parenting or connecting with the child.
If you are noticing any of these situations or feel you are in need of added support, seek out a therapist in your area.
Finding a trauma-competent therapist
When seeking out a therapist it is important to find someone who has experience working with both kids in foster care and kids who have experienced trauma—both of these impact the type of treatment that might be needed. It is also important to find a therapist who is comfortable working with the foster care triad (child, foster family, birthfamily). The following resources can help you find a therapist that is a good fit:
- Other foster parents—those who have received therapy services can recommend therapists and agencies.
- Your child’s case worker—they often refer children to therapy services.
- Bethany’s Post-Adoption Contact Center—can refer families to therapists competent in grief, loss, and trauma.
If for whatever reason, you are not comfortable with a therapist or feel that it is not a good fit for you or your child, ask for a different one. It is crucial that both you and your child are able to have a good relationship with the therapist.