Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Loss is a Loss is a Loss...Except When It's Not?

I find myself once again shopping for a therapist. My issues are not directly adoption-related they are more about aging alone with chronic illness and residual multiple traumatic stresses...but clearly adoption is a major part of life and my life's work.

So, day one with a new therspist.  She asks how many chidlren I have and I tell her that I had four and three are living. She asks the natural question: how and when did my child die.  Answer: Suicide in 1995 at the age of 27.

"That must have been very difficult" she commiserates appropriately.

Later on in her quest for details of my life, it becomes clear that the daughter who passed was not raised by me, but was lost to me originally into the adoption abyss in 1968.

This, however, is not met with equal compassion or sympathy that losing a child to death is, but rather with more questions about how old I was and basically why the loss occurred.

"So, you decided it was best, then"

"No. I was TOLD it was best."

Now, instead of feeling comforted, I felt combative and defensive.

I was also asked about the length and depth of my "relationship" with my daughter prior to her death - as if there is some mathematical formula to the accurately correlate the amount of times I met with my daughter to the amount of grief acceptable.  Are those of us who find a grave and never meet our deceased children better off or worse than I?

I felt the questions were far more curiosity driven - even tinged with judgment - surely more so than the reaction to a child who had died. Though both are tragic losses of a child, one seemed clearly to hold more responsibility on my part to my interrogator - or am I just being over sensitive?

If a client reveals in therapy that she was raped, for instance, is it good practice to immediately question how well the client knew her rapist, if at all?  How hard she fought or how loud she said no?  Or is it preferred to be more gentle and let those facts come out a bit more slowly?  Surely, the therapist's immediate reaction should be one of support for the horror of being raped regardless, and that should take primacy over an interrogation of the facts, should it not?

Now, mind you, this woman knew nothing out me. I may have been a psychotically abusive mother who drove my daughter to suicide. Yet she expressed sympathy at my loss to  death without interrogation. Not so a loss to adoption.  A loss to adoption seems not to deserve a simple "I'm sorry for your loss" or "that must have been awful." 

Of course, I don't know her wither or her personal conenction to adoption.  Should I ditch her based on these first impressions and seek another, kinder more compassionate therapist? Or should I stay and confront her knowing she will simply say she didn't mean to be unkind?

UPDATE: An adoptee therapist responded to me via email and confirmed that it is not my expectations that are not out of line. She very wisely said:

"'I'm so sorry to hear this - it just emphasizes that some very good therapists are not at all adoption sensitive, let alone adoption competent. ... I think at a certain point one has the energy to 'train' and educate therapists and other professionals, but then it seems odd to be the one paying or having your insurance pay, n'est pas? ...if you stay or if you go... with this therapist.... LEt her know how her 'meaning well but uninformed' responses to you have been more hurtful than healing and that you would need to see that she is ready to attend conferences, read books, and educate herself a bit more if you were to feel ready to do the deep work that you are prepared to do with her....oy.  i am so sorry that you encountered this ..."


Anonymous said...

I do understand the need for a therapist to work through stages in our lives. I too have very similar losses and health issues. I find myself exhausted "training therapists". When one has a life of many branches with limbs that are broken in so many storms, it is tiring having to teach a new person about ourselves.
I have come to the conclusion that there is no therapist qualified to help me. Sad but true. I think most hear my "story" and wonder how I am still sane and/or here.
Good luck with your quest my friend, you deserve a place to go and find some peace.

AdoptAuthor said...

That I have survived the multiple traumas of my life is miraculous. Survived with any amount of sanity - doubtful! :-)

And then we are accused of being angry and bitter on top of it!

Cedar said...

A loss ia a loss ... except when it's "recognized" by society as being a "choice," a mother getting rid of a child she neither loved nor wanted -- or a child whom she judged herself unfit to raise.

Our experiences are rendered invisible by the "myth of choice" that denies coercion, denies trauma, denies unresolved grief.

Adoption gets compared to divorce, a "choice" that mothers supposedly make for their own good, freely made without influence or pressure from others.

These therapists do "learn" about adoption in courses. The current adolescent psychology book used in my local university states that women who surrender experience NO enduring negative consequence, and cites studies by pro-adoption researchers such as Donnelly and Voydanoff (1996) showing this.

Nevermind the "positive adoption language" campaign that promotes "choosing correct language" to "properly reflect" the mother's "choice." And to reflect that "no emotional or familial connection remains between members of the pre-existing family" (Spencer, 1979).

Educating individual therapists is futile if they're learning in the classroom that we "choose" adoption willingly with entirely positive results.

Anonymous said...

Thanks sucks. Ditch this one but tell her why.

Triona Guidry said...

This is why I don't care for therapists. I'm sure I could probably use one. But the thought of having to educate one about adoption, combined with the fact that my adoptive parents continually sent me to therapists in order to get me to "toe the line" (e.g. not behave like an ungrateful adoptee)... well, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

If I were to choose a therapist it would have to be one well-versed in adoption. I haven't found many of those (and even fewer who would be acceptable to my insurance). Ergo, no therapist.

I don't think you should have to educate your own therapist... *you're* paying *them* to be professional and knowledgeable. If I found one who was at least willing to be open-minded... but all the ones who find out I'm adopted suddenly start looking at me like I'm the latest science experiment they can't wait to analyze. Even if what I want to talk about has nothing to do with adoption (insomuch as anything in my life has "nothing" to do with adoption).

I would suggest, shop around and see if you can find someone who's open enough to regard your experiences and viewpoints as valid.

AdoptAuthor said...

Perhaps on the way out the door I'll give her s pile of references on the lifelong effects of losing a child to adoption...but then again, Cedar is right. If she believes it's a "choice" it makes no difference. Especially if she as an adoptive parent or is close to one.

She seemed very focused on my age at the time of my loss, as if there was some magical age limit beyond which one has control over being brainwashed. It was all just not what I needed to hear - especially not at that juncture: my first time telling her about it.

My neighbor's dog died the other day and I showed more compassion and less need to fill my curiosity with morbid details.

And the wonder why we're angry and bitter...

Give me a break! My own family never even sent any condolences on my daughter's death!

AdoptAuthor said...

Interestingly enough I had one who was VERY aware, enlightened and supportive with no expertise or connection to adoption. She was recommended via the eating disorder community to help me better my understand my daughter's issues. She anonymously shared with me about some of her adoptive parent clients who admitted adopting internationally to protect themselves from returning birthmoms, and were totally ignorant about their kid's need to KNOW!!

Angelle said...

Well this certainly points out why even as we may become enlightened many of us who have lost children to adoption are still in "hiding."

My immediate family is supportive of my reunion but I know better than to think a stranger can understand. I am a pariah, a woman who became pregnant outside of wedlock, and I will suffer the consequences until the day I die.

BTW I am not emotionally unscrewed and live a quite fulfilling normal life. I just happen to have a son who my parents deemed necessary to separate me from when I gave birth as a teenager.

I need to have the strength to be my own therapist, my own advocate, that is my lot in life. And I will not subject myself to the humiliation you faced with an unknowing therapist. Sad....

Anonymous said...

This seems to be the wrong therapist for you, but maybe you are being too hasty. Don't therapists have to ask a lot of questions on the first session, to get to know the client's situation? And if they are only saying what you want to hear and are comfortable with, are they really helping the client confront problems or just being another yes-person? Some thoughts for the next therapist you try, anyhow.

AdoptAuthor said...

Very interesting, latest anonymous...that is EXACTY what she (the therapist) said today when I told her I wasn't coming back....well, the first part anyhow. She said she was trying to get all the information. I agreed that i was making a hasty decision, but I cannot remember feeling more empowered!

Am I seeking someone to "yes" me? Not at all. But I do seek someone with COMPASSION and who is SUPPORTIVE. My loss to adoption should have been met with no less compassion than my loss to death. Period.

Instead, I FELT interrogated and judged. I am certain neither was her intent. But no, I do not need to subject myself to anyone who makes me fell that way - and much less pay them to do so!

Anonymous said...

Therapsts are not supposed to make you feel comfortable. If they are, they're not doing their job.

AdoptAuthor said...

Well, I, and two prof therapist friends I consulted with disagree. INITIALLY one choses a therapist one feels comfortable with. yes, as the therapy progresses one wants a therapist who will challenge them bit to make some necessary changes. But I am not starting out with someone who makes me feel like I did something wrong for losing my child to adoption. A loss, is a loss is a loss. Inflicting guilt on me is not in any way therapeutic in my book.

Your anonymous opinion has been duly noted and appreciated, however I respectfully disagree, value my own judgement and my own right to chose how I spend my money and who I chose to help me, just as I chose my medical doctors and likewise walk out of the offices of some.

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