Contrary to popular belief, I’m an incredibly private person. The opinionated, boisterous, crass, and self-assured arrogant guy most people see is definitely a part of who I am. (Just ask my wife…) This persona has been all over Land of Gazillion Adoptees. Nevertheless, it’s in many ways a schtick. Like most others, there’s another layer which rarely shows itself in public or private settings. Well, considering how much I’ve asked others to disclose for Land of Gazillion Adoptees, I’ll reveal a bit about my personal history.
It would have been beneficial for me if I had known someone like Susan Branco Alvarado,
LPC, PLLC, during my undergraduate studies. I did well in college. I made great lifelong friends, worked with good faculty, performed in a couple of high quality theatre productions, and graduated with honors. However, I wasn’t an emotionally healthy person. During my junior year, I had a long coming adoption related breakdown, which will certainly come as a surprise to 99.9% of the folks who knew me at the time. I was “this close” to dropping out, and I strongly considered ending it all.
The details about my breakdown isn’t necessary here. What’s important is that, as helpful as the college therapist was, in hindsight I’m certain that someone like Susan would have helped me just that much more. I would have understood that an adoptee with professional credentials like Susan “got me,” which would have allowed me to be more transparent about what I was going through. I would have worked with an adoptee counselor/therapist to go beyond “the bandage” and come to a resolution about my life much sooner than I did.
There are a growing number of adoptee mental health professionals. I personally think that we need way more. Additionally, I think we all need to do our part in aiding folks like Susan to get their names out into the adoption community. As Brian Johns pointed out a few weeks ago, there is a great need.
So, without further rambling, I give you Susan Branco Alvarado. Enjoy.
Susan: I love talking about what I do because I genuinely enjoy going to work every day. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in independent practice in Falls Church, VA, about 15 minutes outside of Washington, DC. I specialize in working with members of the adoption constellation: adoptees, from toddlers to adults, adoptive families, and birth families.
I started my career with intentions of being a Rehabilitation Counselor with a focus on multicultural populations and worked in community mental health for several years. When I started my post Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2002, I read an article about working with adoptive families and felt I was in a place in my life where I was ready to work with this population. From there I briefly worked in a post adoption counseling agency in the DC area, had a failed attempt doing home studies* for a local adoption agency, and finally took a leap of faith and went out on my own to work for myself. It was a somewhat risky move, but here I am almost nine years later still going strong!
Looking back, it was the best career move I have ever made. I have met amazing fellow adoptees and adoption professionals along the way, have traveled on two Colombian Homeland Tours as the staff Clinical Counselor, and have fostered some genuine friendships with others who are just plain fun to hang with from all over the country and world.
[*Please note that the “failed” home study attempt was when I was starting the process of doing a home study and the potential adoptive parent refused to work with me because she heard my bilingual voicemail message and reported that she would not work with someone who spoke “Mexican.” True story.]
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: What types of services do you think are needed in adoption and why?
Susan: Many people start their careers in adoption working in an adoption agency. I did not go this route so I cannot speak as much to the front end of the adoption process. Rather, I will focus my response on what I have observed in regards to post adoption services. The top three areas I see still needing significant levels of service are not new observations: pre- and post-adoption family training and education, addressing issues of racial differences and how these dynamics affect the family, and severe lack of competent and knowledgeable adoption mental health professionals.
In regard to adoptive family training there have definitely been improvements. One I especially find helpful is when private agencies collaborate with public child welfare agencies to offer adoptive and foster parent training to waiting parents. There are more commonalities than differences among domestically adopted persons (i.e. child welfare system) and those adopted internationally. Despite these advances, I continue to see many families who need support: in telling their child he or she is adopted; beginning some sort of discussion about first families; and for any number of typical adoption related themes that are still not common knowledge among adoptive families.
Addressing racial differences remains a very powerful and complex subject to navigate in family therapy, especially in adolescence. I work hard to support adolescent adoptees developing their own sense of racial identity and awareness, while simultaneously helping the adoptive parents to understand, support, and welcome this awareness and allay fears that this development means that ultimately their child will not be connected to them as their parents. It is not an easy task, particularly when families report being “colorblind.” I will bring up issues of racial differences, regardless of the age of the child (infants, toddlers, or preschoolers), to start the conversation even if a family reports that “race is not an issue yet.” I always respond, “It is because it is part of your child’s identity so let’s practice how you can incorporate it into your family identity now.”
Finally, there are not a lot of licensed therapists who have the knowledge base of the psychology of adoption, understand the complexities of adoptive families, and can address the racial aspects. Certainly we need more adopted persons as therapists out there! There are some quality post masters adoption training programs in the country, but in DC there are none. One professional goal I have is to advocate for a clinical training program in this area to address the needs of child welfare workers, adoption social workers, and therapists in the community.
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: You’ve interacted with a number of adoptees from MN. Are we crazy or are we really good looking?
Susan: Since I am not licensed in MN, I cannot formally diagnose any of those I have had the good fortune to know during my conference journeys. However, I can legitimately say that the efforts by Minnesotan adoptees are truly inspiring. And it goes without saying that you are obviously all exquisitely good looking! In fact, some of you are even major pageant winners. You know who you are!
Land of Gazillion Adoptees: “exquisitely good looking…” Word to that. And for you, dear reader, please feel free to contact Susan if you have any questions. You can find all of her contact information here.