Adoption is one of the most beautiful things that can happen to the family who chooses it. It’s a second chance for couples who have struggled with infertility, an opportunity for a child who’s currently living in an unstable situation to be part of the kind of environment they’ve only seen on TV, or a chance for a family with ample resources to share what they have with a child in need of physical and emotional connection.
So why does it sometimes seem like adoption agencies want to make adoption so extremely difficult? Why does it seem like there are almost endless hoops to jump through? And why does one of those hoops have to be a psychological evaluation that can feel embarrassing and invasive?
Let’s take a look into questions like these that all parents have who are considering adoption, and get an idea of what to expect when it comes to the psychological evaluation involved in the pre-adoption process.
Q: Why do I even have to do a psychological evaluation??
A: In a way, it is not particularly fair that many well-intentioned, lovely people have to subject themselves to rigorous personal questioning when we all know lots of parents who had children naturally and barely seem to love their children let alone be competent at caring for them. But try to think of it this way: adoption agencies don’t have these procedures because they think everyone who’s trying to adopt is suspicious; they have them because a few bad apples ruined the process for everyone. Adoption standards used to be much, much looser, and lots of people who were very unfit parents were just given children because they volunteered to take them. But as more and more cases came to light where adoptive parents were neglectful or abusive, agencies had to crank their standards way up. As hard as the process is, just remember that the goal is for no child to go to a home where they’ll be neglected, mistreated, or abused, and that goal isn’t meant as a personal attack on you, even though it might feel like it sometimes.
Q: What will my psychological evaluation consist of?
A: This could vary from agency to agency, but a common combination is an interview with a professional psychologist and a written test (which can frequently be taken on a computer). The “test” isn’t like an academic pass-fail test, though, so don’t get too freaked out by that word. (More on that later.) From start to finish, the whole process often lasts about 3-4 hours. The agency you’re working with might suggest or recommend psychologists, or might give you complete freedom to search out your own psychologist.
Q: What can I expect in the interview?
A: It’s common for the psychologist to interview both members of the couple separately (if you’re looking to adopt as part of a couple) and also to interview the couple together. You might be asked questions about your personal history – i.e. family, childhood, history with mental illnesses, etc – as well as questions about your feelings about the adoption itself. For the couple interview, you can expect to be asked questions about your marriage. Also, questions about your feelings toward the child’s biological parents and their current living situation are not uncommon, so it would be a good idea to think about how you might answer such a question ahead of time. Those questions can feel emotionally loaded, so if you think about your feelings ahead of time and have an answer prepared, you can feel calmer during the interview.
An important thing to remember during these interviews is that the psychologist isn’t looking for you to be a perfect person who has only positive feelings. Frankly, with the level of stress that the adoption process includes, it would almost be strange if you didn’t have any kind of fears or concerns. Expressing such feelings isn’t going to make the psychologist mark you as a big “no” in their report. As hard and trite as it sounds, they’re just looking for you, to be honest and be yourself.
Q: What can I expect in the test?
A: One popular pre-adoption test is called the MMPI-2, the Multiphasic Personality Interview (although it is possible you might be given a different, but similar, test). Sonia Billadeau describes such tests as “unlike comprehensive psychological evaluations – in which measures of various abilities are administered (e.g., IQ testing, Perceptual-Motor assessment, Achievement testing, etc.)”. Rather than focusing on all of these elements of personality, tests like the MMPI-2 are really just looking for personality elements that might be a big problem for parenting, like personality disorders or severe depression.
The MMPI-2 consists of 567 true or false questions about yourself. If that sounds crazy long, that’s because it is – it typically takes somewhere around 2 hours to fill out. The questions are very personal and often might seem like they have nothing to do with parenting. Just try to remember that the best tactic is honesty: you don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that the test is trying to trick you; that will only make you paranoid and flustered and probably cause you to answer some questions dishonestly. Tests like the MMPI-2 can only be administered and interpreted by a psychologist, so you can’t “study” for it ahead of time. Don’t freak out, though – almost all pre-adoption psychologists look at your test results and your interview together, so even if the test feels very scary and weird it won’t be the only thing that the psychologist’s report is based on.
Q: If I get the chance to pick my own psychologist, what should I be looking for?
A: Definitely look for someone who specializes in pre-adoption evaluations; you don’t want someone trying to figure this out for the first time for your adoption. While it’s certainly not a requirement for an evaluator, or even necessarily a guarantee of any particular kind of experience, do keep in mind that lots of psychologists get into pre-adoption counseling because they themselves went through an adoption and they know what it’s like. If you can find such a psychologist, chances are very good that the experience will be a more sympathetic one. Most of them are very upfront about this on their websites, so it shouldn’t be hard to figure out.
Keep in mind also that many psychologists who will do this evaluation also offer adoption counseling for pre-adoptive or recently-adoptive parents as well as pre-adopted or recently-adopted children.
The psychological evaluation component of adoption can feel like one of the scariest parts, but you’ll make it worse than it actually is if you psych yourself out for it. As stressful as it is, it’ll be easier for you to get through if you just remember that the evaluators and you all want the same thing – a safe home for children.
Are you going through the adoption process and want more information on the psychological requirements and services available to you? You can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult .