Counseling Donor Family Members: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals
Title: Counseling Donor Family Members
Subtitle: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals
Subject Classification: Counselling, Psychology, Society and Culture, Childhood Studies
BIC Classification: JKSN2, JM, VFV
Binding: Hardback, pp.146
Publication date: 28th March 2022
ISBN (printed book): 978-1-80441-018-9
ISBN (web pdf): 978-1-80441-019-6
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Donor families are unique, yet are also becoming substantially more common with the exponential advancements being made in the field of reproductive medicine, and with the wider acceptance of LGBTQ+ and single-parent families utilizing donor gametes in recent decades. The accessibility of commercial DNA testing is also helping to expand these families, as many people are finding out by surprise that they are part of a sometimes quite large donor family. Individuals connected to donor families are therefore much more likely to be seen across a variety of mental health and medical settings for a range of presenting problems, either related to or separate from this part of their background. Regardless of the presenting issue, for these individuals the challenges of forming and redefining family as they explore their own or their child’s new biological connections can seem overwhelming and are therefore very likely to surface as a topic of discussion in treatment.
Given the greatly increased probability of encountering a client connected to a donor family in their practices across settings, and the specific challenges this presents, clinicians must be well-informed about all perspectives in order to address such issues in a knowledgeable and sensitive manner. Counseling Donor Family Members provides clinicians and mental health professionals with guidance on the unique issues that can present for egg and sperm donors, parents of donor-conceived children, and donor-conceived people. They will be better prepared for many of the issues that donor family members might present in regards to their family of origin and with their new donor family relationships.
Counseling Donor Family Members is both a resource for mental health and medical professionals in any setting, and a useful reference book for researchers, and donor family members themselves. It presents evolving ideas, recommendations, and talking points, that can be used in counseling everyone in the donor family. Because each stakeholder is deeply connected to the others, understanding all viewpoints is important for a successful counseling experience with any parent, egg and sperm donor, or donor-conceived person.
Authors: Wendy Kramer co-founded the Donor Sibling Registry in the USA. She has conducted numerous research studies, and has published more than 30 peer-reviewed papers on the subject, and authored or co-authored a number of books.
Hilary Bertisch, Ph.D., ABPP is a member of the Board of Directors of the Donor Sibling Registry. She is a senior psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Northwell Health, Zucker Hillside Hospital. Her work has been with individuals who have early psychosis and other brain-related conditions, and she regularly hears themes related to trauma, adjustment, and identity, which can generalize to the experience of donor-conceived adults as well. Dr. Bertisch also has a strong background in psychological and medical research, and her work has been recognized internationally.
"Education and competency in the issues related to donor-assisted reproduction should be required of any professional working with parents, donors, or the donor-conceived. And by this, I mean healthcare workers, legal professionals, teachers, spiritual care workers- people who interact with humans. Especially now, as this medical technology advances its accessibility, and as more people find out later in life that they were donor-conceived. This is another intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion for which professionals and families alike need resources for education and understanding. This handbook is just that source. As a healthcare professional, beneficiary of an egg donor, and mother to a young donor-conceived person, I can say this book is a great start. I extend gratitude to Kramer and Bertisch for their hard work in sharing this with us."
- Laurie N. Baker, PhD, ABPP, Director of Psychology, Shepherd Center
"This is a therapist handbook that should not be put on a high shelf; it needs to be readily available. While focusing on the needs of all members of donor families, the handbook is also an intelligent, accessible, and practical guide for offering high-quality therapy to all clients who want to address issues related to their families."
- Liz Margolies, LCSW and Founder, National LGBT Cancer Network
"This handbook relays the practical importance of this topic, particularly how mental health providers can help donor-conceived people navigate such complexities. Although discourse is shifting and stigma is decreasing, there needs to be greater awareness around assisted reproduction and its impact on individuals, couples, and families."
- Dr. Elizabeth B. Lozano, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Sociology, California Northstate University
"This is a tangible guidebook filled with a wealth of evidence-based information as well as useful and personal anecdotes to humanize the complexities that go into donor-assisted reproduction. Not only should this be readily available to all practitioners and patients but also to all learners studying the field of reproductive medicine."
- Dr. Dana Siegel, Obstetrics and Gynecology Resident, University of Colorado
"Given continued advances in assisted reproductive technologies, Counseling Donor Family Members: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals meets a critical need. Kramer and Bertisch provide a welcome and indispensable resource for practitioners, especially those working with people with infertility or seeking gamete donation, donor-conceived children, and their biological and non-biological parents. In this book, unique themes that can arise in donor family situations, such as disclosure and redefining family, are carefully and sensitively reviewed, as are the feelings and needs of all involved parties. Practical recommendations are also offered for intake assessment and talking points during therapy. This book is essential reading for therapists across a variety of settings who encounter donor family members. Students of ethics would also find this book informative and a useful reference."
- Lynn A. Schaefer, Ph.D., ABPP, Fellow, American Psychological Association, Fellow, National Academy of Neuropsychology, Director of Neuropsychology, Nassau University Medical Center
"I’m always struck by the parallels between the realities of donor and adoptive families, so Kramer’s excellent new handbook struck very close to home. More importantly, the information and insights within it are applicable to all sorts of families. And, of course, it’s necessary reading for everyone who works or might work with any member of a donor family. I think that means it’s a must-read-and-use for all health professionals."
- Adam Pertman, President of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency and author of Adoption Nation
"Wendy Kramer has long fought for openness and disclosure in the donor conception world. Having spoken to many thousands of trailblazers, and having been one herself, she offers guidance to today's counsellors on how to help people navigate this challenging terrain."
- Alison Motluk, Freelance journalist and publisher of HeyReprotech, a weekly newsletter about assisted reproduction
"Finally! After years of working as a mental health professional specializing in the emotional aspects of infertility, I have struggled to convey to my colleagues the importance of truly understanding the experience of using a donor to create a family. With one out of every eight heterosexual couples experiencing infertility and many single women and LGBT couples using a donor to conceive, it is imperative that mental health providers understand all aspects of the decision. This guide will provide insight into the world of donor-conceived families: the parent(s), children, siblings, and the donor. Our culture has promoted secrecy behind this decision and after you read this guide, you will learn how important it is for ALL parties to not live under the shroud but rather to be fully informed on how to be open and honest with no guilt or shame about the decision to donate, or to have a child or to be a donor-conceived person. Truly a must-read!!"
- Harriette Rovner Ferguson, LCSW, Co-author Experiencing Infertility, member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine's Mental Health Professional Group, mental health consultant to fertility clinics
"Wendy Kramer writes from the wise and compassionate perspective of a parent who has navigated the complexities of assisted reproduction. Kramer and Bertisch plant their flag firmly in support of truth and transparency for the long-term benefit of children who become adults. This book is not only a useful guide for counselors, as those considering selling their gametes to a vendor, or creating a child through assisted reproduction would be well-served to read this practical guide before making their decision."
- Rich Uhrlaub, President, Adoption Search Resource Connection, Coalition for Truth and Transparency in Adoption
"Wendy is a true visionary and leader in this field and sheds light on subjects important for everyone involved in donor conception to understand."
- Lisa Schuman, LCSW, Director, The Center for Family Building
"This book is a must-read. As a mental health clinician, I find the book to be comprehensive and engaging. Each topic is well organized and coverage is in-depth. As a donor-conceived person with a rich family fabric of donor siblings, step-siblings, and adopted siblings, I found the book comforting and stabilizing. The authors share their passion and expertise in a style that is practical, accessible, and applicable."
- James Holmes, LCSW
"Like the Donor Sibling Registry itself, this handbook is destined to be an invaluable resource. And like the DSR, it is replete with wisdom, empathy, and lived experience."
- Misha Angrist, PhD, Duke University Initiative for Science & Society
"Kramer and Bertisch's groundbreaking handbook details the common, but often unspoken and profound impact of assisted reproductive technologies on the lived experiences of donor-conceived children, their parents, and other family members. By weaving quantitative and qualitative data, as well as clinical insights and personal narratives, the book provides a compelling and accessible framework to help families navigate the cognitive and psychological aspects of assisted reproductive technology. Their book fills a much-needed gap for recognizing and addressing these issues that are deeply rooted in the core of the families' evolution."
- Suzie Bertisch, MD, MPH
"The world of donor gamete conception is novel for many mental health professionals and becoming well-informed about the unique features of donor families can be challenging as practitioners begin working with this population. This guide provides a concise overview of the unique historical, social and emotional aspects of donor gamete conception for all parties involved and advises counselors about how to navigate exceptional psychosocial realities that each member will face. This text utilizes a breadth of research, professional and personal experiences to make a compelling argument for understanding what is currently known about the challenges donor families face as they attempt to foster and maintain distal yet uniquely intimate relationships among biological and non-biological members.
Wendy Kramer has been a trailblazer in the world of donor conception for over 20 years. As the co-founder of one of the largest donor family organizations, she passionately advocates for supporting and educating families to be well-informed as they navigate donor conception. She uses her unique positionality as a biological mother of a donor-conceived child and pioneer in the field of connecting donor families to highlight the gravity of the psychological complexities for donor families.
A strength of the text is that it is well-organized and structurally appealing for any learner. The language used is easy to understand as the authors clearly define terms used and avoid medical jargon. The chapters are organized in such a way that scaffolds seminal topics such as disclosure, legal and medical concerns, problems perpetuated by gamete vendors, and the inevitable loss of anonymity with commercialized DNA technologies. Chapters 2 through 6 specifically describe the different perspectives of each member of the donor family, which makes it easy to reference a particular client type. Additionally, the bulleted format allows for information to be accessed with ease and quick reference. The inclusion of references at the end of each chapter, rather than at the end of the book, allows the reader to source relevant literature as needed. Another strength is the author's inclusion of direct quotes from donor family members. These anecdotes are captivating and heart-wrenching, as they truly evoke empathy from the reader. The quotes also offer insights that can be used to validate and normalize clients’ experiences, especially those who may feel isolated, alone, and worried about the future of their well-being and familial relationships.
Overall, this book serves to fill the gaps of knowledge in working with donor families. This text centralizes years of research, advocacy, and interdisciplinary practice into one cohesive text that will be referenced for years to come. Mental health professionals trained in any modality can learn from and apply the information offered in this guide. Therapists who interface with donors, intended parents, donor-conceived people, and their extended families will find the information provided truly valuable, no matter their training or years of experience."
- Breanna N. Beard, MA, Health Psychology Intern, Duke Fertility Center, Duke University Health System
"Based on their extensive first-hand experience of donor conception, Wendy Kramer and Hilary Bertisch have produced a highly readable, timely, and comprehensive guide. It should be required reading for all mental health professionals working in donor conception."
- Eric Blyth, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Huddersfield, England
"As the mother of a 3-time egg donor and a researcher in the field, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a great deal from Wendy Kramer. She is undoubtedly one of the most knowledgeable experts regarding all the emotional and practical issues that donor-conceived individuals, their families, and also the gamete donors and their families experience. After some 22 years of running what has become the world’s biggest online resource for connecting donor-conceived offspring with their half-siblings and with their egg or sperm donors, as well as her extensive actual experience counseling and supporting donor-conceived offspring and family members, and also her participation in research, she is the ideal person to share her clinical and research experience with others who counsel any of the complex group of people affected by donor conception. This practical, extensive, empathetic, and inclusive guide can be an essential resource for mental health professionals in counseling such individuals. I highly recommend it to all."
- Jennifer P. Schneider, M.D., Ph.D