Dear Mental Health Providers, (working with NPEs)
Dear Mental Health Providers,
As a mental health provider myself, I know it is a very busy world out there for us right now. This is the first time we have all been through a global pandemic and those fears remain real as we navigate another year of it (adding on influenza and RSV now). As we get back to some semblance of pre-pandemic life, or as a distraction from pandemic-related anxiety concerns, I encourage you to learn about NPEs/MPEs. I would venture to guess that you’ve already met one (or several). You (and they) just may not know it (yet).
What is an NPE? An NPE is a person who has experienced a non-paternity event (or not parent expected) also known as a type of misattributed paternity. As an NPE, this means that whomever they may have thought was their biological father is, in fact, NOT their biological father. This can occur for an exhaustive amount of reasons but the most commonly shared reasons include affairs, trysts (one-night stands), sexual assaults, medically assisted conceptions with donors, and adoptions.
Another name for this can be misattributed paternity (MPE) or misattributed parentage. This site is geared more for NPEs with unexpected paternity results and, particularly, if they were due to a recreational ancestry test. My recent small research study looked at individuals who took a recreational ancestry DNA test and had an unexpected paternity discovery that did not match up with their existing family narrative/birth certificate information.
As you can imagine, this discovery, particularly when it’s unexpected, can cause a tremendous amount of shock, surprise, grief, sadness, and anger. These are a few of the most commonly described emotions. It can be incredibly overwhelming as individuals describe feeling in a fog-like state, feeling unable to focus on typical life tasks, and/or crying for days or weeks on end as they are initially processing this information. Family relationships may be significantly strained due to this discovery, particularly if secrets were intentionally kept from the individual by multiple parties.
New genetic relatives, experiencing their own surprise, shock, and anger may reject any attempts at communication. In many cases, individuals make this discovery in mid-life and the parental parties may be deceased leaving an individual unable to get answers to important questions, especially those related to health and medical histories. As a mental health professional, it is very important to help NPEs work through all their emotions, their potential grief and loss experience, their potential disrupted family relationships, particularly with their mothers, delayed responses or outright rejection, identity shifts they may experience, and/or new relationship navigation with (new) biological family OR families of origin.
It is critical that we assist in understanding the potential impact of kept or unknown family secrets as well as understand how to help someone access help and support when/as needed.
Key areas to consider when working with an NPE include issues around emotional disruption, grief and loss (https://www.npeguide.com/post/the-seven-stages-of-npe-grief), family relationships, identity, and the impact of family secrets.
Psychotherapy can be provided individually, in a group, with a couple and/or with a family to address issues related to a new NPE status and all the emotional baggage that could be triggered from this. Types of therapies that align well with this work include Psychodynamic Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, and Animal-assisted Therapy.
The most important thing is to listen and process the emotions that something like this creates. It is also important to understand that this new life narrative acceptance (or not) can take years to work through. Many NPE’s have experience with therapists who have minimized their feelings and summed up their life with curt comments that damage the therapeutic process and cause an NPE to leave therapy.
To summarize, Therapists, educate yourselves about NPEs through:
· Review the https://www.npeguide.com/ for an understanding of experiences, emotions, and practical strategies that an NPE may expect especially initially upon discovery
· Assess for grief and loss
· Consider any identity concerns
· Discuss relationships with family of origin
· Discuss relationships with new family (or not)
· Direct to additional supports through the growing resources for NPEs
· Go to Severance Magazine’s website (https://severancemag.com/npes/ ) for an amazing list of books, podcasts, articles, and interviews to learn more
· Look into Right to Know (https://righttoknow.us/) and understand the work being done legislatively across North America for mental health, education and legislation
If you feel like you’re in over your head with an NPE, help them locate someone who can help (https://mpecounseling.org/ ) or (https://mpecounseling.org/directory-list-option/all/ ) to see the list of therapists per U.S. State.