A View From the Couch: Adoption Thoughts

Working with adopted teenagers in therapy sessions.

I have always been interested in adoption.  I remember  when I was a young girl thinking  about the few adopted kids that I knew and wondering about their stories. I liked reading books about adopted kids and seeing the occasional movie that would come out pertaining to adoption. Of course, it is no secret that in the late 1970's the subject of adoption was rarely on anyone's best seller list.

Fast forward to 2005 when I worked for Prince William County Community Services Board.  I attended a conference where  Debbie Riley led a workshop on adopted adolescents.   Ms. Riley is the CEO of The Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE), and she had just written a book, "Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens". I can picture my seat in the front row (a learned behavior, I need to sit in the front row or I will be distracted by everything around me,  geeky, I know, but it works) with Ms. Riley standing in front of the group talking about adoption.  I absorbed every word she said and then some.  I asked many questions (refer to the previous mentioned "geek") and was absolutely enthralled.

I began reading all that I could on the adoption triad, attending more workshops on adoption and spending time with people in my life that were involved with adoption.  I have a friend that found his birth mother  in his late 30's.  I practically moved in with him to witness his search and subsequent reunion with his birth family.  I have another dear friend that has adopted two beautiful girls from China in the past five years.  What a gift it has been to be a part of their journey; from being a reference in the homestudy to Skyping with them in China after meeting their second daughter, greeting them at the airport for the two homecomings and now watching the miracle of the girls becoming part of their family.

In my clinical practice, I slowly began seeing  more adopted kids, mostly teenagers.  Many of my adopted clients come to therapy presenting with depression, anger or school problems.  Adoption is just a part of their story.   As the treatment unfolds, I weave the adoption into the therapy.  Many of the kids are resistant to discussing adoption. The most common response when I gently tug at the adoption cord  is "I don't care" or "it doesn't matter".  Over time as my clients start to feel more safe with me and the therapy process, the shell begins to crack.

I worked for years with an adopted boy who was very angry and struggled in school. He had terrible self-esteem and was frequently fighting with peers and his family. After some prodding, he would talk about his birth parents and described a "hole filled with fire"  inside of him.  He was able to label it as rage; rage at his birth parents for giving him up for adoption.  The rage penetrated his outlook on himself and his relationships fueling conflicts on a regular basis with both family and peers.

Like many of my adopted teenage clients, this boy felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with him which caused his birth parents to relinquish him for adoption.  I ask these kids to imagine a baby;  a sweet, innocent and beautiful baby. I ask whether a baby could do wrong, mess up or make mistakes?  My clients usually agree that other than a poopy diaper or some crying,  a baby is generally innocent. I ask  how an innocent baby could cause it's own adoption?  I ask when they were this young, how they could have been "bad" enough to have been given away?  I try to make the connection for these teenagers that it was not they who brought on the adoption;  the adults in their lives made the decision based adult reasons and adult resources. The adoption was out of their control, nothing they could have done either positive or negative could have effected the outcome ; they were simply the innocent player in this story of their own life.

There are so many emotions that come with the territory: rage, sadness, loneliness and confusion.  There is also love, gratitude, appreciation and joy.   On some days, my clients can feel one, another or ALL of these emotions at once.  It is normal and confusing and again, comes with the territory.

If you have questions or thoughts, please contact me.


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Laurie Levine December 04, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Christine - Oh my goodness, no. I am sorry if I indicated as such. I don't think most adopted children feel anything particular; I think each child either adopted or born into the family have unique feelings, both positive and negative because that is the nature of life. Not all adopted kids and not all kids seek therapy. But, of the adopted kids that I have seen, there has been some element of loss and questioning, and it is all appropriate. I hope this helps. Laurie
Sara C December 05, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I am adopted (internationally) and have about five (regional and international) close adopted friends -- only one of us grew up "needing" to know our history and family. I'd say, from personal and friends' experiences, the type of parenting and open communication truly makes the difference in an adopted child's life and personality.
Laurie Levine December 05, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Sara- Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you and your friends had a very positive experience with excellent parents. I am so happy to hear that. Laurie
kelli sincock December 12, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Thank you for the interesting article. I too am interested in adoption from all perspectives. I was adopted at age 3 months. I was later reunited with my biological parents when I was 25. I am now 47 and attempting to adopt as well. It seems my existence has been somewhat defined by adoption in more ways than I can explain. Because I have nearly come full circle I can say with full confidence that our adoptive parents are our real parents. The defining factors of what make a true parent are not the abilities to produce a child, it is the desire to love, nurture, protect and care for a child. For those with concern regarding adopting, I will tell you what my mothers says. She says I was an extremely easy child. Happy. Active. Never gave her a worry. So no, I was not (and most children are not) adversely effected by the mere fact that they are adopted. I can, however, see where if the child is not fully embraced into the new family unity and made to feel loved and cherished, how they could begin to wonder about their biological parents. I love my parents for all that they have done for me and for always claiming me as "theirs".
Laurie Levine December 12, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Kelli- Thank you so much for your input. I fully agree with you; I know many kids (and adults) that were adopted and it is just a part of who they are like their eye color or their love of sports. I also know many people adopted and not that struggle with depression, anxiety, self-esteem etc. These struggles are not necessarily inherent in being adopted. Good luck with your pending adoption: SO EXCITING!! Laurie


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