About Adoptee Rage

Statistics Identify large populations of Adoptees in prisons, mental hospitals and committed suicide.
Fifty years of scientific studies on child adoption resulting in psychological harm to the child and
poor outcomes for a child's future.
Medical and psychological attempts to heal the broken bonds of adoption, promote reunions of biological parents and adult children. The other half of attempting to repair a severed Identity is counselling therapy to rebuild the self.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Unique Issues of Adult Adoptees By Jennifer Carizey

ADOPTEE RAGE!

Brilliant Thesis By Jennifer Carizey
A Must Read for Adult Adoptees!
The Unique Issues of Adult Adoptees
__________________________________

Unique Issues of Adult Adoptees
by Jennifer Carizey

www.luc.edu/socialwork/praxis/pdfs/vol4_chapter4.pdf 

Abstract
The experience of being adopted creates unique life
cycle issues that have been the subject of recent study.
According to the psychodynamic literature, the factor
that has the greatest influence on an adoptee’s life cycle
is the early loss of a primary object (Mother). This loss frequently
affects an adoptee’s ability to form attachments and
develop a coherent adult identity. This paper addresses
the various intrapsychic responses to early loss that
adults who were adopted as children may have, the
unique obstacles they face in forming an integrated
sense of self due to feelings of “differentness” and divided
loyalties, and the impact of the current societal
emphasis of biological ties in definitions of kinship.
Clinical considerations are discussed using self psychology
and object relations frameworks.
Introduction
Traditionally, American culture has communicated
to adopted children that aside from the fact that they
are “chosen children,” their lives and experiences are
just like that of those who are raised by their birth
parents (Silverstein & Kaplan, 1998;Wegar, 1997). In
more recent years, however, theorists, activists, and
adoptees themselves have contested this perspective
and argued that the experience of being an adopted
person is unique and worthy of attention
(Brodzinsky, Smith & Brodzinsky, 1998; Rosenberg,
1992; Wegar, 1997). Numerous studies have
addressed the implications that adoption has on what
has been coined “the adoption circle,” the permanent
and unavoidable interconnectedness of the child’s,
birth parents’, and adoptive parents’ lives (Rosenberg,
1992; Silverstein & Kaplan, 1998). This paper will
focus on the experience of adults who are adopted as
children, the implications that their modified life
cycles may have on selfobject structures and identity
formation, and the influences of the larger sociocultural
context on the experience of being an
adoptee in America. Clinical issues are discussed in
relation to these topics using self psychology and
object relations approaches.
Self psychology is particularly applicable to clinical
work with adult adoptees because of its emphasis on
the repair of injuries resulting from early selfobject
failures. According to self psychologists, the healing
process in psychotherapy begins with the client
using the therapist as a source of soothing selfobject
experiences and ends when structures for self
soothing have been internalized, and the client has
developed the capacity to seek out appropriate selfobjects
in her environment (Cooper & Lesser,
2002). Self psychology recognizes three main types
of selfobject experiences that every person needs in
order to develop a coherent sense of self – twinship
selfobjects, mirroring selfobjects, and idealized selfobjects.
These concepts will be further described in
relation to the identity formation issues with which
adoptees often struggle.
Object relations theory is also useful in psychotherapeutic
work with this population, especially
due to its focus on how the internalization of early
selfobject disappointments impacts one’s psychic
structure. When a person experiences early object
failures or loss, object relations theorists argue, he is
at risk for internalizing these “bad objects” and
developing attachment difficulties. The emphasis
of treatment is to create a therapeutic holding
environment in which the therapist provides a new,
positive object relationship experience for the client
(Brandell & Perlman, 1997).
Loss of a Primary Object:
The Primal Wound
Although circumstances vary according to the age
at which a child is adopted, the holding environment
created by the adoptive parents, and the natural temperament
of the child, the one universal feature of all
adoptions is early loss of a primary object, an experience
referred to as the primal wound (Lifton, 1990;
Rosenberg, 1992). Some researchers argue that
attachment begins in utero and that the loss of a birth
mother due to adoption is experienced as a real loss of
object (Rosenberg, 1992). Others argue that while an
adoptee may not have experienced an intense attachment
to her birth mother before the adoption and
may not, therefore, be consciously aware of this primary
loss, one’s adopted status, alone, contributes to
Fall 2004 • Volume 4 28 PRAXIS
Unique Issues in Psychotherapy with Adult Adoptees
by Jennifer Pineda Carizey
feelings of loss, rejection, and abandonment
(Kirschner, 1990; Rosenberg, 1992; Silverstein &
Kaplan, 1998).
An adoptee’s separation from his birth parents may
cause difficulties in subsequent relationships in terms
of attachment. Some adoptees form attachments to
others in an almost immediate and indiscriminate
manner (Samuel, 2003). In other cases, they may
respond to the loss of a primary object by developing
avoidant defenses that serve to protect them from
future losses or rejection, a pattern that is especially
common among persons who are adopted at an older
age, due to multiple placements or abuse (Silverstein
& Kaplan, 1998). The following narrative from an
adult adoptee illustrates the low intimacy tolerance
experienced by many adoptee clients, regardless of
their age at the time of adoption:
I think we Adoptees have trouble making
and sustaining relationships. We share a
vulnerability to the stresses and strains of
everyday interactions, have real difficulty
forming ties and connections. We need
security and dependency, but try to escape
from it. We seem to need freedom. We
don’t trust people. (Lifton, 1979, p. 65)
Filling in the Gaps: The Creation of
Fantasy Objects
Some adoptees who have limited or no information
about their biological background may experience
their birth parents as significant but elusive so that
they feel compelled to make conjectures about which
characteristics they have inherited from these biological
sources (Rosenberg, 1992). The adoptee may
have considerable difficulty coming to terms with the
loss of her primary object, and create fantasies in an
attempt to repair the unmet selfobject needs that
result from the primal wound (Freeman & Freund,
1998; Lifton, 1990). For example, an adoptee who is
athletic and grows up in a family of artistic intellectuals
may imagine that his birth parents share his
physical talents, thus creating a feeling of connectedness
to his fantasized birth parents.
Fantasy objects may manifest themselves in a
splitting process in which an adoptee attributes positive
characteristics to one set of parents and negative
characteristics to the other set (Kirschner, 1990).
Often, adoptees will create a fantasy involving idealized
birth parents and seek to differentiate between
themselves and their adoptive parents (Silverstein &
Kaplan, 1998). On the other hand, adoptees may
also experience their birth parents as disavowed,
abandoning objects and attribute the positive characteristics
to their adoptive parents. This splitting
between parental sets may impact adoptees’ formations
of self and influence them to disavow these
parts of themselves that they imagine to have inherited
from the “bad” set of parents (Kirschner, 1990;
Rosenberg, 1992). For example, an adoptee who
imagines her birth mother to be a sexually promiscuous
and irresponsible woman may deny her own
sexuality or punish herself for healthy sexual urges
(Rosenberg, 1992).
Existence of a Hole-Object: When the Gap
Remains
Sometimes the objects that adoptees create to
organize their primary loss experiences are vague
due to the lack of internal representations of their
birth parents. In such cases, the created objects may
be beyond conscious awareness so that they are
experienced as missing objects or hole-objects
(Freeman & Freund, 1998). Clients who present
with this hole-object phenomenon may appear to
have a lack of interpersonal attachment. They often
treat significant people in their lives as if they do not
exist or may respond to the loss of an intimate partner
or death of a family member with little to no
reaction (Freeman & Freund, 1998). This phenomenon
clearly impacts the adoptee’s ability to sustain
meaningful interpersonal relationships.
Attachment to Adoptive Parents
The quality of the attachment that develops
between the adoptee and the adoptive parents is a
critical factor in the repair of the primary loss
(Brodzinsky, et. al, 1998; Rosenberg, 1992). This
attachment varies according to the unique characteristics
of both the child and the parents who have elected
to adopt him. The decision to adopt usually occurs
following a certain loss on the part of the prospective
adoptive parents, in that most people choose to adopt
as a result of their being unable to conceive or carry a
biological child to term (Brodzinsky, et al., 1998;
Kupecky & Anderson, 1998; Silverstein & Kaplan,
1998; Rosenberg, 1992). Therefore, the degree to
which the adoptive parents are able to accept and
work through this loss has a strong influence on their
Fall 2004 • Volume 4 29 PRAXIS
Unique Issues in Psychotherapy with Adult Adoptees
ability to create a healthy holding environment for
their adopted child. Adoptive parents who maintain
fantasies about their idealized biological child may
inadvertently create an environment in which an
adopted child experiences rejection due to her inability
to meet the idealized expectations (Silverstein &
Kaplan, 1998), as illustrated in the following comment
from a woman with two adopted children:
I love my two children very much, but I
have an inner fantasy I would never admit
to other adoptive parents…I would like to
see the face and body of the biological
child I couldn’t have. We have gorgeous
people in our family, and bright people
with brilliant minds. I’m sure it would
have been a wonderful child. (Lifton, 1979,
p. 187)
Identity Formation
Identity formation is an issue that is often
addressed in discussions of the adoption experience,
especially that of the adoptee entering the
transition to adulthood. Early adulthood is regarded
as the life cycle stage in which people evaluate the
characteristics and values they have inherited from
their families of origin and decide which aspects to
maintain and which to discard (Urdang, 2002).
This can be a unique struggle for an adoptee.
One issue that is thought to interfere with an
adoptee’s development of a coherent sense of self is
the lack of others with similar physical characteristics
(Lifton, 1979). The capacity to understand
one’s growth into an individuated person is thought
to rely, to a certain degree, on the existence of role
models and twinship selfobjects to whom one can
relate. Twinship is a self psychology concept which
refers to selfobjects that provide a person with a
sense of belonging and sameness, confirming her
place in the world (Cooper & Lesser, 2002; Brandell
& Perlman, 1997). Basch (1992) contends that the
twinship experience is, in essence, the experience of
“being like” the other and is the most important of
the selfobject experiences.
Therefore, the inability of an adoptee to look to
an older adult with whom he may share some physical
sameness may impede the process of identity
formation. This is especially prevalent in cases of
interracial or interethnic adoptions, as illustrated by
the following example of an adult adoptee that was
born in Seoul, South Korea, but grew up in an
Italian American family:
Finding my way through this background—
Korean-Italian-American
adoptee—has been like swinging on a pendulum.
At different stages of my life the
pendulum has swung from my identification
with my Italian American roots over
to my Korean birth and then back again.
(Groza,Houlihan & Rosenberg, 2001, p. 198)
The confusion that results from an adoptee’s feeling
of “differentness” has been coined “genealogical
bewilderment” and refers not only to a physical dissimilarity
but also to a sense of not being with “one’s
own kind” (Lifton, 1979, p. 47). The lack of “being
like” experiences among adult adoptees is demonstrated
in the following narrative from an adult
adoptee:
I never thought I had much in common
with anybody. I had no mother, no father,
no roots, no biological similarities called sisters
and brothers…I wanted to go my own
way. That’s all I think I ever wanted…
(Lifton, 1979, p. 67)
When little information is known about one’s birth
family, the biological component of one’s identity is
missing so that a person effectively borrows the identity
of the adoptive family (Silverstein & Kaplan,
1998). However, adoptees sometimes have difficulty
developing an integrated sense of self without information
about their biological history (Rosenberg,
1998). This “need to know” often leads adoptees to
search for their birth families during early adulthood.
One adult adoptee who searched and received nonidentifying
information about her biological family
described the impact of her first experience with
twinship:
For the first time in my life, I felt physically
attached to someone. The information I
received told me that I look like both my
birth father and birth mother, suffer with her
allergies, and now I understand why I have
such an interest in music. (Schooler, 2001)
In closed adoption cases, adoptees frequently remain
cut off from their heritage and intergenerational line,
Fall 2004 • Volume 4 30 PRAXIS
Unique Issues in Psychotherapy with Adult Adoptees
potentially resulting in a sense of disconnect and
alienation from self (Brodzinsky, et al., 1998).
The development of an integrated sense of self can
also be a challenge in the case of open adoptions or
when a search for one’s birth family results in
increased medical, genetic, or ethno-cultural background
information. Because early adulthood is
marked by the complex process of embracing, modifying,
and discarding certain aspects inherited from
one’s family of origin, this process is further complicated
when a person must contend with two families
of origin – a birth family and an adoptive family. An
adoptee may feel that her life narrative is fragmented
(Lifton, 1990), and is faced with the difficult task of
either disregarding the identity inherited from one
family altogether or integrating the characteristics of
both the birth family and the adoptive family. As a
result, adoptees may feel divided by two identities that
cannot be merged (Partridge, 1991).
When the task of developing an integrated sense of
self is complicated by either a missing frame of reference
or by the existence of two competing backgrounds,
a person’s identity may become fragmented,
resulting in the formation of an adopted self (Lifton,
1990). Adoptees are often implicitly encouraged,
either by the biases conveyed through the closed
adoption system or by the unspoken pressures created
by their adoptive parents’ insecurities, to deny the
part of themselves that comes from their birth family.
This results in a kind of splitting of the self into two
other selves: the false self and the forbidden self. The
false self is the part that pretends to have been born
into the adoptive family and rejects the importance of
a birth heritage. The forbidden self is that part that
still longs for the truth in its quest for an authentic
consolidation of identity (Lifton, 1990).
The Created Meaning of Adoption: Good
Adoptee versus Bad Adoptee
Much of the adoption literature and research that is
available focuses on the way that this population differs
from the general public in terms of mental health,
social adjustment, and life cycle transitions. In fact,
some adoption experts have gone so far as to label
these identified differences in behavior and personality
traits as pathological, coining this phenomenon
the adopted child syndrome (Kirschner, 1990; Wegar,
1997). To date, the available literature lends very little
attention to the ways in which current cultural values
and the social stigmatization of adoption may affect
the ongoing experience of the adoptee.
The life experience of an adoptee raised in America
is complicated by the competing socio-cultural values
that exist regarding the standards of familial loyalty
and the meaning of kinship. A thorough examination
of the adoptee, like the exploration of any human
experience, must be predicated on a person-in-environment
approach. In the case of the adoptee, the
existence of the adoption circle should be recognized.
That is, the interconnectedness of the adoptee’s, birth
parents’ and adoptive parents’ lives must be
acknowledged. However, even the adoption circle
can be understood only in the context of the socially
constructed meaning of the adoption experience.
American culture traditionally emphasizes the
importance of blood ties in the definition of kinship
and, therefore, pathologizes the adoptee experience as
“different” (Rosenberg, 1992). A common argument
in the literature is that “… genealogical knowledge is
necessary for the development of normal identity”
(Wegar, 1997, p. 68). Indeed, the discussion of
identity formation in this very paper has, as its
foundation, the premise that an adopted person’s
struggle for selfhood is markedly distinct from that of
a person for whom blood kinship is a given.
Central to a discussion about the meaning of
adoptee identity are the competing definitions of
the “good” adoptee and the “bad” adoptee which are
largely based on the debate between the adoptee’s
“need to know” and the birth parents’ “right to privacy”
(Rosenberg, 1992). These definitions are not
absolute, but nonetheless have an intense impact on
the way in which an adoptee approaches the task of
identity formation and creates meaning out of his
life experience.
Most adopted adults who are currently seeking psychotherapeutic
treatment were adopted in the closed
adoption system, which is marked by a lack of disclosure
about the adoptee’s birth family (Lifton, 1979;
Wegar, 1997). This system implicitly argues that the
“good” adoptee is one who does not question adoptive
ties and “… is sensitive to his [adoptive] parents’
needs to make believe he wasn’t adopted” (Lifton,
1979, p. 54). Under this definition, “good” adoptees
are grateful for having been saved from orphanhood
and may believe that they do not have the right to feel
dissatisfied in any way simply because they are alive
and have been adopted by people who love them
(Lifton, 1979). Unrestrained curiosity about one’s
Fall 2004 • Volume 4 31 PRAXIS
Unique Issues in Psychotherapy with Adult Adoptees
biological background is not in keeping with the
image of the “good” adoptee. The “bad” adoptee, in
contrast, openly communicates his/her interest in
genealogical information. Lifton (1979) argues that
adoptive parents often experience this curiosity as a
betrayal or rejection, due to their unresolved infertility
issues.
On the other side of the debate is the “search
movement” currently underway in America that
emphasizes the importance of biological ties in
the formation of kinship (Lifton, 1979;
Rosenberg, 1992; Wegar, 1997). Search activists
argue that in order to develop a coherent sense of self,
adoptees must search for and be given genealogical
information, thus appealing to the American value
that kinship is biologically based. Adoptees that lack
genealogical continuity are defined as “other” and
those who do not wish to search for biological kinship
are thought to be even more “different” (Lifton,
1979). Therefore, there is a belief among American
non-adoptees that those adoptees who choose to
search for their birth families are “more like us” in that
they share the “normal” desire for human connectedness
with their own kind (Wegar, 1997, p. 13).
This definition of the “normal” adoptee as one who
is curious is in direct contrast with the definition of
the “good” adoptee who has no interest in the identity
or background of his/her birth family. As a result
of these conflicting standards, adoptees often have
divided loyalties. They are told by American society
that they do not have true kinship in their lives and
are simultaneously discouraged from seeking such
kinship. These competing values may create ambivalence
in adoptees regarding their “need to know.”
Implications for Practice
Beginning Phase of Treatment
Early object loss can affect the treatment process
by influencing the development of a relationship
between the adult adoptee client and the clinician.
The intimacy avoidant ego-defense that can result
from this loss may impede the psychotherapeutic
process because developing trust with the therapist
and forming an effective therapeutic relationship
may be more of a challenge. On the other hand, as
previously discussed, some clients have a tendency
to attach to others quickly and indiscriminately.
This is likely due, in part, to their lack of a mirroring
selfobject during their early years. According to self
psychology, mirroring selfobjects are those which
respond to a person and confirm her innate sense of
capableness, greatness, and perfection (Brandell &
Perlman, 1997; Cooper & Lesser, 2002).
An adult adoptee who has been deprived of a mirroring
selfobject or who continues to suffer from
the primal wound may respond to the therapist’s
empathic ear with an instant idealizing transference.
That is, the client may experience the therapist as “a
powerful and reassuring presence…to whom [she]
can look up [to]” (Brandell & Perlman, 1997, p. 71).
Ideally, a person will later merge with this idealized
selfobject in order to achieve an internal sense of
calm (Brandell & Perlman, 1997). When a person
develops an idealizing transference to her therapist
early on in the treatment, it can be very diagnostic
in regard to a possible lack of these experiences
prior to the therapeutic relationship.
Adoptees’ early object loss may also be a factor in
this population’s widespread tendency to transferentially
experience the therapist as their lost birth
parent or other long-lost relative (Bertocci &
Schechter, 1991; Kirschner, 1990). This can result in
the client experiencing considerable ambivalence
about the psychotherapeutic process due to their
simultaneously occurring desire for attachment and
fear of abandonment.
Middle Phase
The middle phase of treatment with adult
adoptees is often marked by issues of transference
and countertransference, splitting in identity formation,
and an ambivalence about addressing
adoption issues within the psychotherapeutic
process. Transference issues often arise in relation to
the client’s formation of fantasy objects. Fantasy
objects impact the psychotherapeutic process when
the client transfers them onto the therapist, thereby
experiencing the therapist as the “good,” idealized
birth mother, for example. A transference that idealizes
the therapist, however, can quickly change to a
negative transference of the rejecting, abandoning
birth parent when the therapist is unable to meet the
high expectations that have been created by the
adoptee’s fantasized objects (Rosenberg, 1992). The
transference of fantasy objects onto the therapist
often triggers countertransferential responses. At
times, therapists who are faced with clients who want
them to be good birth mothers find that this transfer-
Fall 2004 • Volume 4 32 PRAXIS
Unique Issues in Psychotherapy with Adult Adoptees
ence appeals to their “desire to provide them with
something good” (Samuel, 2003, p. 214), and creates
pressure to satisfy the needs left unfulfilled by
the lost object.
Transference issues may also arise in regard to
clients who present with a hole-object, or a sense of
a missing object. Since hole-objects lack concreteness,
they can manifest in the psychotherapeutic
transference as the client treating the therapist as if
he does not exist; this way of being related to can be
experienced by the therapist as a sense of unreality,
confusion, or a general feeling of disconnect during
interactions with these adoptees (Freeman & Freund,
1998). This, too, can be an obstruction to the maintenance
of the therapeutic alliance and can stunt
treatment progress.
When an adoptee develops an adopted self, which is
split into a false self and a forbidden self, the challenging
process of identity formation is further complicated.
A theoretical approach using object relations
may be effective in psychotherapeutic work with
adoptees who experience this kind of splitting, as this
school of thought holds as one of its primary goals
the modification of intrapsychic splits, including that
which involves the false self (Cooper & Lesser, 2002).
By providing new object experiences in a therapeutic
holding environment, the therapist can assist the
client in building new internal objects to create a
more authentic self.
The process of splitting between the birth parents
and the adoptive parents, often observed among adult
adoptees, can lead to a splitting mechanism in the
psychotherapeutic process as well. This pattern is
referred to as double transference, and occurs when the
client splits the therapist, experiencing her as “all
good” or “all bad,” just as he might experience the
exaggerated demarcation of the parental sets
(Brodzinsky, et al., 1998; Samuel, 2003).
Adoptees that present with identity formation difficulties
due to a fragmented life narrative or divided
loyalties may be helped with a self psychology
approach. A common goal of self psychology treatment
is the development of self cohesion (Pessein &
Young, 1993). Providing empathic attunement to an
adoptee’s selfobject needs may be an effective intervention
in offering a reparative experience in the face
of an adoptee’s early object loss and the subsequent
disintegration of identity (Pessein & Young, 1993).
However, when information on biological origins is
lacking, adoptees may experience obstacles in their
efforts to develop self-cohesion without gaining
access to historical information or actual interaction
with their birth families (Lifton, 1979;Wegar, 1997).
The contradicting societal messages that adult
adoptees receive about the nature of kinship and the
definitions of the “good” adoptee and “bad” adoptee
can create substantial ambivalence regarding the
degree to which their adoption status will be
addressed in the therapy room. This ambivalence can
be dealt with in the therapeutic process by acknowledging
that one’s adoption status is an important
aspect of one’s experience without defining it as “a
pathologically scarring event” (Rosenberg, 1992, p.
148). The unique developmental tasks of adoption
can be normalized for clients without offering a narrow
definition of “normal” (Rosenberg, 1992). For
some adult adoptees, a search for birth parents may
be a necessary step in healing. Other adoptees will be
completely uninterested in gaining knowledge about
their biological background.
When an adoptee client presents his adoption as a
“non-issue,” special challenges are created for the
therapist. Sometimes “good” adoptee clients maintain
that being adopted has caused no discomfort or
confusion in their lives. They may express a lack of
interest in even discussing their adoption status in
psychotherapy sessions. This presentation may stem
from the development of coping skills that minimize
the importance of the adoption in an effort to protect
their adoptive parents from “awareness of wishes and
feelings about the birth parent” (Freeman & Freund,
1998, p. 27). Therapists may choose to “start where
the client is,” therefore respecting the assertion that
their adoption status is of no consequence. On the
other hand, therapists may feel obligated to emphasize,
to some degree, the importance of their clients’
response to the adoption experience, thus risking the
creation of divergent goals.
Traditionally, therapists have erred on the side of
minimizing the impact of adoption on their clients
(Lifton, 1990; Rosenberg, 1992),which has resulted in
their colluding in avoidance and risking repetition of
the empathic failure these clients may have experienced
with their adoptive parents. In a recent empirical study
examining adult adoptees’ and birth parents’ experiences
in psychotherapy, therapists who addressed
adoption as an important clinical issue were perceived
as significantly more helpful compared to those
therapists who did not address the adoption experience
(Sass & Henderson, 2002).
Fall 2004 • Volume 4 33 PRAXIS
Unique Issues in Psychotherapy with Adult Adoptees
Therapists working with adult adoptees must be
aware of the countertransferential reactions that may
be experienced due to their beliefs about kinship,
adoption, and the “need to know.” The literature is
filled with examples of adult adoptee clients who have
received psychotherapeutic treatment from therapists
who failed to initiate explorations of the meaning the
client has given to the adoption experience
(Brodzinsky, et. al, 1998; Freeman & Freund, 1998;
Lifton, 1990; Rosenberg, 1992; Sass & Henderson,
2002). For example, Freeman and Freund (1998)
describe the therapeutic work that was done with
Kathy, a woman who had been in therapy twice before
and whose prior therapists had completely avoided
discussion of her adoption. The third therapist, however,
acknowledged Kathy’s distinct experience as an
adoptee and eventually helped her to address ongoing
issues of insecure attachments, identity confusion,
and fear of abandonment. Through the course of
treatment, Kathy and her therapist learned that these
issues each stemmed, in some way, from Kathy’s personal
narrative about being an adoptee. Had Kathy’s
therapist not been aware of the adult adoptee’s unique
struggle with loss and the impact it has on subsequent
identity formation, Kathy may not have had the
opportunity to integrate her adoption narrative into a
coherent sense of self.
Therapists’ common reluctance to discuss the
impact of adoption may be indicative of their discomfort
with this issue or a lack of knowledge on how to
address the characteristic concerns and developmental
tasks of an adult adoptee. It may be necessary for clinicians
to seek more training about the unique life cycle
of the adoptee in order to better serve this population.
Termination
The primary loss experienced by adoptees may
impact the termination process in psychotherapy. As
is the case with many clients who have a pattern of
difficult separations, there is a risk that adoptees will
experience the ending of a therapeutic relationship as
another rejection or abandonment (Rosenberg,
1992). Psychotherapists must be aware that while the
termination process may be complicated due to
adoptee clients’ proclivity to experience the therapist
as an abandoning object (Siebold, 1991), it simultaneously
creates a unique opportunity to rework the
client’s experience of separation and loss in a safe,
empathic environment.
Conclusion
The issues of loss, attachment, and identity formation
are common themes that arise in psychotherapeutic
practice. Adult adoptees typically present with
these intrapsychic themes that can be effectively
addressed in the course of therapy. Additionally, the
psychotherapeutic process can serve as a safe environment
in which to explore the meaning that has been
attributed to being an adoptee in America, an issue
that seems to have been largely neglected in existing
literature and current practice. Through an awareness
of the common reactions to loss among this population,
as well as a thorough understanding of the
socio-cultural forces that impact the adoptee experience,
psychotherapists can assist adult adoptees in
modifying internalized object structures and healing
the primal wound.