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The Value of Therapy for Adult Adoptees: Navigating the Lifelong Complexities of Adoption

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Online therapy for adult adoptees

Although society and the adoption industry don’t like to admit it, adoptees (every one of them) have experienced trauma. Relinquishment is trauma. Period. Many adoptees live their whole lives without recognizing the impact this trauma has had on their identity, their behaviour, and their relationships. I myself was well into my 40’s before I had the ability to reflect on my life and connect my origin experience to my adult challenges. Many in the adoption community speak about ‘coming out of the fog’, a metaphor I am not particularly fond of but one which resonates for many. This period of self-reflection can be emotional for adoptees, leaving them feeling anxious, disconnected, and rudderless. This experience leads many adult adoptees to seek therapy.

Therapy can help individuals navigate the unique challenges and complexities that arise from the adoption experience. Adoption can be a wonderful way to build a family, but it is a complicated process that can leave adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents with a range of emotions and issues that need to be addressed. Adoption focussed therapy can help adult adoptees work through these issues, and ultimately lead to better relationships, stronger bonds, and a happier, healthier life.

One of the primary goals of therapy is to help adoptees understand and process their feelings of loss and grief related to their adoption. Even in loving and supportive families, adoptees struggle with feelings of abandonment, rejection, or not belonging. Therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment where adoptees can explore these complex emotions and learn coping strategies to manage them.

Therapy is often the first safe space where adoptees can speak openly about their experiences. It is not uncommon for adult adoptees to feel guilty about experiencing anything but gratitude towards their adoptive parents who may feel threatened when their child expresses interest in their biological origin story. When supporting adult adoptees, we make it clear that they can, if they choose, be grateful while grieving their losses as the same time. We help adoptees navigate their relationship with their adopted families, with themselves, and with the other important people in their lives.

Adult adoptees also may experience complex feelings toward their birth parents and have many questions about what led to their relinquishment. Searches to answers to questions about heredity or medical histories often result in adoptees coming face to face with biological family members in uncomfortable circumstances that can lead to highly satisfying emotional reunion or devastating feelings of re-traumatisation and abandonment.

Online counselling for adult adoptees.

Therapy can provide a space where adult adoptees can work through their feelings and come to a place of understanding and acceptance. Adoptee-centered therapy hold relinquishment as a trauma of origin; long before as children, they had the cognitive ability to process events or the verbal ability to communicate distress, they experienced an overwhelming failure in their environment that their bodies and nervous systems responded to and learned to cope with. Adoptees cannot remember the relinquishment or their responses to it consciously (unless the original relinquishment occurred after the age of 4), but their body does remember. Neuroscience has confirmed that trauma is stored in our bodies at a molecular level, that our trauma responses are stored in our nervous systems to be redeployed when a similar threat is detected later in our lives. As an infant, a relinquished child, separated from the birth mother whose sounds, rhythms, and heartbeat are the only familiar sensations they know, interprets separation as a life-threatening event and responds to the loss of this most significant relationship in a protective manner, a response that is unconsciously repeated over and over throughout our lifetimes as our brain scans each subsequent relationship for signs of threat. Adult adoptees often find that they have difficulty feeling like they belong anywhere, and this can impact relationships not only during reunion, but at work, with family, with friends, and with romantic partners. Therapy supports adult adoptees to recognize patterns and coping strategies that were lifesaving at one time but no longer serve them, to choose new ways of relating to themselves and the people around them, and to build meaningful lives where they feel a deep sense of connection and belonging.

Virtual counselling for adult adoptees.

Adoptees often struggle with a multitude of issues related to attachment, identity, and communication. Adoptees may have difficulty forming attachments and may need extra support to develop healthy relationships. Adoptees may also struggle with questions about their identity and where they come from, which can impact their sense of self and self-esteem. Adoptee-specific therapy can help individuals explore these issues in a safe and supportive environment.

The primary goal of therapy with adult adoptees is to provide them with the tools and resources they need to build stronger, healthier relationships. This can include communication skills, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms for managing stress and difficult emotions.

Relinquishment is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACES have been shown to have significant negative impacts and individuals over their lifespan including increased risk of disease (diabetes and heart disease, for example), increased risk of mental health challenges (depression, anxiety, ADHD, suicidality, substance abuse, self-harm, etcetera) leading to higher rates of relationship breakdowns, transience (skipping from job to job, place to place, relationship to relationship), and incarceration.

Therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment for adult adoptees to explore their feelings, work through challenges, and build stronger, healthier relationships. Successful therapeutic interventions focused on complex developmental trauma such as childhood relinquishment can offset the negative impacts of adverse childhood experiences and help adoptees build meaningful lives full of deep connection.

If you are an adult adoptee, we have a program specifically designed to meet your unique needs. Visit us at for more details.

Counselling and psychotherapy for adult adoptees.

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