Adoptee Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of counselling for adult adoptees?

Counselling may not be right for every adoptee, and complex issues like childhood relinquishment to not have quick fixes. However, many adult adoptees who work with adoption-competent therapists experience benefits like:

  • Increased confidence and self-esteem
  • Stronger, healthier relationships
  • Resolution of adoption-centered traumas or loss
  • Reduced symptoms of other mental health issues such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety

We are knowledgeable about adoption-related issues, have experienced many of these issues first-hand, and are able to provide support tailored to the unique needs of adoptees. We understand that few safe spaces exist for adoptees to share their experiences, we are honoured to be able to provide such a place for so many adoptees, and we consider your experience to be sacred. As we unravel the trauma that is caused by childhood relinquishment and the way our nervous systems have organized themselves around that trauma, we learn to make peace with the coping mechanisms that got us this far, while creating new strategies that lead to stronger relationships and more meaningful life. Most importantly, we recognize that childhood relinquishment is developmental, relational, attachment trauma, and that a healthy, attuned therapeutic relationship with an understanding and compassionate practitioner is key to healing.

When should adult adoptees consider counselling?

If you are an adult adoptee, it might be a good time to consider counselling if:

  • You are experiencing depression, anxiety, or ā€˜stucknessā€™ that feels like it might be related to trauma, loss, or your adoption journey.
  • Adoption-specific trauma or thoughts are affecting your day-to-day life or relationships.
  • You are considering beginning a search for a birth family.
  • You are considering or have already begun a reunion with your birth family.

It is not uncommon for adoptees to go through life without really considering the impact of their adoption. For many of us, patterns arise in our jobs and our relationships that we want to change, but we never associate them with our adoption experience. Many of us have sought counselling throughout our lives to change certain behaviours, but the therapies were not effective because we didnā€™t recognize the root problem and the therapist did not fully understand the potential impacts of adverse childhood experiences like relinquishment. It is only when we are older and able to reflect back that many of us start to grasp the significance that our origin story had on us at the time, and during every phase of development since. Whether we knew it or not, whether our upbringings were happy and loving or not, our relinquishment and adoption stories affect every aspect of our lives. Even if you have tried therapy before, if you have feelings or behaviours that you would like to change and if you think they might be related to your adoption journey, now might be a good time to reach out for support.

What makes counselling for adoptees different?

Many adoptees start by seeking support from a general mental health professional, but they often discover that traditionally trained counsellors are unable to provide the support that they need.

A 2018 study found that ā€œadoptees reported being more satisfied with therapy if their therapists placed emphasis on adoption regardless of the amount of attention that was focused on adoptionā€. An experienced adoption-competent therapist understands that adoptees benefit most from relationally based modalities that connect present moment behaviours to an individualā€™s emotions and thoughts from the very beginning of their life and honouring each personā€™s unique origin story. An adoption-experienced professional is uniquely equipped to offer advice, support, and strategies that are specific to adoptees as they explore with you what adoption means to you.

Depending on the needs of the individual client, counselling for adult adoptees may focus on:

  • The impact ofĀ separation of infant/child and mother on childhood development.
  • How the autonomic nervous system responds to relinquishment trauma.
  • How these responses operate on ā€œautopilotā€ throughout the lifespan unless interrupted through personal growth work or counselling.
  • Difficulties feeling a sense of belonging in adoptive families, no matter how loving they may be, and how the sense of not belonging invades many other relationships.
  • Other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) including abuse or neglect.

Adoptees often struggle with a feeling that they lack control; that everyone had a choice in their situation but them, and they were expected to fit in, become who their adoptive families want them to be. Adoption-competent therapists are sensitive to the lack of agency that has pervaded adopteesā€™ lives, meaning that the direction of counselling will be guided by the adoptee, not the counsellor. Additionally, adoption-competent therapy will be more relational than many traditional psychodynamic therapies; the adoptee/therapist relationship is more about exploring ideas together than an expert dispensing wisdom.

Although I love my adoptive parents, I have this lingering feeling inside that something isnā€™t quite right, and I am unsure of how to explore it without betraying my family. Am I being selfish and ungrateful?

It is perfectly normal to feel uncertain, even overwhelmed, about your emotions right now. Rest assured that many, if not most, adoptees have experienced similar feelings.

For some, these feelings begin in adolescence while for others they bubble to the surface during significant life events. For instance, the birth of a child can bring on the epiphany that this is the first person an adoptee has ever met that they are related to, and a birthday can leave us wondering if there are people we donā€™t know that are thinking about us, while a medical questionnaire could have us questioning the medical history of our family of origin. As we gain life experience and our views evolve, it is entirely normal to become aware of mixed emotions about growing up in a different family and to feel protective of them, especially if that is the only family you have ever known and love deeply. Take your time to navigate this process.

We have resources available to you, and we suggest finding a trusted friend and perhaps finding a therapist who is competent in addressing the unique needs of adult adoptees.

As I grow older, my feelings toward being adopted are changing. I have come to realize that I may be more conflicted and anxious about it than I was when I was younger.

This is not uncommon. One of the challenges with the way society thinks about adoption is that we focus on it as an event that occurred on the day the child was placed in their new home. We often forget that by this time, trauma has already occurred; separation from the birth mother is complex, developmental trauma, and the childā€™s brain and nervous system have developed coping strategies long before the child lands in their ā€˜forever homeā€™. These strategies can include performing in a particular manner in social situations (being very shy or overly outgoing), isolating oneself from others, or using substances to numb feelings. These are trauma responses that were learned long before we had the cognitive ability to choose our actions, and often complex, developmental trauma leaves us in a perpetual state of fight, fight, or freeze that is so normal for us that we donā€™t even recognize it. We continue to employ these strategies unconsciously throughout our lives, long after they cease to serve us. It is not until we are older and have gained the ability to truly reflect on ourselves and our lives that we question why we think, feel, and behave in certain ways that are different from those around us. Through introspection we may connect the dots and recognize that our relinquishment and adoption was not a single event in the past, but a part of our identity that seeps into every relationship we have. As we age, we come to recognize that our coping mechanisms are no longer effective and seek therapy to change our behaviour in order to allow ourselves to deepen our relationships and build more meaningful lives.

I feel like people donā€™t understand what I am experiencing with regards to my adoption, and they act like my thinking about it so much means that there is something wrong with me. How do I just forget it and move on?

You are probably right. Societyā€™s understanding of adoption and its impacts on everyone involved is very limited. Television shows, books, and movies barely scratch the surface of this complex issue and most narratives position adoptees as unfortunate victims in need of saving and adoptive parents as altruistic saviours who are owed a debt of gratitude. You are not crazy for feeling that people do not understand because, for the most part, they donā€™t. Every day, advocates are working tirelessly to educate policymakers, child protection services, educators, and the rest of society about the complex trauma associated with childhood relinquishment and rehoming. Never forget that there are millions of adults around the world who share your experience and understand your feelings.

You are not crazy, ungrateful, or wrong. And you are definitely not alone. We are not aware of any strategies that successfully allow adult adoptees to just ā€˜forget and move onā€™, but a therapist who is competent and knowledgeable about complex trauma can help you to relate to your experience in new ways that allow you to reconnect with your authentic self, build deeper relationships, and create a more meaningful life.

Whether you’re looking to change certain behaviors or simply better understand yourself, we are here to help you discover your authentic self and build a more meaningful life.

We appreciate your questions. If you have a question that we did not answer here, please contact us and we promise to respond.

Ready to get started? With Adoptee Counselling Online Sessions, you can connect with a counsellor from anywhere in Ontario, as long as you have a reliable internet connection and a compatible device, like a computer, tablet, or smartphone.