Canadian Council of Natural Mothers' Library

Adoptee Trauma:
A Counseling Guide for Adoptees

Heather Carlini


This book, a companion book to Birthmother Trauma, is as hopeful and positive in its outlook, while also being clear about the damage that closed adoption has done to adoptees.

Drawing from a variety of research and writing in adoption psychology, it is an excellent introduction for the general reader, and a good guide to a successful healing process for adoptees damaged by their separation from their first mothers.
The first chapter describes the process and results of the closed adoption system. Carlini quotes Sorosky, Baron and Pannor about the need for adoptees "to be connected with one's biological and historical past [as] an integral part of one's identity formation." She then goes on in Chapter 2 to describe the effects of adoption separation on the baby. This separation causes grief and trauma to the baby regardless of the adoptive family's later love for the child they take from its natural mother.
In the subsequent chapters, Carlini goes on to describe the Core Issues she has seen in adoptees in her counselling practice:

· Fear of Rejection
· Impaired Trust
· Control Madness
· Out of Touch with Their Feelings
· Feelings of Guilt and Shame
· Difficulty with Intimacy
· Tendency to Bond to Objects
· Lack of Self-Esteem (76% of adoptees have low self-esteem, according to her investigations)
· Perfectionism
· Aggressive Feelings
· Co-dependency: People Pleaser
· Loneliness
· Restlessness
· Dislike for Special Occasions
· A Sense of Dual Identities
· Identity Defusion
· Difficulty with Giving and Receiving Love

Not every adoptee will have these difficulties, nor will any adoptee have all of these issues. However, these are the experiences of the adoptees who have come to her for counselling as well as those issues remarked upon in the professional literature on adoption. Carlini describes three ways that adoptees deal with the grief of losing their natural families: some are resilient, some act out, and some become overly compliant. She also discusses defence mechanisms commonly used by adoptees to cope.

About two-thirds of the book is devoted to the process of recovery--how to help and to be helped in the process of overcoming the grief of loss and the maladaptive belief and behaviour patterns which result from closed adoption. This is the most valuable part of the book for many people. The book does not replace a counsellor, of course, but it can help a person to see how the process might go and to encourage them to begin the journey to healing. It is respectful of adoptee's processes in healing, and of mothers who've lost their children to adoption, as well as of adoptive parents who have very much loved the children that they have received.

This is an excellent book to recommend to adoptees and to adoptive parents to help them understand what the process of closed adoption can do and how to minimize its damage. The gentle tone and hopeful message that healing is possible may make it easier for them to absorb the message. Mothers and fathers who have lost their children to adoption can use this book to understand where their offspring may be coming from in reunion, and mothers contemplating 'an adoption plan' for their child can receive accurate information about the difficulties adoption can cause children separated from their first mothers.

Reviewer: Sandra Falconer Pace


ISBN: 0-9696295-2-4 Obtainable from:
Revised Edition, 1997
Editors: M. J. Turner & L. M. Wright
Morning Side Publishing
PO Box 386,
Saanichton, BC V8M 2C5

Author's Websites:

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