The Emotional Experience of Adoption: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

The Emotional Experience of Adoption: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

The Emotional Experience of Adoption: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

The Emotional Experience of Adoption: A Psychoanalytic Perspective


Adoption is an extremely complex and emotionally demanding process for all those involved. This book explores the emotional experience of adoption from a psychoanalytic perspective, and demonstrates how psychoanalytic understanding and treatment can contribute to thinking about and working with adopted children and their families.

Drawing on psychoanalytic, attachment and child development theory, and detailed in-depth clinical case discussion, The Emotional Experience of Adoption explores issues such as:

  • the emotional experience of children placed for adoption, and how this both shapes and is shaped by unconscious processes in the child's inner world
  • how psychoanalytic child psychotherapy can help as a distinctive source of understanding and as a treatment for children who are either in the process of being adopted or already adopted
  • how such understanding can inform planning and decision making amongst professionals and carers.

The Emotional Experience of Adoption explains and accounts for the emotional and psychological complexities involved for child, parents and professionals in adoption. It will be of interest and relevance to anyone involved at a personal level in the adoption process or professionals working in the fields of adoption, social work, child mental health, foster care and family support.


Adoption is a theme of both universal interest and profound and unusual particularity. In this book, Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of Thumbelina and the story of Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which appear in the first and final chapters, attest to the former. In between, we are offered a series of rich, moving, and often very painful stories arising from therapeutic engagements with adopted children and their families by some of the most experienced and thoughtful practitioners working in this field.

Recent developments in UK government policy with respect to adoption and children in public care embody the difficulty, or perhaps the impossibility, of ever properly bridging the gap between these polarities of the universal and the particular when it comes to adoption. Policies advocating the removal of barriers to opportunity for children in care or placed for adoption are laudable in their intentions, but tend to be silent on the complex and unique emotional realities facing these children and young people, and their carers. This book is a courageous and important contribution to redressing this balance.

The emotional realities of abuse, neglect and abandonment experienced by so many of the children who are placed for adoption are almost unthinkably painful. Yet the task of trying to live lives as ‘ordinary’ as possible in the face of such experiences, and of helping adoptive families integrate this ‘unthinkability’ is the crucial contribution that therapists and social workers can make in this field. The need to link understanding of inner and outer world experience in this work requires therapists who can move creatively ‘beyond the consulting room’, and social workers who can engage with the emotional complexity of inner worlds. One of the great strengths of this book is that it shows these two professions working together at their best to support what John Simmonds calls an ‘environmental therapy’ – adoption.

The state of mind that is quietly but insistently advocated here is a kind of unflinching capacity to bear emotional pain. As Lisa Miller writes in her chapter, ‘We have no wish to believe it. Our minds shy away from thoughts of a harmless baby’s pain … Social workers and adoption workers do their best in most cases to prepare prospective parents for the potential difficult times as they receive a small child into their family. Yet it remains hard to remember that the years before adoption do not go away and that the problems may not be temporary’. Because . . .

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