Our resident columnist Anna is back again after a break for our Adoption Sore Point week, this time talking about what’s helped her…
A couple of posts in and I feel as though I’d like to offer some balance, I can’t change my experiences, they are as they are, but I have been reﬂecting on some of the things that I have found helpful along the way.
I was adopted at the end of the 1970’s at a time when the adoption of a child was more often through relinquishment than removal and the general consensus seemed to be that ‘what babies don’t know, won’t hurt them’ – the theory being that if you adopted a child young enough, they wouldn’t ever know any different (I’m not entirely sure what the thinking was around older children…)
Now, although adoption support is still not universal, it is at least being recognised as necessary and the advent of the adoption support fund (ASF) will hopefully provide some much needed intervention and support for all of those impacted by adoption. Adopted people are over- represented within the mental health system in the UK, it seems as good a time as any to begin to address this and get the right support in place for families, sooner.
For me, one of the most helpful things growing up, was knowing other people who were adopted- living in the middle of nowhere this was a bit of a challenge, but there was another boy in my school who was adopted. We never talked about it (and nor did my adopted brother and I, save for one conversation where he told me he never wanted to discuss it again) but it was enough to know there were other people. I wasn’t the outsider that I felt like.
As a bit of a music/ comedy/ literature ﬁend growing up- I discovered some of my favourite artists were adopted, Wendy James from Transvision Vamp, Jackie Kay, Jeanette Winterson and the comedian Stewart Lee and each time I discovered another I felt less alone. I had fantasy conversations with them and they just got me, and I them, because in my head they would know what it felt like, adoption was a shortcut to understanding.
I also had therapy, lots and lots of therapy, from 14 onwards- unfortunately my parents, not being au fait with attachment theory bundled me off to a boarding school at 16 as they found it hard to cope with my me-ness, so for two years I felt rejected, abandoned and displaced all over again, without really understanding why, but at least I had my music, my books and my friends, a surrogate family of people who put up with me in spite of (or maybe because of) how I was.
At 18, I moved away and had my ﬁrst experience of person centred counselling, it was via the University counselling service and lasted a whole year- accessing a whole year of therapy was wonderful ..and at last I didn’t have someone telling me that what I was feeling was wrong, or ungrateful, or weird, my counsellor accepted me, completely, and wow!…that was powerful. The idea that someone could accept all the different parts of me, the light and the shade was almost overwhelming, and the fact that I could internalise some of it helped immeasurably over the following few years..
And I wanted more, so at various times since, I have engaged in the same kind of counselling, I am still seeing the same counsellor I started seeing 8 years ago when I found my birth mother and she is amazing, she doesn’t judge, she doesn’t offer me her version of events or interpret, she just listens, and accepts and she even went out and bought a copy of ‘The Primal Wound’ by Nancy Newton-Verrier in order to understand me better: now that’s commitment..
With hindsight, I think what would have helped me at home growing up would have been lots of expressed love backed up with a healthy dollop of evidence, the time and space to talk about being adopted, empathic understanding (including asking how I was feeling) ﬁrm boundaries and an ability to hold my needs in mind- I’m sure my adoptive parents did their best, and certainly thought they were doing it- but unfortunately the things that I needed most (love and acceptance) were traded in for money and projected wants.
Please don’t get me wrong, I know that my adoptive parents really tried and I certainly didn’t give them the easiest ride, but the generation chasm between us and my adoptive mothers unresolved attachment issues coupled with some fairly regular corporal punishment (it was the 80’s…) did not make for a secure base.
Not everyone wants to be a therapist, but many people already have the skills, values and attributes to offer children unconditional love, empathy and genuineness, but people shouldn’t have to provide that in a vacuum- the ASF offers many types of therapeutic support, several of which are speciﬁcally aimed at the whole family, which I hope, can only be a good thing.
So below, I have reproduced the list of recommended therapies potentially accessible via the ASF, to highlight what’s available now- and it’s great that it is (although a comprehensive glossary of all the different therapies would be helpful too) I hope that the choice on offer reﬂects the needs of those accessing it and that alternatives to the list aren’t discounted out of hand either.
The Adoption Support Fund will pay for therapeutic support and services including but not restricted to:
Therapeutic parenting training
Further more complex assessment (e.g CAMHS assessment, multidisciplinary assessment including education and heath, cognitive and neuropsychological assessment, other mental health needs assessment.)
Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy
Creative therapies e.g. art, music, drama, play
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
Non-Violent Resistance (NVR)
Sensory integration therapy
Specialist clinical assessments where required (e.g. Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder)
Extensive therapeutic life story work
Respite care (where it is part of a therapeutic intervention)
Source: First4Adoption, 2015