Adoption and Mental Health Issues

Adoption and Mental Health Issues

The adoption process frequently raises issues for the adoptee throughout her life. Psychological issues may occur regardless of the current age of the adoptee, how old she was at adoption or how her family life is now. Even when life with an adoptive family is overwhelmingly positive an adoptee may still have difficulties due to the experience of being adopted. Adoptive parents should not feel guilty for their child’s struggles, but should seek help for their adopted child from qualified professionals who have experience with adoption issues.

Mental Health Issues Commonly Experienced by Adopted Children

Some of the most common psychological issues that adopted children experience include:

  • Unexpressed grief over the loss of birth parents, former caregivers and former homes
  • Attachment disorder – difficulty establishing and/or maintaining close personal relationships with adoptive parents, other adoptive family members, friends, and later in life, romantic partners
  • Lack of self-identity and low self-esteem
  • A feeling of being “disconnected” due to having a different physical appearance or different personality traits than adoptive family members
  • Lack of medical and genetic history
  • Depression

Signs and Symptoms of Psychological Issues in Adopted Children

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When an adopted child is experiencing psychological issues she may act out in the following ways:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends or decreased activity level
  • Expressions of anger and irritability
  • Changes in appetite or sleep
  • Regression in previously learned behaviors (for example, potty training in young children)
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Find a Mental Health Counselor With Experience in Adoption Issues

A professional with training and experience in adoption issues is the best resource for helping both adoptees and their adoptive families work through these problems. Choices range from pastoral counselors and family therapists – who may be licensed but are not medical doctors – to pediatricians and psychiatrists. Each may have various types of treatments available, such as play therapy, behavior modification or attachment therapy, just to name a few.

Before committing to a particular professional, conduct an interview to make sure the person being chosen is knowledgeable about the impact of adoption, has experience working with both adoptees and adoptive family members, is familiar with all the various treatment options and has formal training in adoptive family issues. Be sure to ask specific questions to understand exactly how, where and with whom treatment will take place.

Resources for finding names of therapists qualified to help adoptees include:


  • State adoption offices, adoption agencies and social workers
  • Local and national adoption support groups and networks
  • Local, state and national mental health associations


Although many adoptees may to some degree experience one or more of the issues outlined above, adoptive parents should know that there are many compassionate professionals available to help the entire family.

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