Reclaiming culture: Reculturation of transracial and international adoptees

In 2003 when I first became engrossed in adoption counseling and psychology there was one name that showed up everywhere in regard to trans racial adoption identity, counseling, and research.  Dr. Amanda Baden, now an Associate Professor at Montclair State University, authored and or co-authored many groundbreaking articles on adoption in the counseling psychology field in the early 2000’s. She was one of the editors of 2007 Sage Publications The Handbook of Adoption, the first graduate level textbook covering the history of adoption and its clinical practice with triad members.  My MFT research project on young adult Colombian adoptees was incorporated into a chapter in the book on Latin American adoptions. I first met her in 2009 at an adoption conference in Indianapolis.  She is a welcoming, humble, and encouraging person. She has advanced the practice and is a role model to so many as a trans racially adopted person herself.  As part of the planning committee for this year’s Adoption Initiative Conference in New York City I have learned and grown from her leadership. More so I am thrilled and honored to be presenting on a panel with her at the conference on adoption counseling.  So it is no surprise why I picked this article on reculturation, co authored by Dr. Baden, whom I respect and admire. It is relevant, completely on target, and accurately conveys a theoretical framework for clinical practice in counseling.

Purpose of Study: The authors describe how upon adoption many trans racially and internationally adopted persons (TRIA’s) lose their connection to their original culture and racial/ethnic group. This is especially the case when adopted by White parents. Current descriptions of immigrant acculturation or enculturation do not suitably describe the process by which TRIA’s attempt to reconcile the dissonance between their adoptive family culture and lost cultural practices.  The term by which they describe the unique process some TRIA’s engage in to reclaim their lost original culture, racial and ethnic identity, is called Reculturation.

To reclaim may suggest that something was lost or abandoned

at some point and that it must be rescued from a “wrong”

state and restored to a “natural” state (“Reclaim,” n.d.). For

TRIAs, to be adopted out of their birth culture and raised in

a “foreign” culture is sometimes viewed as unnatural because

of the mismatch between race and culture (p. 4).

Model: The Reculturation process is described in five phases. These are as follows:1) Enculturation Begins – in utero and post birth exposure to sounds, smells, language of birth family and culture 2) Relinquishment and Temporary Care – residence in orphanage care and / or foster care frequently provided by members of the birth culture 3) Adoption: Enculturation Stops, Assimilation Begins – through language acquisition, among other ways, to majority White culture of adoptive parents 4) Immigration – a process that is very different than “typical” immigrants in regard to visa and citizenship acquisition (among other things) 5) Assimilation Continues – adapting, adjusting, and fitting in with the dominant culture and 6) Reculturation Process and Three Approaches to Reculturation – this phase describes the late adolescence, young adult, adult period process by which TRIA’s seek information about their birth culture. The ways by which they do so include the following modes: Education, Experience, and Immersion. Possible outcomes of the reculturation process are described in five themes. These are 1) Adoptee culture 2) Reclaimed culture 3) Bicultural 4) Assimilated culture (explored) and 5) Combined culture.

Discussion: The reculturation process applies to both trans racial domestic and international adopted persons. It offers a theoretical framework and language to describe a process for mental health counselors, school counselors, and educators to competently work with and address the needs of the TRIA population. Professionally,  Reculturation Theory EXACTLY describes a process I have observed and assisted clients and their families work through in counseling practice. I am excited to have more language and a clearly delineated framework to aid in understanding and empathy.

Baden, A.L., Treweeke, L. M., & Alhuwalia, K.M. (2012). Reclaiming culture: Reculturation of transracial international adoptees. Journal of Counseling and Development, 90, 387-399.

Adoption Counseling as a Specialty Area for Counselors

Purpose of Study: When I first started as a counselor specializing in adoption related issues I frequently spoke about the virtual shut out of professional counselors in adoption related social services.  Some states required licensed social workers only to perform home studies and guide families through the adoption process. Many agencies and child welfare offices would not hire non social work degreed and licensed staff.  This article, published in the Journal of Counseling and Development in 1997, offers information on how and why professional counselors are skilled and trained to work with adoption related issues.  Since its publication, the field of adoption has altered, to include decreased numbers of international adoptions, fewer infant adoptions, more open adoptions, and has broadened to donor egg adoption and overseas surrogacy. Despite changes in the field, social workers still dominate as practitioners and professional counselors still work to gain entrance and credibility. This article, although 15 years old, lays the groundwork for why professional counselors need to be included in the adoption field.

Review: The article described how the CACREP accredited counselor training curriculum prepares professional counselors to assist adoptive parents, adopted persons, and first/birth parents in all aspects of the adoption process. This includes pre adoption counseling, counseling to determine adoption planning, and post adoption counseling, both in the immediate and long term post adoption process. Specifically, it noted training in counseling interviewing and technique skills, family counseling training, and human lifespan and development as helpful factors.  She also included school counselors roles in guiding teachers and school personnel to de stigmatize adoption in the classroom and to possibly offer school guidance groups for adopted persons.

Discussion: The author provided clear examples of how counselors are best suited to work with members of the adoption triad in different developmental phases of the pre, during, and post adoption process. She describes some developmental lifespan challenges that may impact clients in this category and how a professional counselor’s skills would be beneficial. Given the age of the article many factors in adoption clinical work were not addressed (as they may not have been as widely known at the time) and it mainly focuses on what appears to be infant adoption rather than exploring the unique dynamics of older child adoption and / or adoption from the child welfare system. An updated journal article should include these additional factors as well as information on attachment processes, trauma, and the changing demographics of the adoption field.

Janus, N.C. (1997). Adoption counseling as a specialty area for counselors. Journal of       Counseling and Development, 75, 266-274.

Experiences of School Bullying Among Internationally Adopted Children: Results from the Finnish (FINADO) Adoption Study

I selected this study because many of the families with whom I work have had incidents of bullying, either as the victim or as the victimizer, in school situations. The study pulled from a rich database as part of a larger national study. If it were to be replicated elsewhere I would hope it would examine the impact of being an adopted person, in addition to the other factors mentioned, as a target for bullying.

Purpose of Study: The researchers sought to use an already existing population of international adoptees (IAs) from the Finnish Adoption Study to examine the influence of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) diagnosis or symptoms at time of adoption to future bullying behaviors; either as the victim or victimizer. They hypothesized that the symptoms of RAD, such as lack of empathy or attunement to others’ feelings / emotions, would predispose IA’s to be victims of bullying or bully others themselves. The research defined bullying as when a child “is exposed to negative peer behavior that occurs repeatedly and involves an imbalance of power; that is the victim finds it difficult to defend himself or herself (p. 2)”.

Method:  364 IA boys and girls, ages nine to fifteen, participated in the study. They were also part of a broader study, the Finnish Adoption Study (FINADO), which recruited IA families that adopted through a legalized system from 1985 to 2007. The children and their parents were given the following self report assessments: Olweus bully/victim questionnaire, parent reported questionnaire in regard to adoption demographics, a  parental report questionnaire examining “symptoms suggesting RAD” as developed by the researchers  for the FINADO study, and the Five to Fifteen parental report evaluating at social skills, learning difficulties, and language skills. The sample was compared with a norm based group of Finnish children ages nine to fifteen from the Finnish public school system.

Results: As hypothesized the study found that those IA’s rated with mild to severe forms of RAD upon time of adoption had a greater likelihood to report experiencing bullying and bullying others , although statistically significant higher levels were only evident in 3rd and 4th grade and 7th and 9th graders.  Other results indicated that lacking social skills is also a factor in victimization for bullying.

Summary: The research has a large population from which to examine in regard to comparing IA’s to the norm population through its nationally sponsored FINADO study.  It’s cohort and longevity offers much to the IA adoption related research.  Despite this the RAD assessments have limitations as follows:  currently there are no valid and reliable assessment tools to diagnose RAD and parents completed a self report based on time of adoption, which can lead to inaccurate responses.  Although the FINADO researchers created a tool to evaluate RAD for this study, it would have been preferable for a different, non affiliated group to develop a RAD evaluation, to avoid the appearance of influencing the results to what they hypothesized.  RAD has long been the diagnosis of choice for adopted persons and/or persons in the child welfare system based on their early life experiences. However RAD is a broad based diagnosis that can be easily applied to a person without any formal diagnostic tool. It can be largely subjective. Despite these concerns this study is valuable in helping internationally adoptive families  be aware of the possibility of  and better prepare for bullying, both victimization and victimizer, and this knowledge is applicable in counseling diagnosis and treatment.

Raask,H., (2012).  Experiences of School Bullying Among Internationally Adopted Children: Results from the Finnish Adoption (FINADO) Study, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43, 592-611. doi: 10.1007/s10578-012-0286-1

Pre-Adoption Diversity and Self-Reported Behavioral Problems in 7 Year Old International Adoptees

My last post on ethics violations when using adopted person testimonials was important because it showcased how adopted person voices are sometimes inappropriately used in adoption advocacy and policy discourse. Amanda Woolston’s the Declassified Adoptee’s Blog post captures this issue. Adopted person voices, a diverse group, to be sure, need to be included in all aspects of adoption research and practice. And this needs to happen from a very young age.

In 2004 when I started my first research project examining adjustment outcomes for international adopted persons (IA’s) most of these publications reported on research with adolescent adoptees and their families. None, per my recollection, used evaluation measures to ask the adolescent participants’ perspectives on their adjustment. So I was pleased to find this 2012 Child Psychiatry and Human Development journal article.  The Canadian researchers, in addition to parental reports, also asked the seven year old participants in the study, to report their feelings and perceptions about their current adjustment in school and in their relationships with family and peers.  What to learn more? Please keep reading below.

Purpose of the study: Canadian researchers wanted to explore possible correlations between pre adoption adversity, height and weight growth, head circumference, and health upon adoption to current academic and relationship internalizing and externalizing problems.

Method: The research had 95 IA family participants, 69 of whom were girls. They were recruited, in part, from a different longitudinal study on international adoption. The children’s health and medical status and baseline psychological assessment information were gathered upon entrance to Quebec. At follow up evaluations, the mothers of the participants completed the French Child Behavioral Checklist (CBCL). The children completed the Dominic Interactive (DI), a pictorial, computer based, self report assessment tool that rates responses according to scales related to DSM -IV-TR disorders.

Results: Overall the research demonstrated the majority of the IA sample was well adjusted in comparison to the control group in the study. The IA group demonstrated higher levels of internalizing behaviors, most specifically, the development of specific phobias. The researchers hypothesized that intermittent and/or poor care giving pre adoption contributed to heightened sensitivity to development of anxiety symptoms, including specific phobias. They cited additional research that suggested that anxiety symptoms are exacerbated post adoption by intrusive and overprotective parenting styles. Additionally, as expected, weight/height ration at the time of adoption was negatively correlated with specific phobias, conduct disorder, and depression at the time of school age. Head circumference at time of adoption was also negatively correlated with conduct disorders at school age.

Summary: This study reinforced what other research has shown in regard to the impact of pre adoption institutionalization and poor caregiver exposure. This study is unique in that it reportedly is the first of its kind to utilize self assessment for seven year old adopted persons. This is important as it includes the perspective of the young children rather than completely relying on teacher and or adoptive parental reports.


Gagnon-Oosterwaal, N, (2012). Adoption diversity and self-reported behavioral problems in 7 year old international adoptees, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43, 648-660. doi: 10.1007/s 10578-011-0279-5



Ethics and Adopted Person Panels

I promise that I will get to journal summaries soon! But in the interim I share a letter that the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC),, sent to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration today in response to the use of adopted person testimonials. These testimonials were offered as part of the SAMHSA sponsored Domestic and International Adoption: Strategies to Improve Behavioral Health Outcomes for Youth and Their Families forum that took place August 29th and 30th in Rockville, MD. I was one of the representative’s of the APRC at this meeting. I was greatly concerned about the testimonials, their purpose, and potential exploitative nature. In response the APRC submitted a letter outlining the ethics from the major, non – medical mental health associations, including the American Counseling Association, as they applied to testimonials. I strongly feel this action needed to be taken although I am prepared for push back. If you are interested in reading the letter here is the downloadable link:

What is counseling anyway?

Part of being a doctoral student includes building your professional identity. I am often asked “how is professional counseling different than psychology or social work?” So to begin I looked up the American Counseling Association’s definition of counseling. ACA describes counseling as the following:

Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.

I never intended to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. I completed a master’s program in Rehabilitation Counseling where one pursues a different credential than the LPC. But in time I grew into the role. I especially liked the strengths based, non pathological, foundation in counseling principals. It seemed to mesh well with what I intuitively knew about people, even after working with persons with severe and chronic mental illness, and about myself as a person. It definitely couples well with the “survivor brain” idea I often talk about.

If you are interested in more information about the American Counseling Association please visit

Welcome to the Adoption Therapist Blog!


This blog is time limited to run concurrently with my research practicum for my doctoral studies. So come December, I will determine if and how I will continue. My main goal for this blog is to disseminate journal information related to adoption counseling and adoption clinical research. Given that I attend adoption related conferences full of good information – there may be posts about those too. My hope is that this blog will keep me motivated to review and summarize journal articles so that more than 5 people read them. I read somewhere on FB (I forget exactly where) that only 5 people, including the authors’ mothers, read journal articles. Hopefully this blog will get important information out to those interested. I welcome any journal suggestions and comments too! Please send them my way.

Thanks for reading,