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.

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