Each person who was adopted has a different story, a different experience.  For some, finding birth parents is essential.  For others, there isn't compelling curiosity to move beyond their adoptive family.  Some adoptive people need to locate their birth parents but not meet them.  And others might want to meet only their birth mother or just their birth father.  So much of this depends on a person's particular temperament, on the circumstances of each person's adoption, and on the ways in which they were raised by their adoptive families.  And of course, people who do decide to meet their birth families have a wide range of experiences and feelings following such meetings.

Over the years I've counseled many people who were adopted.  Two helpful resources in searching for adoptive families are the International Soundex Reunion Registry ( and the New York State Department of Health's Adoption Information Registry (  I'd like to share with you how I worked with Alan and Sarah.  I've of course changed their names and identifying information to protect their privacy.

Alan entered therapy a year after his mother died.  His father had died ten years earlier, and he had always told himself that after his parents had passed away, he wanted to search for his birth mother.  Alan and I spent our initial sessions talking about both of his adoptive parents and particularly about his mourning over his mother's death during the past year.  

Alan's parents had adopted him when they were in their late thirties.  Alan had many complaints about them: they were both self-centered, his mother would often fly into angry outbursts, and his father regularly expressed disappointment in him.  Alan had a fantasy that his birth mother, Ruth, who gave him up when she was fifteen, would be much more of a friend, and much more capable of having a healthy relationship.  We spent many sessions discussing how the reality of Alan's fantasy might not match with who his birth mother actually was.  We also explored the prospect that no matter how wonderful Ruth might prove to be, if Alan did actually meet her, he could end up experiencing an unexpectedly wide range of feelings.  He agreed that it would  be helpful to look at what these feelings might be, in order to be better prepared if he did meet Ruth.

After Alan finally met his birth mother, he came to his next session elated but also confused.  On the one hand, Alan was greatly relieved that Ruth had been very engaging and keenly interested in hearing all about his life; that she was also respectful of proceeding at a pace that Alan set.  Yet he'd also experienced feelings of resentment toward her for abandoning him, and he additionally felt guilty that he was betraying his adoptive parents.  We spent the next six months processing these feelings before Alan was ready to meet Ruth again.  Over the next two years, he found seeing her twice a year best met his needs. 

Over time, Alan has noticed he's been feeling less anger toward Ruth and less guilt regarding his newfound relationship with her, but he acknowledges that he still needs to control the frequency and location of his and Ruth's meetings.  He is glad to have her in his life, accepts the inherent emotional contradictions that exist in having this relationship, and is also hopeful that over time he will be able to have an increasingly relaxed and spontaneous connection with Ruth.


Sarah came to see me because she had been feeling depressed since she left home for college.  While she had friends and a long term boyfriend, she said she didn't feel much joy in her relationships with them or her parents.  And while she had a good job in the publishing industry, she didn't feel engaged with her work.  Sarah traced her depression to the summer after high school, when her mother and father told her she'd been adopted when she was four months old.  They also gave her a letter from her birth mother, which they had been holding from her all these years.

Sarah told this story repeatedly, but always in a flat tone with little feeling.  Slowly over time Sarah began to express her disappointment in her parents for keeping the circumstances of her birth secret from her.  Gradually her disappointment deepened to feelings of betrayal and anger.  She felt guilty because she knew that her parents were attentive, caring and loving.  But she realized her depression stemmed from burying these feelings, and if she wanted to find more pleasure in life, and have more intimate relationships with her parents, friends and boyfriend, she needed to connect more with these emotions.  This was frightening for Sarah, and she often felt dread that she wouldn't be able to tolerate her emerging feelings.  During our therapy sessions we delved into all this slowly, and would leave the last fifteen minutes of the session for Sarah to regain her emotional balance so that she felt able to return to work.

Sarah came to understand that she needed to start sharing some of these feelings with her parents.  And particularly because of the work she had done in acknowledging her guilt, she felt ready to talk more openly with them about her feelings of betrayal and anger.  While she was quite anxious initiating the first discussion, her parents, in fact, expressed relief that she was able to open up to them.  Sarah's parents have been very thoughtful in addressing her questions regarding the whole adoption process.  Sarah knows that this reconnection will require continued work on her --- and her parent's --- part.  But she now experiences herself as more resilient, and knows that she is coming out of this process stronger and more hopeful about her future.