A qualitative analysis of how therapists experience the therapeutic relationship with adults who were adopted as infants

Vote, Birgit (2014) A qualitative analysis of how therapists experience the therapeutic relationship with adults who were adopted as infants. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Research suggests that adoptees are seen in therapeutic settings in a greater proportion than their prevalence in the general population (Kennedy Porch, 2007). Few studies concentrate on adult adoptees, and those that do mainly focus on adjustment and the search for / reunion with the birth family rather than on therapy research. In particular, there seems to be a lack of empirical and theoretical understanding of the complexities of the therapeutic relationship when working with adults who were adopted. Early experiences can affect an adult's ability to form trusting relationships with others, including with a therapist. Counselling psychology, as a discipline, has a particular interest and skill base in understanding the therapeutic relationship and is therefore in the position to offer a valuable contribution to research on the therapeutic relationship with an individual who has been adopted as an infant. Through six semi-structured interviews, adoption counsellors currently working with adult adoptees were asked to share their experiences and understanding of the nature and the role of the therapeutic relationship. A qualitative methodology guided by Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) enabled detailed exploration of the adoption counsellors' perspective. Three master themes were identified in the analysis: An awareness of the early rejection in all stages of the therapeutic process; a personal commitment to provide a corrective emotional experience; and the psychological consequences of working with adult adopted clients for therapists. The analysis highlighted the challenges that participants perceived in terms of establishing, maintaining and ending the therapeutic relationship with adoptees. The findings of this study extend the pre-existing research base by emphasising the interconnectedness of the personal and professional experiences of adoption counsellors and the need for flexibility in their practice in each phase of the therapeutic process, predominantly with regard to therapeutic boundaries and engaging in a different ending experience. The themes are discussed in relation to existing literature with an emphasis on attachment theory. The discussion also highlights practical implications, particularly the importance of familiarisation with aspects of adoption due to their likely influence on the therapeutic relationship and the need for reflective practice.

Birgit Vote - Thesis PDF1.pdf - Accepted Version

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