Eight Core Constellations in Adoption

Doris Bertocci, LCSW

The well-referenced paper by Silverstein and Kaplan (1982), updated in 2019, observed that members of the adoption triad (birthparents, “adoptee” and adoptive parents) share “seven core issues” in their adjustment over time. But under-emphasized is the fact that they are experienced by triad members both similarly and very differently. Their model was based on social service work with adoptive families and children in the 20th century and continues to be used and referenced as though it were a truism for the adoption field generally.

However, with what we have learned about the psychology of the adopted person over the past three decades, we needed to revise this model significantly and also add a constellation that the social service field has missed entirely: the complexities of sexuality that begin at the time the child is informed of being adopted, and become very complicated in adolescence and young adulthood. Further, most of the “identity” constellation belongs exclusively to the adopted person, especially in closed adoption, also, the identity of the adopted person involves far more than their experience within the adoptive family.

Into the twenty-first century, in the overlap of the adoption and mental health fields, the emphasis has been on special considerations in parenting the adopted child, but without realization that the fullest impact and greatest complexity of being adopted is in adolescence and young adulthood. The Psychology of Adoption must include, separately, the Psychology of the Adopted Person throughout the lifespan. These eight core constellations are represented in the following graphic:

8 Core Constellations in Adoption Venn Diagram