Eight Core Constellations in Adoption

Doris Bertocci, LCSW

The well-referenced article by Silverstein and Kaplan (1982) observed that members of the adoption triad (birthparents, “adoptee”, and adoptive parents) share “7 core issues” in their adjustments over time. This conceptualization is repeated in their updated book “Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency: A Comprehensive Guide to Promoting Understanding and Healing In Adoption, Foster Care, Kinship Families and Third Party Reproduction” (2019).

In various trainings across the country, their model has continued to be referenced as though a truism, without the necessary modifications that, since the era of the 1980’s and 1990’s, greater experience and understanding of the psychology of adoption – which must include the psychology of being adopted — now require. For example, some “issues” belong together as part of the same constellation, one is an attribution rather than a “core issue,” and an aspect of identity that is most fundamental to the experience of the adopted person was omitted altogether, as was one core constellation itself, that of complexities in sexuality. Further, despite a minor dimension relating to both sets of parents, the IDENTITY constellation and its many complexities belong exclusively to the adopted person, particularly in closed adoption.

The reason for the need for change in the conceptualization is that, into the twenty-first century, the thinking in the overlap of the adoption and mental health fields has been focused primarily on the needs of the adoptive parents, i.e. special considerations in parenting the adopted child, and on the adoptive family, while there has been  little in-depth focus on the unique needs of the adopted person throughout their own psychological development throughout adolescence and adulthood.

From a psychotherapeutic perspective of the psychology of adoption, it is necessary to conceptualize eight complex,  overlapping constellations of internal experience involving emotion/feelings, perception/cognition, fantasy and unconscious associations, defensive responses (repression, denial), and conflict/adaptation – each very profound, each affecting the other, and each experienced by triad members both similarly and differently. The Psychology of Adoptive Status (being adopted) requires an understanding of these constellations from the perspective of the adopted person.

The eight core constellations in the psychology of adoption are represented in the following graphic:

8 Core Constellations in Adoption Venn Diagram

Northstar also conceptualizes the one “shared-issue” between the multiple fields and major players that interface with adoption, as follows: