Psychologist: Impact of Traumatic Stress on Parents

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You write frequently about the impact of traumatic stress with adoptive children. Could you address the impact of traumatic stress experienced by the parents of adoptive children?

As I have indicated previously, a significant number of adoptive children have been exposed to traumatic events including, but not limited to, neglect, physical and sexual abuse and various degrees of abandonment. I have emphasized the importance of recognizing and addressing traumatic stress early—potentially preventing acute stress reactions from becoming chronic stress disorders.

Your question is a good one. It reflects an appreciation of the stress associated with the entire adoption process. The reality is, when we look closely at adoption, we realize that traumatic stress is pervasive—often impacting several, if not all, of the parties involved. Unfortunately, this traumatic stress is generally not recognized and its impact is misunderstood.

Traumatic stress refers to the feelings, thoughts, actions and physical reactions of individuals who are exposed to, or who witness, specific events that overwhelm their coping and problem-solving abilities. This experience is not limited to the adoptive child, nor is it limited to the adoption process per se. When considering traumatic stress experienced by parents of adoptive children, we must realize that there is pre-adoption stress, stress associated with the acquisition of an adoptive child, and post-adoption stress.

Adoptive parents often bring to the table a history of traumatic stress. For example, pre-adoption stressors may include fertility problems, losses and significant relationship conflicts. Once engaged in the adoption process, there are often serious medical concerns, “misunderstandings,” and heartbreaking disappointments. After adopting a child, additional traumatic stressors come into play, centering around the realization of a dream, tremendous life changes with new responsibilities, and a future marked by uncertainty and fear.

Once parents recognize and understand the potential of traumatic stress impacting their own lives before, during and after adopting a child, they may begin to address the host of feelings that may negatively color a truly priceless opportunity.

by Mark Lerner, Ph.D.

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The information and advice provided is intended to be general information, NOT as advice on how to deal with a particular child's situation and or problem. If your child has a specific problem you need to ask your pediatrician about it - only after a careful history and physical exam can a medical diagnosis and/or treatment plan be made. This Web site does not constitute a physician-patient relationship.

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