Adoptees & Relational Trauma


 What's "relational trauma"?

I use the term "relational trauma" to describe the impact of multiple placements, neglect or abuse by a caregiver, and institutionalized care (orphanage) experiences. 

Kids with these experiences sometimes make slow or minimal progress in therapy, as most forms of therapy rely on the child's capacity to trust the therapist in a deep way. When a child has a history of relational trauma, sometimes trusting feels impossible.

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Children with relational trauma can seem almost like “two different kids;” one kid rooted in the present and one kid stuck in the pain of the past. Your child may be successful at school, have friends, cuddle and talk with you about their day. At times they may be fully able to trust you and other safe adults.

At other times, they may struggle with some of the following:

  • Emotional and social immaturity

  • Defiance and oppositional behavior

  • Tantrums, rages, or destructive behavior 

  • Hoarding and hiding food, binge eating 

  • Stealing and lying

  • Seeming depressed, numb, or “spaced out”

  • Low self-esteem

  • Lack of cause-and-effect reasoning

  • Sexting or provocative behavior


What’s different about the way you work? 

I use a model of therapy called Theraplay®. Theraplay supports the “younger child” (the part stuck in the past) to feel safe and grow. As your child feels more trusting more of the time, their development evens out so that they feel and act more like their chronological age, more of the time.

In addition, because Theraplay is based on nonverbal interactions, it’s helpful for kids who don't have any memories of their traumatic experiences, don't want to talk, or “hate therapy.”

Want to learn more or set up a consultation?