Addressing/Treating Adoption and Attachment Issues in Teens

American families adopt approximately 140,000 children annually.[1] Adoptees often need help navigating their feelings about adoption and their histories. At Innercept Residential Mental Health Treatment, we help adolescents and young adults process and heal the trauma from their past through treatment. In a study of American adolescents, the American Adoption Congress Search Institute found that 72 percent of adopted adolescents want to know why they were adopted.[2]

Adopted youth and young adults often lack the coping and cognitive skills to make age-appropriate life choices. According to Megan Gunnar, PhD, director of the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, who launched the International Adoption Research project in 1999, many adoptees who have attachment disorders struggle to regulate their emotions.[3] Mental health, emotional or behavioral disorders can stem from the inconsistent care, unstable environments and the trauma some adoptees have experienced in their past, which can be confusing for both young people and their new families. Neglect, trauma and abuse can lead to attachment disorders which require mental health treatment.[4]

For over two decades, our professional team of therapists and caregivers at Innercept  Residential Mental Health Center for Adolescents, have used their training and integrated treatment programs to empower adopted adolescents and young adults throughout their healing process. Our individualized programs and integral-recovery approach help young people learn to form loving, healthy attachments and to create meaningful relationships so they can transform their lives.

Statistically, adopted teens have a higher risk for anxiety and depression and mental health issues.[5] Additionally, the odds of having ADHD or ODD are nearly twice as high for all adopted adolescents.[6] Some adoptees suffer from severe Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) due to cognitive development delays. Philip Fisher, PhD, a psychologist and research scientist at the University of Oregon, discovered in his research that some American foster children had low levels of cortisol which were associated with early neglect and behavioral and developmental difficulties.[7]

Traumatic stress combined with genetics can change the brain structure and function of the prenatal cortex which can cause emotional dysregulation and delay cognitive development in adoptees.[8] Fight, flight or freeze[9] can be the initial and continuous way the brain of an adopted child reacts to stress or trauma. When infants and young children are exposed to maltreatment, neglect or lack of nurturing, attachment and mental health disorders are common, especially without trauma-informed interventions.[10] Innercept Residential Mental Health professional clinicians can help adoptees learn to practice healthy attachment skills while healing this post-traumatic stress and trauma.

Our in-depth approach at Innercept begins with a collaborative assessment between our treatment team and the patient, which include both individual and group therapy sessions. Therapists determine the level of mental health challenges that need to be addressed. From there, they make treatment recommendations to maximize the steps on the adoptee’s journey to well-being.

Our compassionate clinicians build trust with each patient and help them grow through their individualized program. At Innercept, we use evidence-based modalities to create a “soft-landing” environment during treatment. As needed we also use attachment-based trauma-informed intervention (TBRI) to meet the needs of vulnerable adoptees.
We offer comprehensive treatment for even the most complex and severe mental health symptoms.

We have an integral-recovery approach to psychology and treatment which helps adolescents focus on these four branches:

  • Self and consciousness (The parts of me no one can see)
  • Behaviors and perspective (The parts of me that others see and measure)
  • Foundational values (Culture and world view)
  • Social system and environment (Everything outside of me)

Individual specialized therapy with adoptees may cover a wide range of issues including:

  • Exploration of identity
  • Examining and communicating feelings about adoption
  • Navigating feelings of anger, loss and grief
  • Attachment and trust issues
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)[11]
  • Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder[12]
  • Coping with post-traumatic stress or abuse
  • Anxiety, depression, anger, bipolar disorder and mood disorders,
    ADHD and ODD, eating or sleeping disorders
  • Destructive patterns of thinking and behavior

Additional areas of importance in treatment may be:

  • Peer support
  • Developing and maintaining healthy social relationships
  • Self-esteem and Self-care
  • Changing dynamics within family relationships
  • Relationships between biological children, siblings and adoptees
  • Setting, respecting and maintaining boundaries

Highly-trained therapists lead specialized therapy groups for adoptees to share their feelings and establish connections with peers and authority figures. Our small program size and attention to detail ensures we give the highest level of attention to each of our residents. For those with compound, complex or severe mental health and medical conditions, we also offer comprehensive medication management during treatment.

Adopted young people who may have trauma in their background don’t always respond to common parenting techniques which can cause strained relationships within the family. The entire family can often benefit from therapy to help reset the family dynamic. During family therapy, our therapists encourage honest dialogue where each family member feels respected and heard. This promotes authentic healing and growth in each family member and the adolescent/young adult. At Innercept, residents, adoptive parents and additional family members are included in the treatment process, both before and after treatment, to support each young adult or teen throughout their individual program.

Our programs and professional staff teach adopted teens and young adults to develop healthy attachments and to practice coping skills and self-care strategies in a safe, supportive environment before transitioning to independence.


[1] https://adoptionnetwork.com/adoption-myths-facts/domestic-us-statistics/

[2] https://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/reform_myths.php

[3] https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(19)31814-1/fulltext

[4] https://www.davethomasfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Attachment-pamphlet.pdf

[5] https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(19)31814-1/fulltext

[6] https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/adoption-and-mental-illness

[7] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/06/neglect

[8] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/06/neglect

[10] https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/braindevtrauma.pdf

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5900398/

[12] http://traumadissociation.com/disinhibited

top