by Joe Soll, LCSW, Psychotherapist, Author of Adoption Healing… a path to recovery, Evil Exchange and Fatal Flight

Joe Soll

Joe Soll

When people come to me for search help, the first thing I say is that for me to guide them, they must prepare.

“Prepare for what?” they ask.

“For whatever happens… in that way it will be a ‘win-win’ situation.”

Then I hear responses like:

  • “How can I know what to prepare for?”
  • “I’m prepared; I’ve been waiting for 20 years.”
  • “When I find my mom or my child, all will be well.”


The fact is that no one can just be prepared for search and reunion. It usually takes four to six months of concentrated effort. Part of the preparation is to work on our own pain, anger and sadness first. Reunions won’t end our suffering, only hard work will.

I am obligated both ethically and legally to not help anyone who will not prepare. The reason is simple: Non-preparation can be both hurtful and dangerous.  The searcher can be hurt emotionally and so can the person found if we do not handle ourselves well.  The search and the person found can be so emotionally moved as to do something physically self-injurious.

I say this not to scare but to forewarn.   Those who prepare will always be all right. The fact is that to have survived the trauma of the loss of a mother or child, we all had to bury a myriad of very painful thoughts and feelings. Searching will open us up to those very thoughts and feelings that we had to hide from. If we talk about what we feel before we search, talk through our pain, anger and sadness, then we will be ready for anything that occurs.

We need to read about our ‘other.’ We adoptees need to understand the experience of our mothers and mothers need to understand the experience of adoptees. We need to talk with other adoptees and moms. Share with them and learn from them.

We need to do our inner child work. We all have a hurt younger self that is very vulnerable and needy. Search is not the answer but our inner child usually thinks it is.  Our healing has to come from our adult self nurturing our inner child.

We need to understand our obligation to those whom we find. We need to understand how they might react and why.

We need to grieve the loss of our ‘other’ in advance.  Admittedly it is difficult to grieve in advance but we can do it by helping our inner child to express her emotions.

We need to do this work in a safe way.  We need to go to support group meetings, participate in chat, read the books, talk, feel, journal and do inner child work at a speed that is comfortable. Private therapy cannot prepare one. Private therapy can be a good side dish but cannot take the place of interacting with other moms and adoptees. This work needs to be done with “enlightened witnesses” or “loving witnesses” who are there for us when we get into pain anger and sadness.

We must not watch the clock. It takes as long as it takes. I look at this work as climbing a mountain of recovery and each person’s path up the mountain is different. Each person’s path has gullies, canyons, dips and rises but those down turns are not failures, just part of one’s particular path up the mountain.

In many ways, the journey is more important than the end result since the answers do not heal us, only the journey can and will. If we do it!

I look at preparation as being in flight school, learning how to fly.  No one is allowed to fly until they have completed ground school and performed the check lists along with their co-pilot.  The prep work is ground school. Your enlightened witnesses are you co-pilots. No prudent pilot tries to take off without doing the check list.  Those who do not perform their check list before searching are likely to crash and burn.  In almost 30 years of helping others, I have never once heard anyone who prepared for search and reunion say they wished they had not searched…


Originally published in Adoption Circles #58 Summer 2011