Psychopathology Studies

Does adoption jeopardize the mental and emotional health of children, making adoptees especially vulnerable to developmental, behavioral, and academic problems? Most people connected to adoption today think it does. Most Americans agree that adoption is a “risk factor,” according to public opinion polls.

The belief that adoption has a psychology of its own is recent, indebted to a tradition of controversial clinical studies linking adoption to psychopathology. Beginning around World War II, some mental health professionals, often influenced by psychoanalysis, proposed that the losses associated with adoption made normal development tricky for adopted children and stability difficult to achieve for adoptive families. The new worries about adoption generated by psychopathology studies added to already well established concerns that available children were feeble-minded and adoption unusually risky.

Psychopathology studies equated difference with damage. They helped to transform adoption into a full-fledged object of casework and counseling, and this was essential for the emergence of therapeutic adoption. The rapid spread of post-adoption services, non-existent in 1950, indicates that many parents and professionals now accept the need for long-term, perhaps permanent, help in order to avoid or manage adoption-related problems.

Awareness that the parties to adoption face unique psychological challenges may well be one of the things that makes twentieth-century adoption practices historically distinctive—as distinctive as the psychology of adoption itself.

Chronological List of Psychopathology Studies


David M. Levy, “Primary Affect Hunger,” American Journal of Psychiatry 94 (November 1937):643-652.


Sydney Tarachow, “The Disclosure of Foster-Parentage to a Boy: Behavior Disorders and Other Psychological Problems Resulting,” American Journal of Psychiatry 94 (September 1937):401-412


Edwina A. Cowan, “Some Emotional Problems Besetting the Lives of Foster Children,” Mental Hygiene 22 (July 1938):454-458.


Robert P. Knight, “Some Problems in Selecting and Rearing Adopted Children,” Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 5 (May 1941):65-74.


Elsie Stonesifer, “The Behavior Difficulties of Adopted and Own Children,” Smith College Studies in Social Work 13 (November-December 1942):161.


Houston McKee Mitchell, “Adopted Children as Patients of a Mental Hygiene Clinic,” Smith College Studies in Social Work 15 (1944):122-123.


E. Wellisch, “Children Without Genealogy—A Problem of Adoption,” Mental Health 13 (1952):41-42.


Portia Holman, “Some Factors in the Aetiology of Maladjusted Children,” Journal of Mental Science 99 (1953):654-688.


Bernice T. Eiduson and Jean B. Livermore, “Complications in Therapy with Adopted Children,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 23 (October 1953):795-802


National Association for Mental Health, A Survey Based on Adoption Case Records (London: National Association for Mental Health, 1954 est.).


Marshall D. Schechter, “Observations on Adopted Children,” Archives of General Psychiatry 3 (July 1960):21-32.


M.L. Kellmer Pringle, “The Incidence of Some Supposedly Adverse Family Conditions and of Left-Handedness in Schools for Maladjusted Children,” British Journal of Educational Psychology 31, no. 2 (June 1961):183-193.


Bruce Gardner, Glenn R. Hawkes, and Lee G. Burchinal, “Noncontinuous Mothering in Infancy and Development in Later Childhood,” Child Development 32 (June 1961):225-234.


Betty K. Ketchum, “An Exploratory Study of the Disproportionate Number of Adopted Children Hospitalized at Columbus Children's Psychiatric Hospital” (Masters Thesis, Ohio State University, 1962).


Povl W. Toussieng, “Thoughts Regarding the Etiology of Psychological Difficulties in Adopted Children,” Child Welfare (February 1962):59-65, 71.


Frances Lee Anderson Menlove, “Acting Out Behavior in Emotionally Disturbed Adopted Children” (Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1962).


Michael Humphrey and Christopher Ounsted, “Adoptive Families Referred for Psychiatric Advice,” British Journal of Psychiatry 109 (1963):599-608.


Jerome D. Goodman, Richard M. Silberstein, and Wallace Mandell, “Adopted Children Brought to Child Psychiatric Clinic,” Archives of General Psychiatry 9, no. 5 (November 1963):451-456.


Marshall D. Schechter et al., “Emotional Problems in the Adoptee,”Archives of General Psychiatry 10 (February 1964):109-118.


H. J. Sants, “Genealogical Bewilderment in Children with Substitute Parents,” British Journal of Medical Psychology 37, no. 1964 (1964):133-141.


H. David Kirk, Shared Fate: A Theory of Adoption and Mental Health (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1964).


Frances Lee Menlove, “Aggressive Symptoms in Emotionally Disturbed Adopted Children,” Child Development 36, no. 2 (June 1965):519-532.


Nathan M. Simon and Audrey G. Senturia, “Adoption and Psychiatric Illness,” American Journal of Psychiatry 122, no. 8 (February 1966):858-868.


H. David Kirk, “Are Adopted Children Especially Vulnerable to Stress? A Critique of Some Recent Assertions,” Archives of General Psychiatry 14 (March 1966):291-298.


Alfred Kadushin, “Adoptive Parenthood: A Hazardous Adventure?,” Social Work (July 1966):30-39.


Shirley A. Reece and Barbara Levin, “Psychiatric Disturbances in Adopted Children: A Descriptive Study,” Social Work (January 1968):101-111.


Marshall D. Schechter, “About Adoptive Parents,” in Parenthood: Its Psychology and Psychopathology, eds. E. James Anthony and Therese Benedek (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970), 353-371.


Arthur D. Sorosky, Annette Baran, and Reuben Pannor, “Identity Conflicts in Adoptees,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 45 (January 1975):18-27.


David Kirschner and Linda S. Nagel, “Antisocial Behavior in Adoptees: Patterns and Dynamics,” Child and Adolescent Social Work 5, no. 4 (Winter 1988):300-314.


David Kirschner, “The Adopted Child Syndrome: Considerations for Psychotherapy,” Psychotherapy in Private Practice 8, no. 3 (1990):93-100.


David Brodzinsky and Marshall Schechter, eds., The Psychology of Adoption (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).


Nancy Newton Verrier, The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 1993).


P.F. Sullivan, J.E. Wells, and J.A. Bushnell, “Adoption as a Risk Factor for Mental Disorders,” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 92, no. 2 (August 1995):119-124.


Katarina Wegar, “Adoption and Mental Health: A Theoretical Critique of the Psychopathological Model,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 65 (October 1995):540-548.


Joyce Maguire Pavao, The Family of Adoption (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).


Jeffrey J. Haugaard, “Is adoption a risk factor for the development of adjustment problems?,” Clinical Psychology Review 18, no. 1 (January 1998):47-69.



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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3699
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