Creating Families: Parent Psychoeducation And The Experience Of Parents Adopting Children With A Disrupted Attachment

Open Access
Camberg, Sara Jean
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 04, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Melody M Thompson, Dissertation Advisor
  • Melody M Thompson, Committee Chair
  • Esther Susana Prins, Committee Member
  • Gary Kuhne, Committee Member
  • Margaret Ann Lorah, Committee Member
  • Adoption
  • disrupted attachment
  • adopted children
  • parent psychoeducation
  • filial therapy
ABSTRACT Difficult social conditions, including family violence, poverty, and substance abuse/dependence, contribute to increasing numbers of children who are not newborns and who need a permanent home. Parents who accept children with disrupted attachment into their families need to know about evidence-based ways that they can learn to help those children feel part of their new family and to develop lasting bonds of attachment to one another. Parent psychoeducation and its accompanying filial therapy skills for use by adoptive families were the focus of this qualitative study, which sought to understand the lived experiences of parents of adopted children who have turned to this method to help their child. The study looked at how the parents came to their decision to adopt, how they realized that they needed help with their child, their experiences learning how to do special play time with their child, the meaning they attributed to being their child’s therapist, and what types of learning they experienced. The five families who participated in the study were varied in terms of family composition, adoption circumstances of the child, and racial/ethnic diversity. Two of the families were married couples, one was a same sex couple, one a single parent, and one a grandmother. Two of the children were adopted as infants from Guatemala, two of the children came from the United States foster care system, and the final child was at risk for going into the system were it not for her grandmother’s willingness to provide kinship care. All of the children had experienced disruption from a primary attachment relationship prior to being adopted. Five major themes in the findings were identified in the responses from the eight adults: 1) the desire to be a parent but not necessarily through childbirth; 2) the decision to seek help through learning new skills in parenting due to escalating concern they did not have the skills to help the child; 3) the ease in learning filial skills with the help of the skilled parent psychoeducation process; 4) a systematic positive change in behaviors and emotions of all members of the parent-child dyad or triad; and 5) the citing of different forms of learning throughout the process. Implications for future research include seeking a broader range of family demographics of adoptive parents who practice parent psychoeducation with their adopted children, focusing on long term adjustment of families, and comparing parent psychoeducation/filial therapy with other therapeutic models used with adoptive families. Suggestions for practice include increasing the numbers of therapists trained in parent psychoeducation, attachment, and trauma; and expanding the parent psychoeducation process to include detailed information about the meaning of child responses in therapy, changes in child behavior due to increased feelings of safety and security, and the applicability of the filial skills outside of the special play time.