31. Trauma and your mental health

clasped hands 31.-trauma in adoption search

Trauma and the Adoption Search Journey

Some of our clients are curious as to why we ask about any past traumatic events as part of our risk assessment and our initial consultation with you. This leaflet is designed to keep you informed on this.

We want our clients to work with us on maintaining their mental health and wellbeing during the months that it will take us to search for your family member and this wish also applies to the subject of your search. We constantly invite you to let us know if problems arise or if anything concerns you. Whilst we would like to wrap you in cotton wool and protect you from anything unnerving, we know from experience that we just cannot do this. It is likely that surprises may arise as we take this journey together. What we do know is that if we work together with good communication, we are much more likely to support you so that you are able to cope with whatever emerges from your story.

First of all, what is trauma.

Trauma arises in the mind if we are subjected to events that overwhelm our coping mechanisms causing us shock and fear and excessive anxiety. Nobody will get through life without some event of this nature arising and our brains our built to help us through ‘shocking events’ whether they cause us mild, moderate, or severe trauma. It is surprising as to what can be classified as a traumatic event. Loss of a close family member through a natural death will undoubtedly cause mild trauma in which the individuals concerned will need support and kindness to get them through. Loss of a close family member through murder or tragic unexpected accident is likely to cause more severe trauma. Family rifts and divorce can cause trauma and upset, being the subject of theft will cause a sense of violation and trauma as will assault and catastrophic natural events like floods and fires and societal antagonism such as war. With all these types of events, the brain sets too trying to make sense of the impact on us and trying to evaluate whether or not you are safe now, whether the event is likely to occur again soon, and you will be compelled to seek safety at all costs. There is not a hierarchy of traumatic events to hold in mind, what may upset one person very deeply may only be a passing event for another. It is a matter of interpretation and perception of the experience and how much upset it causes to you and whether you can give meaning to what has happened and move forward.

It is possible to re-stimulate trauma?

A mental disorder is not a thing, or an object and we can’t see it. It is an experience that is registered in the mind, and it is a series of events to which we assign meaning…. this is what we as human beings do. We need to make sense of things and feel we are safe in order to move on from any sense of trauma. We do need to distinguish from ordinary discomfort to the profound effects of a traumatic event. However, both require us to settle the matter and reconcile it in our mind before we can move on. The major problem with trauma is that it can be restimulated if you are put under stress, and this is why we ask you about any past traumatic events. A trauma is like a wound that has healed but that is still vulnerable to being re-opened. This is why we check in with you on any past events and it is also why we advise you to keep us informed if you feel you are being restimulated in any way. Searching for a birth relative can be stressful and it might make you unexpectedly upset and overwhelmed.

What to Look For.

We are guided by the work of Professor Bessell Van der Kolk who is a world leading expert on trauma, and he describes six critical issues that affect people with PTSD or unresolved trauma.

  1. They experience persistent intrusions of memories related to the trauma.
  2. Sometimes the person concerned will recreate the circumstances of the traumatic event reminiscent of the trauma and keep doing the same thing over and over again.
  3. The person concerned may actively avoid anything that may trigger an extreme emotion.
  4. The person concerned may not let their body manage the stress which it usually can do – i.e. guiding you towards calm.
  5. The person may suffer from lack of attention and may experience distractibility.
  6. They have defensive reactions and alterations in their identity i.e. start being irritable and annoyed.

What we can do to help.

As you know we are not a mental health clinic and we do not offer to help you with enduring mental health disorders such as the long-term effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but we do take these vulnerabilities into consideration when thinking about your search and we will work with you to recognise any problems really quickly so that we can sign post you to support.

If you have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we may also ask you to enter a Self-Care Contract with us so that we can help you be aware of what you need to do for yourself locally if you need support. Whist we have a duty to look out for you and care for you, this duty includes us feeling confident that you can be responsible for yourself in your location and knowing that you know what to do in a crisis. So, this would include:

Letting us know if you have been diagnosed with PTSD or ever experienced traumatic events.

Making contact with us and communicating if you feel there is a problem arising.

Helping us to help you find the best support that is local to you.

Working with a support person. We always ask our clients to work with buddies so that we can call anyone near to you to give immediate support.

Our Advice

Reach out to us if you are uncertain. We will definitely be able to support and guide you in the right direction and we are used to managing these types of difficulties.

Follow the self-care rules which include:

Good sleep,

Good food

Steer clear of excessive stress such as conflict and arguments.

Don’t use alcohol or drugs to soothe yourself but find healthy distractions, and calming activities such as yoga and breathing exercises,

Manage your timetable so you are not put under pressure.

Don’t be afraid to ask others for support.

Keep yourself feeling safe.


Bessel A. Van Der Kolk (1996) traumatic Stress The effects of Overwhelming Experience on the Mind Body and Society.


Bessel A. Van Der Kolk: The Body Keeps the Score.

Dr. Joanna North

Consultant Psychotherapist (Adoption)

September 2024.

Joanna North Adoption (Ofsted registered)

clasped hands 31.-trauma in adoption search