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Spirituality, Psychotherapy and Logotherapy in the Bereavement and Grief of a Birthmothers’ Loss in Adoption

Spirituality, Psychotherapy and Logotherapy in the Bereavement and Grief of a Birthmothers’ Loss in Adoption

Definition of Spirituality

Rolheiser (1998) defines spirituality as the desire a human has to revive his/her soul. He states that a person searches for inner peace when he/she is at odds with life. We can feel an energetic fire, yet at the same time feel unfulfilled, not satisfied, which he describes as ‘dis-ease’. Rolheiser (1998) believes that it is ‘desire’ that motivates the great writers, artists, poets and thinkers in our time. He relates to Sigmund Freud’s definition of a fire that burns at the core of our lives towards pleasure. Carl Jung explains it as an energy that needs our attention to shape our souls, an energy that can disrupt our lives if not understood (Rolheiser,1998). A generation ago it was believed that spirituality only belonged to the religious sector of churches, priests, prayer and God. Rolheiser (1998) states that it belongs to all humanity, it is universal. It is the fire of the soul and what he/she does with that fire is spirituality. It is the ‘pull’ inside of us towards hope, love, beauty, creativity and the desire beyond our present moment towards a future.

Definition of Psychotherapy

In broad terms Psychotherapy focuses on the client’s relationship with themselves and others, and how he/she interacts with the world, behaviours, emotions and cognition. There are various types of psychotherapies such as one and one client therapy, family therapy and group therapy. There are also specific therapies for issues such as addictions, compulsions (Corey, 2013).

Brief background of Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy

Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and famous for his survival of internment in the concentration camps. One of his many books is ‘Man Search for Meaning’ which describes his experience and how he developed his theories of Logotherapy during his time in the concentration camps. He became a relevant figure in existential therapy and inspired humanistic psychotherapy (Frankl, 2004).

The term ‘logotherapy’ originated from the Greek word ‘logos’ which is defined as ‘meaning’. It is based on the principles of existential therapy which is death, freedom, isolation and meaning (Yalom, 1980). He focused more on Kierkegaard's ‘will to meaning’ and was against the principles of Adler's and Nietzscheanwill to power’. He also opposed Freud's ‘will to pleasure’. Frankl states that man’s ‘meaning in life’ is his purpose in life and through situations where suffering occurs, this purpose is blocked and is replaced by an emptiness (existential vacuum) such as in the death of a loved one and as a result the reason for existence diminishes. Frankl’s approach is meaning-based and that this is the primary motivational force in humans.

Frankl describes three philosophical and psychological concepts:

$11)      Freedom of Will – the human capacity to choose how to respond to external situations.

$12)      Will to Meaning – the responsibility on people to find the essence of “meaning” specific to their lives and this meaning can be found in relation to others.

$13)      Meaning of life – this challenges people to discover their unique purpose (meaning) in life (Marshall & Marshall, 2012).

Frankl (2009) describes the importance of discovering meaning in 1) work or doing a deed 2) love of another person, art, writing or music and 3) the attitude a person has towards suffering.

Frankl (2009) refers to the human spirit not in relation to religion or God but as the spirit that is the ‘will’ of the human in search for meaning. Frankl (2009) views a human not only in relation to having a mind and body but also to possessing the spirit that holds the mind and body.  He describes the spirit as ‘noos’, one that possesses ‘free will’ and the mind and body as belonging to the laws of psychology and biology. Frankl (2009) refers to his model as ‘dimensional ontology’. A psychological model with the difference of including the spirit. He views the part of the spirit as the unconscious that holds a defiant energy which he describes as being the difference between ‘what a human is’ and ‘what he/she is capable of becoming’. This he refers to as the ‘noodynamics’. Frankl (2009) links the spiritual unconscious as unconscious religiosity or religio. The unconscious religiosity is described as ‘latent relation to transcendence’, defined as the inbuilt natural capacity of a human to relate to something greater than him/herself. Unlike Freud in his concept of instinctual unconscious with libido as being a ‘drive’, Frankl (2009) refers to the religo as being a ‘pull’ towards awareness that transcends the person to reaching his human potential.

Definition of Adoption Loss, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief and Doka’s ‘dis-enfranchised grief’ relating to Birthmothers’ Adoption Grief

Definition of Adoption loss.

Losing a child to adoption carries with it a huge intensity of grief. The journey to healing is individual to all who travel this road. Open adoption which is contact with the child and the adoption parents can ease the grief but in no means, takes away the loss in the role of being their mother. The steps taken in this type of grief process is different for each mother and is managed in her own time (Robinson, 2003).

Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief in relation to a Birthmother’s Loss in Adoption.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1999) states that her model of stages of grief does not necessarily occur in any particular order and they not meant as a complete list of emotions felt. Initially it was developed for people with terminal illness and later extended to other losses such as personal loss, rejection, disease, infertility, divorce etc.

Denial is where the loss is shut out of the reality of the experience present, and a false reality is created (Ross, 1999). Adoption loss can hold conflicting feelings. Denial can be the feeling of bliss at the birth of their child and shock at the later stage as to the extreme sadness regarding the separation and loss that will be their decision once born. There is a deliberate avoidance of places and people who have babies that remind them of their pregnancy. A birthparent may go towards an unhealthy grieving by taking to form of substance miss-use (Robinson, 2003).

Anger — can be a "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame?" attitude (Ross, 1999). For a birthmother anger can be displaced towards God and themselves in shame and guilt and others who have a happy life with babies. They may never become aware of the healthy way to deal with grief as a lot of birthmothers do not engage in counselling due to society’s cultural views on adoption (Robinson, 2003).

Bargaining – is where a person with a terminal illness bargains for more time with doctors and God (Ross, 1999). For a birthmother, it can be a bargaining with God, with family members such as their mothers, it is looking for a solution in the rejection of facing their loss (Patrick, 2012).

Depression — is a stage of giving up all hope, unable to find a reason for existence. When in the existential vacuum, everything loses meaning. This process is the road towards acceptance and a natural time of tears, fear, uncertainty and regret. If they can find closure then it helps the person towards the fifth stage acceptance (Ross, 1999). For a birthmother, the depression often takes with it the physical form (Robinson, 2003).

            Acceptance - this is a stage when an individual comes to terms with loss and reaches calmness and a perspective of a stable mind. There is the self-re-assurance that all will be okay and the person begins to attach to life again (Ross, 1999). For a birthmother, this can be reached more often in open adoption where there is a clear definition of her place in the world. Angela Patrick (2012) found meaning in the hope of relinquishment of meeting her son again.

Robinson (2003) states that birthmother grief in adoption loss is unique and is not mentioned in any common models of grief and even though there are similarities, they do not capture the true loss.

Robinson (2003) states another stage which is at the fore of a birthmothers’ grief and that is guilt. It is a major part of birthmothers’ adoption loss grieving, especially if her upbringing culture is in the catholic religion. Guilt can be in the regret of the decision and second guessing to a different decision. The guilt of moving on for some woman can be to deny themselves another child as this may feel like a betrayal to their firstborn. Some women, who do want another child and where it may not occur, may believe that they are being punished for their sin. Some birthmothers may feel unworthy to relinquish their role with their child due to guilt. The judgement in which society has played its role in reinforcing in its cultural stance on its views of adoption plays a huge part in the guilt and shame experienced.

Ken Doka’s ‘disenfranchised grief’ in relation to a Birthmother Loss in Adoption

Doka (2002) developed further in the field of grief with ‘Disenfranchised grief’. Robinson (2003) states that this type of grief relates to adoption loss. Doka (2002) states that ‘disenfranchised grief’ is the loss of another which is not recognised by society and where the healthy rituals aiding in the grieving process does not occur. He relates this to a person who has an affair and due to the secret of the loss where grieving cannot be openly expressed. The same occurs for a birthmother, no funeral rituals, no social support or in some cases, no family support. Mothers suffer in silence; Society pretends that it did not happen, hiding it away in institutions, therefore highlighting the stigma around birthmother adoption loss. There is also the case where society believed that providing the service of these institutions assisted in the birthmother’s decision regarding their unwanted children and that they should be grateful for this assistance by working for their keep (Robinson, 2003).

Doka (2002) states that in the cases of ‘disenfranchised grief’, those experiencing feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, depression, hopelessness and numbness tend to hold on to grief. They feel that they are not entitled to or deserving because the grief is from shame and guilt held and therefore may cut them off from any form of support.

Spirituality and Psychotherapy

Thorne (2012) describes spirituality in counselling as a separate notion (like Frankl) to any organised system of religion. He states that its foundation is in the nature of the ‘self’ and the alliance of the therapist and client. He describes the counsellor as being in acceptance of their limitations, their powerlessness and not always searching for solutions in the alliance. With this approach which is as Rogers terms modern personal centred counselling as ‘a way of being’ with the client. Thorne states that it in the powerlessness of the counsellor as the trusting of the spiritual power of the client which can lead to unexpected outcomes. Acknowledging your powerlessness with the client is the acknowledgment of sitting with the client without anxiety in the present moment. Allowing time in powerlessness to unfold can transcend the experience of spiritual order in eternities light. It is in the knowing for the client of your caring for them, what follows may astonish you both even in the fact that the word spiritual is never mentioned. Patrick (2012) writes about a true friend with whom she lives with when returning to society. She states how her friend was congruent in stating that she will never know her suffering, yet listening and empathising with her and giving her that space and time to be.  This she acknowledges in this experience as a great support to her.

Logotherapy Techniques applied to Bereavement, Grief and Loss of Birthmothers in Adoption loss

Within Logotherapy, the three main techniques applied to grief are as follows:

  1. Dereflection–This technique is used when a person is so obsessed with the issue that in re-directing from the self and towards others or goals that they would like, can accommodate their suffering (Frankl, 2010).  For example, Patrick (2012) writes of how she concentrates on the babies in the institute and how they were affected rather than her own imminent loss and grief.

$12.      Paradoxical intention - is in getting the client to self-distance from him/herself yet also to reflect on oneself. It is through the spirit of freedom and taking responsibility of asking for the thing he/she fears the most in order to reduce the anxiety and fear (Frankl, 2010). Patrick (2012) describes where she reduces the anxiety of her return to society by asking to keep in touch with the girls who also travelled the same road.

$13.      Socratic dialogue - Socratic dialogue is a method used towards self-discovery by listening to the client’s words and where the therapist feeds back specific patterns or word solutions. This guides the client to discovering that the answer lies within (Frankl, 1969).

 The author wonders if Angela was given the opportunity of logotherapy would she have found a different path through the course of her life. For example, Frankl (2009) speaks of a couple where the pregnant mother was terminally ill and the decision of the couple was to find a home for the child when the mother died. However, during the couple’s therapy, Frankl guided them in a change of attitude towards a different meaning in their suffering, which was one of love, hope and purpose. This was in the not giving away their child as a positive aspect to a purpose (meaning) to the husband’s life and a reminder of their love after his wife’s death.

Patrick (2012) describes her suicidal thoughts and how she found meaning in her existence by being motivated to one day that she may meet her son. This prevented her from taking her life.

Author’s Conclusions and Findings

Frankl points out the need to look at the person not only in biological and psychological terms but also to the spirit of the human being. In researching Kubler-Ross’s model of grief in relation to a birthmothers’ grief in adoption loss, it highlighted the need for a stage in ‘guilt’, however Doka this is recognised in ‘disenfranchised grief’. The author agrees with Robinson in her research of grief models where adoption loss is not recognised and further research and development in this specific area may need to be addressed, maybe this was unconsciously evoked by societies cultural at that time. The author believes that this specific model of grief can only come from the women who have experienced this.

The author views Frankl’s experience of suffering where death could be only seconds away as being a dreadful experience yet in comparison to Angela Patrick’s experiences it would be one where the pain ceases quickly. In comparison to Angela’s death of separation, loss, loss of an identity as a mother the author view as being a lifelong slower death than that of the physical kin.

The author regards Frankl as more fortunate than many others in the concentration camp as he was an educated man who used his period of captivity to his advantage to further his research. His meaning and will to survive was in his writings of research. His survival was also in the interactions with others and theirs with him. Angela found meaning in the babies and the support of others, yet her grief was ongoing until her time of relinquishment with her son. Angela relied on her Catholic faith and as Frankl may state as the defiant power of her spirit to survive.

The Author Captures her review in the words from an

Anonymous Birthmother

They watched me sign,

They viewed my tears,

They turned and walked away,

In their ignorant blindness,

What was unknown and unseen,

Was a portrait of two souls

 Painted into one eternal being,

Within the horrendous grief like a partite shadowed world,

Was the touching of our souls,

Where a connecting bond unfurled,

What seemed to them to be, the death of goodbye,

Was secretly to us our place to ly,

 there were no words, only tears that day,

 yet there was just one whisper in your ear to say,

‘My love… they can never ever..... really take you away.


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Address: 11 Wellington Quay Drogheda, Co. Louth. Tel: 041 9844277, Mobile: 086 8581307, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.