Monday, November 29, 2010

Remembering Betty Jean Lifton: Advocate for Open Adoptions

By Fran Cronin for Adopt-a-Tude

Betty Jean Lifton wrote, “ A friend once asked me how I became involved in the adoption field. I responded that it was easy. I was born into it. I was adopted.”

Characteristically frank and known for her unabashed criticism of the secrecy that had traditionally shrouded adoptions, Lifton, 84, died November 19, in her Cambridge, Mass. home from pneumonia.

A writer, an adoptee, and a seminal adoption reformist, Lifton leaves behind a body of advocacy, scholarship, and counseling milestones that will long be remembered for its transformational presence in the heart of the open adoption movement.

Lifton, who lectured widely about the psychological effects of adoption, was best known for her landmark nonfiction trilogy: “Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter” (McGraw Hill, 1975), “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience” (Dial, 1979); and “Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness” (Basic Books, 1994).

These three books closely follow Lifton’s lifelong journey in search of the truth about her adoption story; the psychological impact of closed adoptions; and the exploration of identity, loss, and trauma for those in what she called the “adoption triangle:” the relationship between adoptive parents, the adoptee, and the birth mother.

To better help the many people who read her books and turned to her for advice and support, Lifton earned a Ph.D. in counseling psychology in the 1990's. Her adoption practice stressed unlocking emotional barriers and opening to the discovery of one's past. With a penchant for metaphors, she coined "ghost kingdom," as a stand-in for the relational emotions hidden in the adoption triad.

Born in Staten Island, NY, Lifton was adopted into a Cincinnati, Ohio family when she was 2 ½. Told that her birth parents had been married but died, Lifton would learn as an adult that her birth mother was still alive. “There was some truth in my adoptive mother’s version of reality,” she said, “for in the closed adoption system birth parents are as if dead to the adopted child.”

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