Black, Multi-racial and Trans-racial Adoptive Families: A journey of hope.

Karen Carberry, MSc, Dip.Psych is an international trainer, highly specialist family therapist, and author with over 18 years experience in clinical practice and consultation.

Karen trained at the Institute of Family Therapy, has diplomas in Psychology; Psychodynamic Counselling and Psychotherapy; and an MSc in Family and Systemic Psychotherapy and currently studying for the Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice. Karen is also a Fellow of the Applied Centre of Emotional Literacy Leadership and Research (ACELLR).  Karen is co-author of ‘Black Community Mental Health: International Perspectives, Emerging Trends and Practice ‘(in press). 

Karen has worked as a family counsellor within the Black and Multi-racial Families Project at the Post Adoption Centre, and has served as an Independent Panel Member for the Adoption and Permanency Panel for Sutton Council.    Rather than a one size fits all approach, Karen and her clients enjoy working collaboratively to find solutions to difficulties, and she brings a wealth of experience across the family lifespan.  All families have a desire for a happy and contented family life, and although there are many hurdles and paths to navigate for adoptive families, Black, Multi-racial and Trans-racially adoptive families are no exception in their bi-cultural quest.  Areas to be covered within this talk will include the adoption triangle; the idealised child exercise; attachment cycle; adaptive grieving; working with the adoptive and cultural/racial identity and the journey of hope.

This strategy of hope has been used in her work as a family therapist in an inpatient Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service; as an Associate Partner in SLACCS, an Adoption Support Agency; Manager of Family Centres and a Child Contact Centre; and also a school counsellor.  Karen currently works professionally as a Family Therapist in a private adult inpatient Eating Disorders Unit, as a Consultant for the Wimbledon Guild Family Therapy Service, and in private practice.

Wimbledon Guild Counselling Training caught up with Karen ahead of her presentation on the 3rd Feb 2018 Wimbledon Guild Attachment Conference, Adoption and Attachment.


 karen carberry

I thoroughly enjoyed my initial training in psychodynamic counselling at Regents College,  together with  depth of teaching on attachment theory, and rigour required in working individually with clients from a Western concept.  I loved the works of John Bowlby, Patrick Casement, and Melanie Klein. However, as a Black trainee, there seemed to be a gap in terms of my own personal experience, black psyche and sense of self.  I found works by Frantz Fanon and Lennox Thomas illuminating in my consideration of the West Indian attachment experience, drawing on my own culture as first generation, Black British woman of Jamaican ancestry.  Mary Ainsworth’s work on developing love, drew on her observations in Africa with black mothers and their children.   I wondered about the wider impact of culture, race,  class and gender which led me to explore family therapy training.  Fortunately, when I had applied to study psychodynamic counselling, I also applied for foundation training in family therapy course at the same time and was accepted on both.   Intrigued I trained in both disciplines for the the first year, and then opted to continue with the completion of psychodynamic studies. I then continued on in family therapy. 

The first year of combined clinical training was a challenge, but enabled me to hold onto my sense of self to avoid colonisation of my thought process, but to also find a bridge, to make sense of this experience for people of colour who enter into clinical practice, and the cross-cultural experience in therapy.  I was not disappointed,  and found teaching from scholars such as Ros Draper, Monica McGoldrick,  Nancy Boyd-Franklin, and Arnon Bentovim , Archie Smith, and Evan Imber-Black, who widened my thinking and experience to design interventions for the family and larger systems which I frequently engaged in,  through my work in managing family centres.

Tell us about some of your work at an Adoption Support  Agency, what are some of your greatest accomplishments in this field thus far?

It was a very exciting time whereby the focus on working with all parties of the adoption triangle (birth parents, adopted adults/children and adoptive families) also stretched its range to work collaboratively with adoption teams.  The blurred outlines of generational boundaries, operating from a clear understanding of the power position of women and children relative to men in our society provided interesting discussions.  Building a strong collaborative relationship across all parties proved to be a great accomplishment, together with developing a flexible approach to working, sometimes from the family home. This work proved to be very innovative and successful,and I felt very privileged to be a part of the life of each person, and in their journey of hope. Hope for the birth parent  that their child is happy in the new adoptive placement. Hope that this new adoptive family can move through different challenges and celebrations with strategies that grow with them; and hope for teams who also make the transition alongside the parents,  from prospective adopters to adoptive families.

What led you to writing Black, Multi-racial and Trans-racial Adoptive Families: A journey of hope your conference presentation for us?

Black and mixed race children are over- represented in foster care. There is little uplifting material on working with Black, Multi-racial, Trans-racial Adoptive families, and upon receiving an invitation to present at this conference drawing upon my clinical experiences over several decades with this client group would be a fitting way to share knowledge.

I have learned so much from the black, multi-racial and trans-racial adoptive families I have worked with in family therapy, and therefore I feel that it is important to provide a significant contribution, and augment research and practice in this little researched field. Developing a cultural competence paradigm through this presentation will build confidence for families and practitioners to continue to build up family dynamics, family identity, mental health and strategies for meeting some of the challenges that occur at different stages of family life.

Adoptive families come in all skin tones, shapes and sizes and need to be celebrated in their own unique way.  I am looking forward to this special conference, and will have resources on hand to guide participants in a reflexive and helpful way.