Bridging Two Worlds: Coming of Age
A Group for Teen-Age Adoptees

Historically, almost every culture on earth marked the passage from youth to adulthood with rituals that gave young people opportunities to build their competence, strength, resolve, and character. Most modern societies have given up these powerful ceremonies. This failure to offer young people appropriate opportunities to gain self confidence and independence can lead to impulsive, inappropriate, or premature efforts to claim adulthood. Experimentation with drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, self-harm, and even perfectionism are some of the self destructive ways we see teens trying to define themselves. Our group, inspired by coming of age rituals and designed for young women ages 13 to 16, offers 10 months of intense discussion of and preparation for the challenges and pleasures that lie ahead.

The search for identity and a deeper understanding of self is a crucial task for the adolescent adoptee. How this journey occurs is a central issue for our young teens. We offer a safe, encouraging, and simultaneously challenging environment for participants to explore their abilities, take risks, and travel in new emotional terrain. This group presents girls with opportunities to build a community of peers and learn new social, emotional, and physical skills while they are in the care of two “wise women” with decades of wilderness and professional therapeutic experience. (This group prepares the way for a more formal vision quest that can be undertaken in junior or senior year of high school.)

Two wilderness explorations frame our group. We will begin with a 4 day camping and canoeing trip. We will learn and practice skills to live lightly on the earth, to cooperate as a group in navigating and traveling by canoe, and to take care of ourselves and each other far from running water and electricity. We will return to Oakland for 25 group meetings which will focus on such questions as: Who will I be in the coming year with peers? What do I have to offer the world? What parts of me will I take into adulthood? How can I express all the parts of my identity? How can I express my strong feelings so I can be heard and understood? How do I cope with the sadness of inevitable separations and disappointments. How do I face anxiety and fear? How do I cope with the stresses of unfamiliar situations? How will I work effectively with people and build trust? The group will culminate with a challenging, 4 day wilderness trip on Memorial Day weekend in the Spring, and then we will return to celebrate our experiences with parents.

Our Group Leaders:

Virginia Keeler-Wolf is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a certified EMDR practitioner, and an attachment and adoption specialist with extensive training and experience. She specializes in working with families to strengthen attachments, to integrate and recover from trauma and neglect, to develop effective emotional regulation and to create healthier and more satisfying family relationships. Virginia’s work is informed by her personal experience as an adopted person. She has been working with foster and adoptive families and children and adolescents for over 28 years. Virginia has facilitated many groups for adopted girls.

Deborah Raphael is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Associate Clinical Professor at the University of California, and the psychological counselor for the students of Maybeck High School. She supervises the clinical work of Ph.D. candidates in the Department of Psychology at UC Berkeley, and maintains a full time private practice in Kensington. She has been working therapeutically with adolescents and their families for over 30 years, and specializes in motivating teenagers to adapt positively to the challenges of growing up in our confusing and demanding world. She works with families and their teens to find ways communicate with and understand with each other as they grow and change.

Virginia and Deborah have been exploring the wilderness together for decades with groups of children and adolescents.



Virginia Keeler-Wolf  510-339-9363

Deborah Raphael 510-849-4495

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  © 2008 Virginia Keeler-Wolf