How you can find hope, help and healing after abortion?

 

By Leslie Graves

If you are in emotional or spiritual pain after abortion, this article will help you learn about different resources and options available to you in your journey to renewed emotional and spiritual well-being.

You are not alone in what you have been feeling, and you don’t need to be alone and isolated as you recover. As you reach out for assistance, you will discover a community of compassionate, experienced men and women who will be able to offer skillful and significant help.

My prayers and encouragement are with you as you walk on this path of recovery. Others, including me, have walked it before you. We know that what once seemed impossible—peace, forgiveness, restoration to a sense of wholeness—is indeed possible. However deep your trauma and your sense of pain and emotional turmoil, I encourage you to look forward to recovery with renewed hope and confidence.

~Leslie Graves

Introduction

If you are suffering after abortion, you may feel very alone. You may have experienced abortion many years ago and never told anyone. You may be struggling with a more recent abortion.

As you investigate the resources listed below and on this website, keep in mind that not every program is a good fit for every person. Keep trying until you find a person or group where you feel safe, comfortable and welcome. Bear in mind that anytime you reflect back on a painful time in your life, you will most likely feel worse before you feel better, because you will be thinking and feeling more on a daily basis about what happened. That’s normal, and it’s one reason why support is so helpful on your journey.

However, some people may try a particular resource, and continue to be in a lot of pain, experience flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, or have behaviors that they dislike and want to stop but which are continuing. If that happens, you may be tempted to say, "It must be me, and I can never expect to truly experience peace and joy again. Because of what happened, I will always have to struggle with destructive thoughts and unhealthy behaviors."

Please keep trying! Many, many people have experienced complete healing of their post-abortion symptoms through one of these programs. You might want to read What does recovery feel like? (below) if you are wondering whether more healing and recovery might be possible for you.

Types of programs

When seeking support and healing for post-abortion trauma, one basic choice is between group support or one-on-one counseling.

If you're not sure whether a group setting or an individual setting is a better fit for you at this time, go to Thinking about a Group? (below) for a collection of comments about that, and Thinking about One-on-One Help? (below) for comments about that.

Another choice is between in-person support (attending a weekend retreat, working with a therapist, a clergyperson or a peer counselor, or going to a weekly group) or online support (online chats, internet message boards, e-mail groups). Several organizations offer a combination of email or internet-based group support and in-person support. See Thinking about on-line support? And Thinking about in-person support? for reflections on these options.

Another choice is between programs with a spiritual component and those without. Spiritual beliefs are personal and are often tied-in with how we look at abortion in general and our own experience with abortion in particular. It is not uncommon to feel that we are unacceptable to God if we have had an abortion, or to feel that abortion is "the unforgivable sin". That pain is hard to bear. It is one reason that many, but not all, post-abortion groups have a spiritual basis. I indicate information about that with each listing.

Basic expectations that you should have of a therapist or group as you seek post-abortion healing

1. Confidentiality. Your confidentiality and privacy should be strictly respected at all times, unless you are threatening harm to yourself or others. Also, no one should share the details of your story-even if no one would recognize that it is about you-with others without your explicit permission.

2. No pressure to "tell your story." Because of wanting to reach out to those who still suffer, many people who have experienced post-abortion trauma do share their story with friends or in public. This is a personal decision, with many factors that you will need to consider. If you indicate an interest in raising awareness through sharing your story, a good support group will encourage you to discern what is best for you, and to take plenty of time in making this decision.

3. Prompt response. If you e-mail an organization, you should expect a response within 48 hours. If you call a hotline or therapist and get voicemail, you should get detailed information about when you can speak to someone in person. If you leave a message, you should get a call back within 48 hours.

4. The program should not include a political component. Because pro-life organizations such as the Catholic Church understood early on that men and women suffer after abortion, pro-life groups became active early on in supporting post-abortion research and healing. By contrast, some pro-choice activists can feel threatened by the idea that abortion can hurt a woman emotionally or spiritually, and react in damaging and defensive ways to your pain. Bottom line: You may find help from a source you did not expect, but you should probably steer clear of any therapist, clergyperson or healing program that in any way will use or minimize your pain or vulnerability or tells you that you have to be pro-life or pro-choice to receive help or to heal.

5. The program and the individuals involved with it should be nonjudgmental, respectful, and knowledgeable.

6. Avoid "quick fixes" and "spiritual bandaids" See http://www.nacronline.com/dox/library/daler/quick.shtml 

Be Wise When Seeking Wisdom

Some words to the wise from Theresa Burke, PhD, founder of Rachel's Vineyard and co-author with David Reardon of "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion":

"Post-abortion healing is a specialty unto itself. The average psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counselor of any other academic stripe who does not understand post-abortion issues can often inflict more harm than good on the unsuspecting woman. Many may believe they have enough insight to help, but unless they have had additional training, they often don't. Certainly, if your thoughts and feelings become so overwhelming that you feel you can no longer cope, seek professional assistance immediately. But generally, I encourage you to take the time to find one of the growing number of professional therapists and experienced lay counselors who have received special training in post-abortion healing." (p. 247)

Here is a longer excerpt from Forbidden Grief that is another word to the wise as you think about seeking help with any post-abortion issues you may be experiencing:

"The interaction between therapists and women who have experienced abortion is obstructed by unspoken secrets, fears and political biases. It should be no surprise that because of their own psychological needs, many counselors simply don't want to delve into the subject of abortion. If they do, some prefer to quickly reassure clients that they did the best thing and thereby close off any further expressions of grief. This occurs because many counselors have neglected to identify their own fears and anxieties that might be aroused by such conversations.

Many therapists have been involved in an abortion themselves. Others have encouraged clients to abort or have given their therapeutic 'blessing' to the abortion option for clients considering abortion. This is often done out of ignorance of the research that shows that women with prior psychological problems fare poorly after abortion...While some therapists may simply be ignorant of these undisputed findings, others simply ignore or disbelieve them for their own psychological or political reasons.

Once a counselor has encouraged or approved of an abortion for Patient A, he may become 'invested' in defending abortion. If he subsequently allows Patient B to delve into her post-abortion grief and associated pathologies, then the counselor may be forced to question his advice to Patient A. He may be instinctively wary of witnessing an intense post-abortion reaction because it may provoke his own sense of guilt in having given Patient A bad advice.

Julianne described her experienced with her therapist this way:

"After my abortion, I could not stop crying. I went to see the therapist who had encouraged me to have the abortion. I cried the whole time there. She sat across from me with a blank look on her face. She said nothing. During this session she was removed and distant-emotionally cold and withdrawn. As I was leaving her office, she came up to me and said, 'I don't usually touch my patients, but you look like you need a hug.' She then proceeded to embrace my shoulders and offer a squeeze. I felt like I was being embraced by an evil presence. I shuddered at her touch. How dare she even come near me! A hug! I was sickened at the thought of such a trite expression-after having encouraged me to kill my own child! Never a word of support for my motherhood! Not an alternative plan, or a resource to help me. She knew I didn't want another abortion. She told me to have a ------ abortion because I would not be able to handle another baby.

Then she offered me a hug!

God, I miss my baby. That's who I wanted to hug...my baby who is gone, whom I will never hold or cuddle."

If the therapist has personally had an abortion, a client's confession of grief is quite likely to run into either a wall of denial or another quagmire of unsettled issues.

According to another of my clients, Hanna:

"I thought I had put my own experiences behind me. I was totally unprepared for the onset of emotions evoked by hearing one of my clients talk about her abortion. There are times when I feel as though I have opened a Pandora's box and my life will never be normal again. Memories I did not know existed have been surfacing at the most inopportune times. My sleeping hours are plagued by graphic nightmares. I vacillate between feeling in control and fully out of control. As a professional counselor, I struggle to find a bridge that will allow me to merge my professional expertise with my personal trauma. 'Physician, heal thyself!' I do know that the time to reconcile this is now and that it is no accident. I have arrived at this particular fork in the road.

Fortunately, Hanna recognized her own symptoms that screamed for attention and decided to seek help. She was willing to deal with the trauma that she had for many years successfully pushed away but had never truly worked through."

(The above excerpt is from pages 60-61 of "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion", by Theresa Burke, PhD with David Reardon, PhD.)

Thinking about a group?

Is group support the right choice for where you are on your journey?

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it."-Helen Keller

"Mutual help groups are a powerful and constructive means for people to help themselves and each other. The basic dignity of each human being is expressed in his or her capacity to be involved in a reciprocal helping exchange. Out of this compassion comes cooperation. From this cooperation comes community." - Phyllis Silverman, PhD, Dept of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, from Introduction to the Self-Help Sourcebook, 1995, p. 24

Research indicates that self-help groups can have a powerfully positive impact on us. In post-abortion healing, this would be found at a weekend retreat, a weekly bible study or recovery group, in a structured online group or in a more free-wheeling e-group.

Yet, entering into a group can be scary. Imagine going to a first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and saying for the first time outside the privacy of your own mind, "I am an alcoholic." Or even just going to the first practice of a sports team at your new high school, or any other new group setting.

It's common to have many anxieties and fears about attending a weekend retreat or group support meetings. "Will my confidentiality truly be respected?" "Even if people didn't say anything harsh, will I witness fleeting facial expressions of condemnation and judgment, and experience even more shame?" "What if I start crying and can't stop?" "Will I be the only one there with multiple abortions?" The people who coordinate your particular support group probably experienced the very same fears at one point, and will be able to talk about them with you.

Besides abortion, you may have had other experiences in your life that cause you to experience other people as damaging and untrustworthy. These can include childhood sexual abuse or an abusive family environment. Meeting others in groups is a chance to experience people who are safe and trustworthy. If you have had bad experiences with people, it can feel risky. The rewards can be as great as the risk.

Here is a link to a website with many quotes about the advantages of mutual self-help groups: http://mentalhelp.net/selfhelp/selfhelp.php?id=865 

Theresa Burke of Rachel's Vineyard (www.rachelsvineyard.org) shares her thoughts on the value of a group support experience in "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion":

"The profound healing that Michelle experienced was new to her, but not to me. I have been privileged to witness literally thousands of such transforming moments, when the labor of grief ends in the birth of a new, restored woman. It’s as though an emotional key turns, simultaneously releasing all the muck and grime and weight of past abortions while opening a door to a fresh new future...Tears of sorrow are mixed with tears of joy as women and men experience their first taste of freedom after years of cruel bondage.

But such healing can only happen when the isolation and secrecy are dismantled, and one's story is revealed to others who do not seek to judge or condemn. Only then is it finally possible, with the support of a small community of others who compassionately affirm the loss and respect the grief, to grieve one's losses to their fullness. The importance of social support to the grief process reflects an important aspect of our human nature. Though we are individuals, we are inescapably social beings. The lack of social support will degrade or destroy our well-being. Conversely, the experience of social support, in even a single relationship, can strengthen our well-being.

For most of us, it is only when we have the support of others who will not judge or condemn us that we feel safe from social rejection. This support makes it easier for us to confront and explore the deepest part of our souls. With it, one learns how to accept forgiveness from God and one's aborted child. With it, one learns how to extend forgiveness to oneself and others. And with it, one discovers how the most difficult, soul-breaking experiences imaginable can be used as the foundation for building a richer, deeper, and more meaningful existence."

From p. 246 of "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion

Thinking about one-on-one help?

Is one-on-one help the right choice for you at this time?

One-on-one support and therapy as you begin to heal from post-abortion trauma could come in several forms. You could seek help:

From a mental health professional (a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, social worker, or other mental health clinician). from a clergyperson from a peer-counselor who will most likely use a recovery approach such as "Forgiven and Set Free", "My Guilt, Grief and Shame are Ending Soon", the PACE program or "Her Choice to Heal", and meet with you one-on-one for a period of weeks at a time convenient to both of you. (Generally, these sessions will be free or have a very low cost.) Individual email counseling through a number of different online sites that offer it.

Advantages of one-on-one counseling include:

  • Personalized attention
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Ability to tailor sessions to your particular issues
  • Privacy

Here is an excerpt from a comment made by someone who participated in one-on-one sessions with a peer counselor from Victims of Choice:

"My 10 counseling sessions have ended with my lay counselor from Victims Of Choice (VOC), and I wanted to write and thank you for this life changing experience. I learned of the VOC Ministry when you led a workshop at our church. I attended it because I was curious about a ministry dealing with men and women who have had abortions. Although I considered myself a committed Christian and had known the Lord for 15 years, I evaded the issue with Him that I too had had an abortion 25 years ago. I knew abortion was wrong and for years I had conditioned myself not to think about it. I told no one about my abortion - struggling to stay in denial even to myself.

The abortion experience itself is very traumatic for a woman to endure. I learned that years of sleepless nights and other phobias were directly related to my abortion. My low self-esteem was mostly due to the tremendous guilt...hidden deep in my heart so no one could see what an awful thing I had done.

But our wonderful God loved me too much to allow me to be in bondage to this buried sin. I clung to Isaiah 50:7 that says the Lord God will help us. I would set my face like a flint and ask Him to help me get over being so ashamed.

After the workshop, I contacted VOC and made an appointment with a lay counselor. I really appreciated the discreet way in which I was treated. This very special person helped me to feel God's cleansing, healing and forgiving love!"

Here are some weblinks that offer advice on finding a compatible therapist:  http://www.nacronline.com/dox/gethelp/therapy.htm

In-person or online support?

In-person support for post-abortion healing would either be on a weekend retreat, one-on-one counseling with a therapist, clergyperson or lay facilitator, or a weekly support group.

On-line support would be through a message board, e-group, online recovery group, scheduled or spontaneous online chats, or email.

If you're reading this, you're already experiencing one of the many benefits of the internet: Quick, fast, information on a targeted subject of interest to you, entirely at your own convenience, and with complete anonymity.

Ever since the internet came along, people have wondered how "the online experience" stacks up against face-to-face experiences. Therapists wonder whether online therapy can be effective, Catholics wonder what it means to pray before the Blessed Sacrament that is displayed on a webpage, young lovers wonder if it is "real" love if you only know the person online.

For most people, as they journey toward healing, face-to-face contact will end up being an indispensable part of the healing process. Online support, however, has great strengths: immediacy and anonymity are two of the advantages. For most people, it is not an either/or choice (either in-person or online support) but a both/and choice (both in-person and online support).

What Does Recovery Feel Like?

Almost anyone who has had a lot of recovery and healing from traumatic experiences and loss will tell you that you never stop healing this side of Heaven.

Yet, for many people a turning point comes when they can say, "I am not in that black hole any longer." It's like falling in love...when it happens, you'll know.

If you have tried a particular therapist or support group, and you still regularly experience one or more of these symptoms in relation to abortion:

  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Compulsive thoughts and feelings that started after the abortion
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Lack of attachment to your children
  • Self-hatred
  • Shame
  • Social isolation
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Compulsive or addictive behaviors that started after abortion

Then I would urge you to try a different program or therapist. As they say in 12-step programs, "You're not a failure until you fail to try." Here's a link to a good article on reaching out for help: http://www.nacronline.com/dox/library/dalew/dw_help.shtml 

And here is a link to a page that beautifully describes some images of recovery: http://www.nacronline.com/dox/library/meditate/m1_iofr.htm 

As your healing journey continues, I'd like to share this final expression of what you might look forward to:

12 Signs of a Spiritual Awakening ( from an unknown 12-step source)

1. An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.

2. Frequent attacks of smiling.

3. Feelings of being connected with others and nature.

4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.

5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.

6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.

7. A loss of ability to worry.

8. A loss of interest in conflict.

9. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.

10. A loss of interest in judging others.

11. A loss of interest in judging self.

12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return.

You are in my prayers.

~ Leslie

Organizations, descriptions and links

Disclaimer: Neither I nor The Silent No More Awareness Campaign certify or endorse the programs or groups listed here. I encourage you to read my views on the Basic, Minimum Standards a therapist or post-abortion group should meet.

Use your best judgment and discretion as you investigate these links. If you are experiencing shame or guilt because of abortion, and have a negative experience with a particular group, you may believe that is what you deserve. It isn't. What you deserve is respect, a nonjudgmental attitude, and effective assistance as you heal. If one person or organization isn't right for you, another one will be.

The Abortion Recovery Directory at www.abortionrecoverydirectory.com/ is an online searchable database. You can enter your zip code, city or state to find Christian-based abortion recovery services near you. This Directory originated in late 2004. As time goes on, the Directory aims to be a comprehensive listing of all such services. The list below includes ministries with a national scope. By looking on their web-pages, you’ll also be able to find resources near you.

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Rachel's Vineyard Ministries at www.rachelsvineyard.org.  National toll-free hotline at 1-877-HOPE-4-ME (1-877-467-3463).  Theresa Burke, PhD, Director

Rachel's Vineyard offers post-abortion weekend retreats and weekly support groups in 46 states and 7 countries. The retreat is Christian, and is offered in interdenominational, Catholic and ecumenical formats. It has been translated into five languages. Rachel's Vineyard has a monthly e-newsletter, "Vine and Branches", which is archived on their website and available on request. It has various aftercare resources including an email newsletter called "Oaktrees", an active e-group for former retreat participants called "Companions on the Journey" and individual email support through the website.

Rachel's Vineyard has had an annual national Leadership Conference since 2000 and also offers one-day clinical trainings throughout the country. It hosts a very active e-group for mental health professionals and laypeople who serve on retreat teams, or are planning to offer the retreat.

Local Pregnancy Center Based Support Groups

Many Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs) and Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) host post-abortion support groups. These groups typically meet weekly for a period of anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks, and use a variety of recovery guides, including "Forgiven and Set Free", "Her Choice to Heal", PACE (Post-Abortion Counseling and Education), the Rachel's Vineyard weekly support model, or the "My Guilt, Grief and Shame are Ending Soon" program.

How would you find out if a PRC or CPC near you offers a post-abortion support group? The best way to do that is to call the Option Line at 1-800-712-HELP or consult their online directory at www.optionline.org/. You can do a zip code search of their extensive database.

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The National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing (NOPARH) at www.marquette.edu/rachel  and Project Rachel at www.hopeafterabortion.com 

NOPARH has a national toll-free hotline at 1-800-5WE-CARE.

Project Rachel is a post-abortion outreach of the Catholic Church, while NOPARH is intended as a non-denominational referral source for post-abortion help. Project Rachel was founded in 1984 by Vicki Thorn, who is the director of NOPARH. NOPARH has hosted several international conferences on post-abortion reconciliation and Vicki Thorn offers one-day trainings. Catholic dioceses that have their own Project Rachel can also be a source for local referrals. By calling the national office at 1-800-5WE-CARE, you will generally be referred to the local Project Rachel office nearest to you. That office can then refer you to helpful and trained clergy, therapists, retreats and support groups.

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Healing Hearts Ministries International at www.healinghearts.org/.

This international ministry was founded in the state of Washington and has grown to include in-person support groups in a number of other states. In addition to in-person support groups, Healing Hearts offers an online program.

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Ramah International at www.ramahinternational.org.  Sydna Masse, Director; phone (941) 473-2188.

This Christian group supports post-abortion ministry through training programs, resources, research and promoting awareness of post-abortion issues. Director Sydna Masse is the author of the recovery book, "Her Choice to Heal". Sydna has also created a leader's guide so that "Her Choice to Heal" can be used as the basis for in-person weekly recovery groups.

Ramah International has a newsletter, various additional resources, and can be used as a point of referral to weekly recovery groups around the country. You can also find e-mail support through the Ramah website.

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Rachel's Network. Contact Martha Shuping at mshuping01@sprynet.com 

Rachel Network is a group of professionals, clergy and peer counselors which provides direct services to women who have had abortions as well as training for counselors, clergy, and lay ministers. Rachel Network volunteers conduct the Rachel's Vineyard weekend retreat and can train teams for new retreat sites. They also offer the "Rachel Network Evening of Prayer for Post-abortion Healing," a program that can be done with almost no expense with only one volunteer. It takes place in an anonymous atmosphere in a darkened church (Catholic and other denominations), and has been a great source of healing, as a first step or as a stand alone program.

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Hope Alive at www.hopealiveusa.org/,  Hope Alive is a group counseling treatment program designed to heal those afflicted with childhood traumas and pregnancy losses. The treatment program consists of 30 group sessions, each two-to-three-hours. There are Hope Alive group leaders in a growing number of states.

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Victims of Choice at www.victimsofchoice.com.

An informative and welcoming website. Elizabeth Verchio, Director, has created "My Guilt, Grief and Shame are Ending Soon", a 10-session program that is especially designed for one-on-one work between someone experiencing emotional and spiritual wounds and a trained peer counselor. Victims of Choice offers many resources for establishing abortion recovery centers, including a 217-page Abortion Recovery Facilitator Guidebook.

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Jennifer O’Neill Ministries at www.JenniferONeill.com.

Jennifer has developed a video and workbook called "Life After Abortion" that is designed to do with two or more people – you can order the set on her website. And a new book titled "You’re Not Alone" was released January 2005 that captures many of the stories and experiences of women who have participated in the National Silent No More Awareness Campaign gatherings. Jennifer also shares a lot of her own story of pain and healing. She then provides the reader with God’s word on each topic, to help you discover the truth of God’s forgiveness that is available for you to receive.

Regional and local ministries.

The weblog http://afterabortion.blogspot.com.  After Abortion includes a long list of local and regional post-abortion ministries at this link: http://afterabortion.blogspot.com/2005/01/regional-and-local-resources-for.html.  Online support: Message boards, e-groups and chat rooms that offer support after abortion.

www.safehavenministries.com/cgi-bin/members/Ultimate.cgi.  Safe Haven Ministries has an active message board and several weekly chats.

http://groups.msn.com/ForgivingAbortion/messageboard.msnw.  Forgiving Abortion is an support board through the MSN message board system.

http://voy.com/129741/.  Cheryl's Page has offered a low-traffic message support board since the late 1990s.

There are over forty  post-abortion e-groups in the abortion recovery section of Yahoo E-groups. Remember: Wild, Wild West. Anyone with an email address can create a Yahoo e-group on any subject under the sun..http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/dir/Health___Wellness/Support/Abortion_Recovery?show_groups=1

 

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