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.
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
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
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
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
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
Julianne described her experienced with her therapist this
"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
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
(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
"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
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.
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
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
Here is an excerpt from a comment made by someone who
participated in one-on-one sessions with a peer counselor from Victims of
"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
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
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
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Compulsive thoughts and feelings that started after the
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
- Depression or anxiety
- Lack of attachment to your children
- 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:
And here is a link to a page that beautifully describes some
images of recovery:
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
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
You are in my prayers.
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