This month’s training webinar topic, Facilitation in Action, is the finale of a four-month series on facilitating support groups. The previous months’ topics were How to Assess if Your Client is Group Ready, Ethical Responsibilities of Abortion Healing Providers, and Support Group Guidelines. Each of this month’s speakers has facilitated groups for years, trained facilitators, and participated in support groups.
What are the most common problems support group facilitators experience with group participants?
During last month’s webinar on group guidelines, providers shared via online survey that the most common problems they experience with support group participants are:
- Monopolizing conversation
- Not attending all sessions
- Giving advice
- Filling silence
This month’s training showcases how to effectively navigate each of these issues.
How can facilitators best respond to these challenges to create positive group dynamics?
Lisa Rowe, licensed mental health therapist and Support After Abortion CEO, led an engaging, educational, and rather entertaining four-part role play with Greg Mayo, Men’s Healing Strategist, and Heidi Inlow, Case Manager, to illustrate best practices for facilitators – and what not to do.
Lisa played the role of facilitator, something she is well-versed in having done so in real life for over 100 support groups. Greg and Heidi played group participants. Greg earned the collective amusement and irritation of attendees for his expert portrayal of a problematic participant. Perhaps his acting was honed by real life, as he said at the outset that he would be playing a past version of himself having been a source of each of these problems at some point over his many years of attending and facilitating support groups. Heidi and Lisa also perfectly showed how these problems creep in, often without any intentional thought. Lisa demonstrated how facilitators can miss the mark, as well as how they can navigate these challenges, redirect conversations, and successfully guide reflection and dialogue.
As the role plays unfolded, attendees observed which of the four behaviors was being depicted, what went well, and what didn’t go well in the role play group.
Recap – Watch the Video!
Normally our recaps provide the meat of our training webinars so that people who prefer to read a recap rather than watch the hour-long video replay will be able to receive all the important information in a text format. However this month, to receive the content, essence, and signifance from the role playing, you really need to listen and watch to observe and absorb each person’s words, facial expressions, body language, non-verbal cues, etc. – just like in an actual support group. So, we’re just going to provide you with a short summary, a few highlights, and then encourage you to watch the replay! We think you’ll really enjoy it – and learn a thing or two or ten that you’ll want to incorporate into your next support group facilitation adventure.
Monopolizing the Conversation
Man, Greg did a “fabulous” (read “really irritating”) job monopolizing the conversation. Look for how Lisa missed the mark as a facilitator in setting the tone from the outset by oversharing and talking too long. Look for how Heidi responded after Lisa’s and Greg’s lengthy openings. Then watch for how Lisa shifted and shows how a facilitator can do a better job setting the structure and consistently following through on expectations.
Look for how Lisa again illustrates missing the mark, this time by interjecting unsolicited advice. And watch how Heidi perfectly portrays a participant jumping in to offer unsolicited advice directed to another participant. See how in both cases the result truncates the conversation and the sharing person’s processing of their own thoughts and feelings, and how it boxes them into only the direction of the advice. Then observe how Lisa gently redirects the conversation to set a healthy boundary and explains to the group the reasons behind doing so.
Skipping – or Skipping Out During – Sessions
In the third role play scenario, look for how Greg’s mid-session disappearance – and how the less-than-ideal way in which Lisa deals with it – shuts down Heidi’s ability and willingness to speak and work through the emotions she was getting ready to dive deeper into before the interruption. Then reflect on Lisa’s pivot and her example of how to better deal with such a situation. Several ideas offered by attendees were discussed.
Observe how Lisa effectively sets the expectation and skillfully redirects as needed to safeguard silence for reflection. Many attendees commented on how illuminating this filling silence role play was. One new facilitator said she realized during the role play that in her group they all – including herself – interject during others’ stories. She said it was helpful to see through the role play what holding space means and that she will bring that into her group. Another provider said, “It was great to see a real life example of what it looks like to intentionally invite silence into the conversation.”
Don’t Miss It!
Attendees shared how helpful the role plays were – both for seasoned and new facilitators. Many said it was a great way to teach/demonstrate what to do and what not to do when facilitating support groups. Click here to watch the video.
Men’s Keys to Hope & Healing Video Facilitator Training Series
Greg shared that after months of work by many Support After Abortion team members, we are launching our new Men’s Facilitator Training video series!
Greg noted that as he travels and speaks he sees more and more men coming forward and sharing their stories and their desire for healing. This resource fills a gap to train men to facilitate KHH support groups for men.
Both the Men’s Keys to Hope & Healing Client video series and Facilitator Training series will be added to Bright Course / Bright Training this fall.
Click here to email for more information about Support After Abortion’s coaching program for facilitators.
Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.
Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.
Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.
SUPPORT GROUP GUIDELINES
Last month’s webinar outlined the Code of Ethics for Abortion Healing Providers with four principles stemming from our core values using the acronym H.O.P.E. – Healing, Ownership, Purpose, and Excellence.
The second item under Purpose is to use best practices when conducting a group; for instance, employing proper participant screening tools and guidelines for support groups.
In today’s webinar, we explore the best practice Group Guidelines that Support After Abortion uses for its virtual support groups and offer them as a starting point for abortion healing providers to discern what guidelines would be most effective for their own groups. These guidelines are designed for structured support groups, although many (other than those dealing with attendance) may be useful for drop-in groups, as well.
Support After Abortion CEO and licensed mental health therapist Lisa Rowe led the discussion with Karin Barbito, Special Projects Manager, and Heidi Inlow, Case Manager.
WHY ARE SUPPORT GROUP GUIDELINES IMPORTANT?
Group Guidelines are essential to create safety, structure, and consistency for clients. Guidelines that are communicated well and implemented consistently enhance group dynamics by helping to create a safe environment for all participants to share openly, honestly, and vulnerably.
Guidelines are also an important tool for facilitators. When the conversation “goes off-topic or gets into rescuing,” Heidi shared, “I can say, I think we’ve stepped into rescuing, let’s see how we’ve gone off track.” and pivot the discussion back to safe ground.
Guidelines “help with the structure and structure allows security,” one of the webinar attendees said in the chat.
“We’re asking people to really dig into some traumatic stuff. [Support groups] let people know that they’re not alone,” Karin said. “It helps us to get outside of ourselves and show compassion and empathy for others who have gone through a similar situation. So being able to openly share vulnerably, transparently, and honestly, is key to the success of a group.”
Without group guidelines in place, Karin cautioned that clients may shut down and not participate. Heidi explained that if you don’t have guidelines and negative behavior is allowed, participants won’t feel safe and facilitators can become resentful.
HOW SHOULD FACILITATORS COMMUNICATE GUIDELINES TO THE GROUP?
Heidi advised providers to explain their Group Guidelines early in the first group session and then to briefly remind participants at the start of each subsequent session.
Lisa shared that when she presents the guidelines in the first meeting, she has participants take turns reading them. Then she explains and gives examples after each one.
HOW DID THESE UPDATED GROUP GUIDELINES EVOLVE?
“We don’t ever want to remain stagnant, just doing things the way we’ve always done them,” Lisa said. She encouraged providers to regularly (at least annually) review their guidelines for the best interests of clients and facilitators. Some questions she offered for reflecting on each guideline: Is it accurate? Is it necessary? What have we learned throughout the year? What are our clients and facilitators telling us?
“Two important changes in the abortion landscape,” Karin said, “drove our recent need to reevaluate our guidelines.” The rise in medication abortion has seen more clients reaching out for help mere days or weeks after their abortion experiences instead of years or decades as in the past. They’re also commonly in a different place emotionally. They often describe themselves as traumatized because of what they experienced and/or saw during the process of administering their own abortion. The other change is the effect of abortion restrictions and bans in some states. Both clients and facilitators have shared their concern over being identified due to their fear of prosecution. This led to an internal discussion of the need to revise our previous guideline requiring all virtual participants to have their video on. This new development is an extension of our desire to offer anonymous options for the majority of both women and men who our research shows want anonymity when reaching out for help, and we want to respect that need.
As part of Support After Abortion’s review process, “We leaned on our volunteer facilitators for feedback,” Heidi said, “It’s important to listen to the people doing groups.”
Karin explained that many of the old guidelines were worded negatively – don’t do this, no to that. She explained that they were revamped so that the expectations are stated in a positive way.
WHAT ARE BEST PRACTICE SUPPORT GROUP GUIDELINES?
Support After Abortion’s Group Guidelines cover three areas: confidentiality, boundaries, and commitment to your own healing and to the group.
- It is essential that we create and maintain a safe space for group members to share personal thoughts, experiences, and opinions. What is said in the group, stays in the group. This includes not repeating what was said in group or talking about members in places where others may overhear.
- For virtual groups, facilitators will explain the confidentiality protections the group will follow. These may include keeping Zoom video on and audio connected, using headphones to ensure audio is only heard by participants, and not recording group sessions. There may be options for participants who want anonymity.
Lisa shared how she might explain confidentiality guidelines with an in-person group: “If you see someone from the group in the mall, you wouldn’t point them out to your friends and say that person is in my support group. Or, She’s experienced abortion three times. That would be a breach of confidentiality.”
Lisa also said she looks to the makeup of the group to decide how to explain a guideline. For example, if the group has mainly young 20-somethings who commonly make calls while driving, she might say something like, Participants will share their most private thoughts and experiences, so you need to be in a private, safe place where no one can overhear and where you can give your full attention to your fellow group members.
Heidi also suggested that providers be willing to bend. For example, if they have an expectation that all virtual participants have their video on, but someone really wants to attend, yet is afraid of repercussions due to their state laws, then consider what accommodations you can make.
- Actively listen to what others say. Speak with compassion and without judgment.
- Allow space for others to speak. This includes letting one person speak at a time, holding silence to give a speaker time to think and share, not interrupting, and allowing everyone to have a turn to share.
- Support others without trying to “fix.” This includes not giving advice and not rescuing (like giving a tissue or hug, supplying an answer for someone, etc.). These can interfere with their healing process.
- When sharing your opinion, refrain from trying to persuade others to agree with your opinion. Differences of opinion are welcome and respected.
- Keep your sharing focused on your own thoughts and feelings. Use “I” or “me” statements.
- Do not discuss members who are absent.
The most important thing, Karin said, is to “create an environment conducive to healing.” She shared that a “facilitator’s job is to help draw out what a participant is saying.” In order to do that, she said it’s important to “check our judgment or agenda – leave those at the door, so we can lead with compassion.”
Lisa spoke about how people often listen while thinking about how they’ll respond, but active listening is different. She suggested that participants and facilitators keep a notepad near them to write down their thoughts, so they can truly listen to the other person without worrying they’ll forget something if they don’t interrupt and say it right then.
“Allow space for others to speak,” Karin shared, is part of our positively worded new language. “Our old language was Don’t rescue.” She talked about the importance of holding silence when someone gets emotional and how interrupting interferes with their ability to let their thoughts flow naturally and to process their feelings.
“We do more damage when we talk over someone, when we want to speak our mind,” Lisa said. “Often it’s the first time for some to share about their trauma, relationship difficulties, or abortion experiences. When another participant or facilitator says, “Oh that happened to me,” it affirms their inner voice that their experience isn’t as important as someone else’s. It takes the focus off of the person sharing and moves it to the person who interrupted.
“People get energized and lose sight of the impact of their interrupting someone,” Lisa said. “As a facilitator, I’ll say, Remember we’re listening to Melissa right now.”
“This goes for facilitators too,” Karin said. “They rescue when they think a client is emotional.”
“We’re not there to fix anybody,” Heidi said. “Many participants have never experienced these healthy boundaries. They’re used to people speaking over or down to them. We need to let them be able to walk through their pain at their pace.” She shared a memory of a healing group she once participated in when “someone got up and gave me a tissue, it stopped the conversation.”
Lisa shared that when she facilitates in-person groups, she has a guideline that no one is allowed to give anyone a tissue. She places a box of tissues in the center of the group for them to help themselves to if they need it. “Some struggle to identify their needs,” she said, “this way they know the box is there and it empowers them to meet their own needs. We need to not be fixers or codependent in groups.” Lisa also explained that the equivalent in virtual groups to giving a tissue is saying something like It’s okay. Thanks for sharing.”
Several providers mentioned in the chat that they put an individual packet of tissues on each chair.
“It’s important to allow them to figure out on their own what works for them,” Heidi said. “Don’t push our way, or what worked for us, onto other people.”
Other times, Heidi said, the interruption may be from some participants questioning a decision or action of another participant. She said she emphasizes that we all make different decisions. Sometimes after this happens, she asks What was it like to hear the group members being unhappy with your choice? or They think they’re being friendly, how did you receive that?
We also need to “be careful not to throw our judgment in,” Heidi said. She gave an example of a group where most members were Christian, and one member who wasn’t talked about spending time in a meditation garden and the others jumped on that.
The speakers discussed the importance of participants each staying focused on their own thoughts and feelings, using “I” and “me” statements. “This goes with trying not to fix somebody, cross-talking, giving advice” and comparing our grief to others, Karin said.
Lisa added that “should” or “shouldn’t” statements are “condescending” and don’t create a safe space.
COMMIT TO YOUR HEALING & TO THE GROUP
- Attend each session, show up on time, complete all homework and journaling, and participate in the group discussion. Share from your heart and let down walls. This takes time and trust and may be easier for some people and more challenging for others.
- Trust in the process. Everyone grieves differently, so don’t compare your progress to someone else’s.
- Please note that this support group does not replace professional therapy. If you are currently in therapy, we recommend that you notify your therapist and that they support your participation in this support group.
- Each group session is valuable to your personal healing and to the group support. Your facilitator will inform the group of the number of allowed absences. If you will miss a session, notify your facilitator ahead of time and follow your group’s protocol, which may include scheduling a make up.
- Do not use alcohol or drugs while preparing for and participating in the group sessions. These can interfere with your ability to feel and grieve and can create an unsafe space for others. If you need help in this area,please contact your facilitator outside of the group. Your facilitator can connect you to the help you deserve.
“A participant’s success in the process requires a commitment to their healing and to the support group,” Karin explained. “They have to be willing to sit in this space, to work on this journey.”
“Six weeks sounds like a lot, but you’re so worth it,”Heidi said she often tells clients.
Lisa cautioned that this is not to be confused with requiring participants to talk, or say why they’re crying, or an expectation that they answer every question. “If you feel like sharing, please do,” she tells clients. “It’s about being ready, prepared, and interested in being there.”
Heidi shared that it’s common to need to encourage participants not to compare themselves to others. “They’ll ask, Why can’t I get past this, she’s past this,” she said, “I’ll say, remember we all grieve differently.”
Lisa said, “Sometimes the pain is so great.” She described a metaphor she likes to use: Picture a shaken two-liter soda bottle. Before our clients get to us, something has shaken and stirred it up, and the top came off. They exploded and came to you looking for the help they need. Now here they are, entering the group, and it’s not nearly as bursting out of them at this point. She uses this to remind clients what compelled them to come in the first place and encourages them, even though it may get harder before it gets easier, to allow the process to take shape.
Karin explained that many of our guidelines resulted from situations that arose in groups over the years. The guideline on alcohol and drug use is one of those. Lisa shared that this happened enough that we added it to the guidelines. “It’s not uncommon to have coping mechanisms for your grief,” Heidi says she tells clients, “You’re safe here, you don’t need to use a coping mechanism to be here. Be completely present, to feel, to allow breakthroughs.”
HOW SHOULD FACILITATORS TALK WITH CLIENTS WHEN GUIDELINES AREN’T FOLLOWED?
“I’ve been on the receiving end of a facilitator correcting my actions when I was late or distracted or they thought I wasn’t participating. They never made it feel personal. They’d say, Lisa I want to remind you that the group guidelines are for everyone’s benefit. It appears you’re struggling with this one. Would you like to discuss what’s going on, and how you might be able to fix it for the next session?”
“As a facilitator, I’m the first to say, it’s not comfortable. But it’s leading with the heart. We’re not villainizing a client for breaking a guideline. I might say I really want this experience to be great for you, what could we do differently?
Heidi said, “I share I’m really nervous to talk to you about this, but I care about you too much not to have this conversation. I know you can do this, and just want to have a conversation.” She also said the outcome is always something like, Thank you for having this conversation with me. No one has ever held me accountable like this before.
Attendees agreed in the chat about the importance of accountability. “Don’t put your head in the sand,” Lisa said, “Hold participants to the level of care we requested in the beginning” for the good of everyone in the group. She also encouraged providers who may have experienced “out of control groups” to try again using guidelines to create safe space.
SHOULD ABORTION HEALING SUPPORT GROUPS BE HELD ON CHURCH GROUNDS?
Attendee Chris Rainey, who is a member of the Support After Abortion National Men’s Task Force, said he never recommends holding after-aborting healing groups at church. He described the difficulty in trying to protect anonymity and the uncomfortable, exposed feeling that many participants have when groups meet in their church. He strongly encourages church-sponsored after-abortion healing groups to be held off campus. A number of providers agreed in the chat. One provider shared that they had success in holding their groups during off times when the church was otherwise closed.
SHOULD PARTICIPANTS BE REQUIRED TO SIGN AN AGREEMENT TO THE GROUP GUIDELINES?
While some providers said they’ve had success doing this, others felt it conflicted too much with the need for anonymity, respect, and comfort. Lisa said she believes that when group members show up and abide by the rules that is their agreement to them. She suggested that providers consider why they want a signed agreement to the guidelines, what they’re trying to accomplish, and if this is the best way to do that.
WEBINAR ATTENDEE SURVEY RESULTS
Do you currently have Support Group Guidelines in place?
65% YES, 35% NO
What are the most common problems you experience with group participants?
- Monopolizing conversation
- Not attending all sessions
- Giving advice
- Filling silence
What are the least common problems you experience with group participants?
- Not digging deep
- Not coming prepared
Do you currently require make-up sessions when a participant is absent?
NEXT MONTH’S WEBINAR
Facilitation in Action
We will continue our focus on putting ethics into practice with a look at what it’s really like to be a facilitator.
Click here to access the Group Guidelines in pdf format.
Click here to watch the video.
Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.
Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.
Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.
© Support After Abortion
Lisa Rowe, licensed mental health therapist and Support After Abortion CEO, discussed foundational principles of ethics for abortion healing providers. The conversation sprang from a participant’s question at the end of the June webinar about when to be mindful that you’re outside your scope of practice. As a result, Support After Abortion developed a Code of Ethics for abortion healing providers. Lisa said abortion healing needs such ethical guidelines just like most other professions and businesses. The Code of Ethics presented today is a starting point. As a living document, it will grow with us.
What are the basic principles of the Code of Ethics for abortion healing providers?
As an organization, Support After Abortion operates based on four core values stemming from the acronym H.O.P.E. – Healing, Ownership, Purpose, and Excellence. Lisa explained that at Support After Abortion, “We hire, evaluate, and train our staff based on these core values.” Lisa continued, “So it made sense for us to focus the code of ethics on these same core principles that we feel should be present in yourself, in the environment at which you’re serving, and in the people that you’re bringing on board to help you with healing.”
Principle 1: HEALING
- Commit to excellence through continued personal, professional and ethical development.
Lisa spoke about the importance of “continuing the journey toward our own healing” when “walking along those seeking healing.” She reminded providers that “Healing is a journey, not a destination.” She suggested some ways of continued development such as “a coaching program, a college class, abortion healing class, spiritual or Bible study class – anything in which you’re continuing to learn and grow in your own journey.”
- “Meet clients where they are at.” Check your motivation in engaging clients. Remain curious to indications that there might be a shift in the value received from the healing relationship. If so, make a change in the relationship or encourage another professional or use a different resource.
Lisa discussed checking our motivation in meeting clients and ensuring that we are always open to what they are trying to say and helping them in the ways they want to be helped. She cautioned that many abortion healing providers come from a faith perspective and are eager to share that faith perspective with clients. However, “Ethically we must be able to meet clients where they are without an agenda,” Lisa said. She offered practical examples, such as focusing on understanding the client and building relationship before embarking on faith conversations and being willing to not pray or share the gospel with every client.
Webinar participant Deborah shared a Transformational Leadership principle called “plain glass v. stained glass messaging.” She explained that while both are speaking the truth, “plain glass” is a client-centered perspective without faith-based dialogue. Whereas “stained glass” is faith-based messaging. Deborah shared that the key is knowing the client and also recognizing that some clients only want “plain glass,” and some need “plain glass” because they have church-related wounds. Deborah said for her, “plain glass” messaging is not only client-centric, it’s Holy Spirit led. “It’s like praying through some of these things, really listening to the client, and seeing where they’re at.”
Lisa also addressed being attuned to each client’s behaviors and words – whether in person or in text. She advised providers to “remain curious as to the indications that might keep a client engaged or not in the healing relationship.” She offered examples of questions providers might ask participants who seem to be disengaged and explained that often “clients are waiting for us to say Hey what’s going on?” when they’ve missed a group session or seem preoccupied. She said addressing these things “will then allow you permission to change the relationship.”
She reiterated the need to be “open to what our client is trying to tell us” and avoiding an I’ve got all the answers or I’m the only person who can help them mentality. She said these can “severely hurt the clients we’re serving, and we will be walking outside of our scope of practice.”
Lisa said it’s important to pause and reflect on a person’s “motive for wanting to lead people through healing, specifically abortion healing.” If their motivation falls outside of wanting to help others “journey through the crisis of their abortion experience and find the freedom they’re looking for” and “if it’s not reflective of the client’s need,” then we should stop and ask questions to “understand what’s going on inside” and what their motivation is.
How can I know when it’s okay to engage in a religious conversation?
“Ask,” Lisa said, “My favorite thing is to trust that our participants and clients know exactly what is going on inside of them. So we just need to ask. For example, Would you like this type of curriculum or that type of curriculum? Or, I’d love to share about my faith practice with you, is that of interest to you?”
One attendee, Sherry, agreed, commenting in the chat that “our clients are the best experts on their lives.”
When might we need to check our motivation?
Lisa offered two examples:
- I’ve just ended my first abortion healing program and I really want to help others. This is “a beautiful thing,” Lisa said. However she cautioned that we need to pause and assess if they’re truly ready to lead others or could this be an inspiration for their own continued healing before walking with others? “If it’s this newly inspired gift that they have inside of them, that’s beautiful, we want to nourish it,” Lisa said, “But we also want to protect the clients who they’re going to see.”
- I’m only going to offer this one curriculum because … (I’ve met the author, or this is what we’ve always done, or other reasons). Lisa advised providers to assess their motivation or inspiration for a particular program compared to their clients’ preferences and needs. We can “find ourselves married to a curriculum,” Lisa said, “which actually creates a blind spot, because therein lies an opportunity for us to hear from a client, but we can’t hear because we’re motivated by something different.”
What might a seasoned facilitator need to check about their own potentially unhealthy motivations?
Lisa shared examples of unhealthy motives, such as leading because no other facilitator is available or out of a desire to feel needed, which “falls in line with codependency.” She noted that “helpers can only help people when they’re helping themselves first.”
She also addressed how to deal with triggering client stories that can lead to unhealthy motivations. Lisa said that as clients unpack their stories, providers can see their own earlier selves in some of their decisions. She recommended keeping that in check by regularly talking with other professionals – “somebody who is more experienced than you in order to discuss what is likely a trigger.” It may be something “you haven’t worked on or that’s really close to home for you.” She emphasized the importance of this professional check-in “because if you lose objectivity with that client or that group of participants, you’re going to lose the ability to stay ethically inclined with that group or that individual.’
One attendee, Sylvia, offered an optimistic way to embrace triggers, commenting in the chat that she “has learned to treasure her triggers because they lead to deeper healing.”
- Use best practices when conducting a group, e.g. employing proper participant screening tools and ground rules for group dynamics.
It’s essential to create safety, structure, and consistency for clients. In previous webinars we have discussed various aspects of best practices such as intake and assessing if clients are group ready or would benefit from clinical care. Ground rules that are communicated well and implemented consistently enhance group dynamics by helping to create a safe environment for all participants to share openly, honestly, and vulnerably. Some ground rules that we use in Support After Abortion virtual support groups include maintaining confidentiality by not sharing outside the group what other participants say within the group, being committed to the group by showing up prepared and on time each session, refraining from trying to persuade another participant to your opinion or view, not monopolizing the conversation, not interrupting, not giving advice, and not using drugs or alcohol while preparing for or participating in the group.
Principle 2: OWNERSHIP
Ownership is one of the core values at Support After Abortion “because we believe that when we each own ourselves, our journeys, our experiences, together the team is better,” Lisa said.
- Recognize the personal limitations or circumstances that may impair, conflict with or interfere in the healing relationship. Commit to reach out for support to determine the action to be taken and, if necessary, promptly seek relevant peer and/or professional guidance. This may include suspending or terminating any healing relationship(s).
Lisa spoke about the need to understand and acknowledge our own stuff and limitations that may affect our client interactions. She emphasized the need to have a list of resources for referrals so that we can connect clients to the help they need if we are unequipped or otherwise unable to help them. Examples she gave included struggling to connect with a client who has had four children removed from her care, has experienced abortion three times, and is considering abortion with her current pregnancy; or a client who reports suicidal ideation and symptoms of depression; or a client who exposes sexual abuse.
In these and other cases, if we are triggered or feel limited in understanding the person or ill-equipped to help them in their circumstance, we need to own that and refer them out to someone more experienced. This is why every provider needs a list of other healing resources and providers. Pushing forward on our own “might even make this situation worse,” Lisa said.
Lisa encouraged all providers “to have a team of professionals around them, whether they’re advisory members or just there for a phone call, someone who is credentialed in these spaces [such as unique client situations, suicidal ideation, etc.] that can help guide and answer.”
Walking in an ownership mindset is recognizing that you are “in charge of a very serious relationship” and acknowledging when you “feel like you cannot continue to facilitate that relationship” and knowing what to do and where to refer them.
Can you speak more about advisory members or mentors?
Lisa encouraged providers to look to advisors, board members, or mentors who have substantially more experience and can offer wisdom and insight that “you haven’t yet had access to in your own growth and development.” They may be in a different profession, have more life experience, or been personally affected by whatever it is you need help with, she said.
Given our role in abortion healing, should Board members be people who have experienced abortion?
“I am actually helping to eradicate” that expectation, Lisa said. “While personal experience is valuable and can add to the conversation,” Lisa said, “I believe that we are all more alike than we are different.” She discussed how experiences like abortion, divorce, infidelity, addictions, etc. all start with roots and that all of us have roots of loss and being hurt. “If we can resonate with that understanding, we are likely able to find a space where we can walk with compassion with people who have very different symptoms, but similar roots.”
- Resolve any conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest by working through the issue with relevant parties, seeking peer and/or professional assistance, or suspending temporarily or ending the professional relationship. This includes political and religious perspectives that would hinder you from providing the type of care the client prefers.
Lisa offered a few examples of potential conflicts of interest to caring for some clients such as a someone you met at church or a friend who calls asking you to speak to someone for them. “Hold yourself ethically accountable,” Lisa said. She again urged providers to have relationships with other providers and agencies and resource lists to be able to make referrals.
What is a good way to do this self-reflection and recognize where my experience ends and someone else’s should begin?
Lisa offered four ways to delve into self-reflection: personality assessment, God’s purpose (for religious people), purpose from pain, and what ignites you.
Lisa suggested starting with personality tests and strengths assessments such as Enneagram, Disc, Myers Brigg, or others. She recommended answering these test questions quickly without reflection for a better understanding of your gifts and talents and to confirm the direction you should be going in.
For those who are religious, Lisa encouraged them to listen for God’s speaking their purpose for them through other people and experiences.
“Purpose often comes from pain,” Lisa said, “so after you find healing, those painful parts of life are often going to be used for a greater purpose.
Be mindful of “what ignites you,” Lisa said, “that’s often your special superpower.” She also encouraged people to be attentive to what drains them and to “start getting curious about where that heaviness is coming from.” She gave examples from her own life where she is ignited by teaching and engaging with others and drained doing detail work or sitting at the computer.
How can we form these referral relationships?
Lisa encouraged providers to look for and network with social service people and nonprofit organizations. “It’s likely that your clients have received services from a lot of these folks already,” she said. She also suggested providers ask their clients about their experiences – “they’ll likely tell you about positive and negative experiences with case workers, nurses, parenting educators, and others.” Lisa continued, “Abortion is a social service issue, and if we’re not going into the social service spaces, we’re not going to be finding those clients that need our support.” Kylee Heap, Support After Abortion COO, reminded providers to “look for professional counselors and therapists in your area.”
How can we vet them to know they are going to care for our clients?
Lisa suggested looking for resource and referral lists from people you network with and agencies you trust, as well as from those you network with. Lisa shared that because social service agencies are “constantly changing and evolving,” she looks through resource lists with her clients and calls together to identify the services and follow up care offered.
Principle 3: PURPOSE
For our team, our Purpose core value means that “we are living out our God-given purpose through Support After Abortion and through the space that we serve and other parts of our lives,” Lisa said. It could include “how we walk through abortion healing,” “how purposeful you are in your journey,” “how purposeful you are as you execute things,” etc.
- Identify accurately your qualifications, level of competency, expertise, experience, training, and certifications. Do not provide services that exceed competency.
Lisa explained this point in the Code is not to limit providers, but to “stay objective about who we are and what we’re doing and not get out of our lane.” She acknowledged that our clients may be struggling with many life circumstances, but advised providers to be “very clear about the role we are serving in our client’s life.” She emphasized the need to identify our qualifications and competencies because “we do not ever want to provide services that are outside of our competency.”
Lisa gave an example of a provider whose client came in for abortion healing but kept mentioning “3-4 different areas of her life that were spinning out of control.” The provider asked Lisa how she should move forward to help her with everything. Lisa’s advice then and to all providers is to not try to serve all client needs. Those that are in areas outside our competence or qualifications, we should refer to providers who can meet those needs and keep our focus on abortion healing.
How do you know when to refer to a different professional?
We need to ask our clients directly so they can articulate what they need, which will determine the next steps in their journey, Lisa said.
Some of her favorite questions are:
- What do you think is most important to you right now?
- On a list of 1-5, which one is the heaviest?
- Where do you think you’re receiving the most harm?
- If one of these things could be removed and relieved, what would help you the most?
Lisa illustrated why it’s important to ask and not assume we know what clients need by using scenarios of two people seeking abortion healing who live in homeless shelters. For the first person, the shelter is the first safe space they’ve ever been. They have permission to live there for six months. Life is consistent. They’re looking for a job. But their abortion experience has been one of the most traumatic things they’ve experienced, and they feel like now is a good, safe time to delve into that. For the second person, abortion is the last thing on their list. When asked, they say they need food and bills paid.
Why is it important to ask how and what questions?
Lisa explained that how and what questions are focused on moving forward, which is the goal of coaching and motivational interviewing. Whereas why questions aim to get to the roots of something, which is the goal of counseling.
She said, “That’s not our space. What and how questions are very powerful, and really what our clients need in abortion healing.” She said what and how questions “bring you to a new and different landing place,” while why questions “find you back in the quicksand. And that’s not our space.”
Some examples of what and how questions:
- What about your abortion experience has been so difficult?
- How does this particular incident harm you or hurt you, or reflecting on it, serve you?
One attendee shared her favorite question, What is the issue you wake up and go to bed with? Lisa agreed saying this is another way to say What is on your mind all the time?
- Honor your group’s purpose, objectives and timeline.
Trauma-informed care reminds us how important it is for the vulnerable people we serve to be in control of their yeses and nos. Therefore, we need to honor their expectations from our stated or advertised purpose, objectives, and dates and times for the group. For example, if your participants signed up for 1-hour per week abortion healing via the xyz program for 8 weeks, stick to that program timeline, topic, and curriculum. Don’t go 90 minutes, or 10 weeks, or switch or significantly alter the curriculum (e.g. adding religious content to a secular program, or deleting religious content from a religious program). If we “bait & switch” clients who have been through trauma or struggle with codependency or other dysfunctions, they may go along, but we may do harm to them, or they may feel mistrust and abandon the program or stop their healing journey altogether.
- Respect all parties’ right to terminate/or refer to another healing relationship at any point for any reason during the healing process.
Lisa spoke about the importance of respecting the client’s right to end the healing relationship and for us “not pursue them beyond what they want. She mentioned often being asked how many times is okay to message a client. Lisa’s advice is that your second message should say This will be my last text if I don’t hear back from you. Please know that I’m always here for you – or here’s a contact for you (if you’re offering information for a referral). Then respect that boundary and don’t reach out again.
Principle 4: EXCELLENCE
“Excellence is not to be mistaken for perfection,” Lisa advised. It’s striving to be the best versions of ourselves and “trying to deliver excellence at every step.”
- Hold responsibility for being aware of and setting clear, appropriate and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern interactions, physical or otherwise. Avoid discrimination by maintaining fairness and equality in all activities and operations, while respecting local rules and cultural practices.
“These are basic ethical standards,” Lisa said, “The biggest way I see this showing up in abortion healing is in faith and politics.” She urged providers to be mindful that all clients are treated equally whether they are pro-choice or pro-life; protestant, Catholic, atheist, or other; male or female; white, Black, or other races or ethnicities, etc.
One way “this could be showing up in your space as ethically irresponsible,” Lisa said, is having materials that only illustrate white people or only women. Another way she pointed to is having only materials for religious healing journeys. “This is where most of us are limited – having only one curriculum.” She elaborated that it’s typically a Protestant curriculum for women, which is okay for those seeking that. But often providers don’t have secular materials, materials for Catholics, resources for men, etc.
In terms of cultural competency, Lisa spoke about the importance of being able to serve or refer clients who speak languages other than English. This is another example of the need to build relationships with other providers and have referral lists.
- Create a space of confidentiality and/or anonymity, according to the client’s preferences. Within healing groups, establish norms of privacy and respect.
Our research shows that 69% of women and 77% of men value anonymity when seeking abortion healing. “In person programs,” Lisa said, “are not going to serve the clients we need to reach.” She added that some clients are afraid of legal ramifications of sharing their identity if they live in states where abortion is restricted or banned. She offered suggestions for easy ways to begin shifting to maintain a confidential and anonymous environment:
- Offer options to connect with you beside in person.
- Add a text line in addition to your phone call line.
- Add an email option for your referral program.
- Add social media messaging where clients can use aliases (such as Instagram and Facebook).
- Allow clients not seeking referrals to choose not to give their real names.
How can we build rapport with clients seeking anonymity?
Lisa acknowledged that virtual spaces present challenges. Participant Kirk commented that “there’s way more benefit [in allowing cameras to be off] for a person who is too scared to reach out any other way.”
Kylee shared that while presenting in a Heartbeat Academy webinar last week a participant from Texas said that “even facilitators are scared to have their cameras on because they’re afraid of repercussions or criminal prosecution.” Some said it’s “more comfortable for everyone to have their camera off.”
Participant Veronica shared that she finds it challenging when clients in virtual support groups leave their cameras off. There are concerns that someone may have ulterior motives or that someone else might be present while people are sharing confidential information. “But from what you said, this is about their comfort and need for anonymity, not mine. So I appreciate you bringing up that point. We don’t want this to be a deal breaker. We’re glad they are showing up.” Veronica also shared that her organization has a contract clients sign that deals with confidentiality, respecting others’ opinions, etc.
Lisa noted the importance of establishing camera and anonymity expectations upfront. She suggested facilitators explain that while participants may opt to be off-camera, all need to be committed to protecting this as a safe space for each other. One expectation is that each participant is in a space where nobody else can hear or see the participants. Facilitators may point out that some participants are off camera because they feel safer that way, and that if others feel concerned with that, they may opt to change their name on screen, only show their forehead or the ceiling, etc. to feel safe themselves.
- Maintain, store and dispose of any records, including electronic files and communications, created during my professional interactions in a manner that promotes confidentiality, security and privacy, and complies with any applicable laws and agreements.
“If we’re trying to elevate who we are as abortion healing providers,” Lisa said, “we need to maintain best practice standards and that has to do with our records as well.” We need to keep and destroy records appropriately.
- Make proper use of emerging and growing technological developments that are being used in healing services and be aware of how various ethical standards apply to them.
“With the growth in medication abortion,” Lisa said, “more people are reaching out for help right away.” The use of Zoom meetings has skyrocketed since Covid. And the preference for texting instead of calling has grown considerably. These technological trends all tie in well with the need to offer anonymous options. They also are more likely to be desired by those in the 20-29 year old age group, which has the highest abortion rate.
“I know this is a lot to digest. This is not meant for you to memorize,” Lisa said. Rather, this Code of Ethics document is “a framework for us to begin our practices. Many of you are already practicing within a framework, and perhaps you can adopt some of these for yourself.” She also recommended that providers consider additional ethics policies based on the work their organization does and that they might benefit from looking at other Codes of Ethics such as Heartbeat International’s that deal with pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and those for faith-based organizations, and clinical practices.
“A code of ethics is not just how you personally operate,” Kylee said, “it’s everything that you do.” She encouraged providers to “check your policies and practices, talk to your marketing people to make sure that your external-facing communications, social media, everything is consistent with all of the language and code of ethics that we’ve talked about today.”
“Whatever code your organization develops,” Lisa said, “every person should operate by it regardless of their department or role.”
Click here to access the Code of Ethics for Abortion Healing Providers in pdf format.
Click here to watch the video.
Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.
Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.
Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.
Lisa Rowe, licensed mental health therapist and Support After Abortion CEO, and Karin Barbito, Support After Abortion Special Projects Manager and long-time support group facilitator discussed how to assess if clients are ready for a support group or if they need professional clinical care.
What is a Support Group?
Karin shared that support groups are always more than one person, originally were always in person, and typically were religious. Since Covid, virtual groups have grown in availability and answer people’s desire for anonymity. Karin noted that “it can be intimidating to enter into a room with people you don’t know.” Our research has shown that both men and women prefer anonymity and secular healing options.
Why Talk about Group Readiness?
“Support groups can be emotional,” Lisa said, “participants need to be able to hear other people’s stories” and respond appropriately. She added that “facilitators are responsible for creating safe spaces.” Managing group dynamics and the various personalities, expectations, and needs can be challenging. However Lisa shared that groups are one of her favorite things. “We gain from each other and realize we’re not alone on a journey that often feels isolating.”
Lisa also advised that “It’s important to offer options. They may not need professional therapy, but also may not want group support. They may simply need a more individualized approach. Support After Abortion encourages providers to offer options that meet clients where they are with the type of help they prefer.”
Facilitating Support Groups
“When facilitation is done well,” Karin said, “people feel safe and transformation happens.”
Lisa urged facilitators to participate in groups of a more personal and healing nature so you “understand the vulnerability and what happens inside of that experience” to “get into your right brain, where you have stored experiences, maybe positive or negative, where you can work on those in the dynamics of a group.” She continued, “It takes courage to show our vulnerability in front of other people, but it is also relieving.”
Assessment Tool Scoring System
The scoring system provides guidelines to help you determine whether a client is ready for a support group, should be referred for clinical care, or if you need to have a deeper conversation with them to complete your assessment.
“If something doesn’t feel right and they still scored as group ready,” Lisa advised, “listen to that intuition and reach out for help from us or from other colleagues, to help you make a good decision.”
CLIENT GROUP READINESS ASSESSMENT TOOL QUESTIONS
Question 1: Have you had, been a part of, or been affected by your own or someone else’s abortions?
Lisa pointed out that “by asking this question, it allows the facilitator and the client to “get comfortable negotiating the conversation” about abortion. She made an analogy to a doctor needing to know what they’re treating in order to provide the right prescription. After-abortion healing groups include participants who have experienced or been impacted by abortion. They may also include someone learning how to facilitate an abortion healing group. It’s important to recognize – and include in healing groups – people who have been impacted by someone else’s abortion(s), for example a mother who went with her daughter to the abortion clinic – or the parent who learned later of a son’s or daughter’s abortion experience, or a friend who lent someone the money for an abortion, etc. Many times they are focused on supporting the person who directly experienced abortion and may not have considered the impact of the abortion on themselves.
Question 2: Have you attended counseling, abortion healing, or other programming to address the impact it has had on you?
Lisa discussed the importance of looking at the whole person to know what they’re working through, what kind of support they’ve had along their journey. “Is this their first group or support after their abortion or are they continuing to unpack their abortion experience.”
Question 3: Are you now or have you in the past had thoughts of harming yourself or others?
Lisa and Karin emphasized that is a critical point for assessing group readiness. The tool includes three possible answers that have different weights for assessing group readiness.
CURRENT = CLINICAL CARE
“If a person has current thoughts of harming themselves or others,” Karin said, “then we think that it would be much better for them to see a clinician, to talk about that and talk through that before we get them into a group where those suicidal thoughts and ideation may be triggered by what other participants share.”
PAST = FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS
If an individual discloses prior thoughts of harming themselves or others, “we want to better understand what that means,” Karin said. She shared follow up questions, depending on how people answer some of these questions.
Lisa and Karin discussed approaches for facilitators when a participant shares thoughts of suicide during a group. Lisa advised lay facilitators and others who are not therapists that “if being in the group is providing greater harm to that individual” then best practice in recovery therapy is to “suggest a time out” and to “enlist different professional support to help that person as they’re walking through it.” Lisa continued, “It’s never a best practice to try to navigate that alone. You should have somebody that you can lean on that has the qualifications to help navigate something like that.”
Question 4: Are you currently seeing a mental health therapist?
Karin and Lisa shared that this is important in order to ask question #5.
Question 5: Does your therapist support your participation in an abortion healing support group?
Lisa added, “My experience has been that abortion is sometimes the reason why people reach out. But more times than not, it’s been a secondary reason.” She said some people can do both simultaneously. “They’re in a place that they just want to get to the root of all of their stuff and heal.” She emphasized the importance of therapist buy-in. Lisa offered an example of a situation in which a therapist might suggest waiting to work on abortion healing in which a person is going through a divorce and dealing with their child’s recent overdose. The therapist’s role is to “look at where this conversation fits into their healing journey, as they’re negotiating all of the opportunities for healing.”
Question 6: Are you currently experiencing any other symptoms or stressors in life like depression, anxiety, addictions, domestic violence, relationship issues, homelessness, unemployment, or recent trauma or loss other than your abortion experiences?
Karin explained this question is designed to prompt conversation to assess “how able are you to do life? We really need to meet clients where they are, listen to what their preferences are, and then assess their readiness.” Clients who respond no to all of these are likely a fit for a group. However, if they say yes, then “we need to engage in a conversation and ask follow up questions to really get to the bottom of how much these different kinds of stressors are influencing them on a daily basis.”
She suggested, for example, that someone with an active addiction may have limited or no ability to engage in a support group depending on the severity of their addiction. Experiencing domestic violence is another situation in which “if clients are not in a safe place it would be really difficult to be able to participate in a support group.” On the other hand, we may incorrectly assume – like Karin shared she did – that someone experiencing homelessness would first need to work on living arrangements. Karin recalled one client who said, “No, I really want to work through my abortion experience. I’m homeless. Nobody’s going to be around me. I won’t be interrupted, and I have nothing but time.” Likewise unemployment could fall either way. Someone may feel they have the time to work on abortion healing. On the other hand, “If you don’t have the means to provide for yourself, or you don’t have food to feed your children, and you’re spending your day trying to source food,” participating in an abortion healing group probably isn’t the top priority right now.
In talking about the importance of taking the time to properly assess clients, Lisa shared that sometimes even clinicians such as herself jump in with both feet because a client says I’m ready to dig into this when the professional reality is that we need to “take it one step at a time.”
She also encouraged providers to consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – that basic necessities need to be met before beginning a journey to your higher self. As an example, she shared that when she worked with sex trafficking survivors abortion may be asked on intake, but it wouldn’t be addressed until their basic needs were met, they were sober, they’d been in a healing environment for a while, they were getting regular meals, having good sleep hygiene, and had been receiving therapy for the trauma.
Question 7: On a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 being rarely to 4 being most of the time, how are your activities of daily living impacted by the symptoms or stressors of life mentioned in question 6?
Lisa said this question addresses the degree to which their stresses are “impacting their activities of daily living: bathing, cooking, making the bed, doing laundry, taking out the garbage, etc. So if you take your children to daycare or drop them off at school, then you curl up in the fetal position on your bed and sob all day long, set an alarm and have it go off a half hour before you have to pick up your kids. Then maybe this isn’t the right time for you to be in a support group. [Rather] you need some individualized care to get to the bottom of what it is that you’re grieving so heavily over.”
Question 8: Are your parents/spouse/partner/friends supportive of your interest in receiving abortion healing services?
It’s so important that we know who’s on board,” Lisa said. “If you’re inviting this healing journey in and you’re healing and growing and the rest of your family or support system isn’t, that’s a necessary part of the conversation for us to know as the facilitator and to invite that conversation for the client.”
Karin shared that one resource had a support letter clients could give to their spouse/partner or other family members. “The emotional pain is real,” she said, “and one thing that we find so difficult with an extended period of healing is coming to the group for an hour or two, you get emotional and in touch with these sources of pain, then you have to go back” to your everyday life. She explained that the support letter is a way for clients to tell their support system “I’m not going to be the [mom / wife / friend…] that you’re used to me being right now because I’m working through some stuff so that I can become healthier. Will you support me in this?”
How to Use the Client Group Readiness Assessment Tool
Lisa encouraged providers to see this as a tool offering suggested questions to facilitate conversations with clients to assess group readiness. She said it isn’t meant to be a list of questions providers read to the client and check off the boxes. “It is a guide for you to help better understand your clients,” she said, “to unpack their experiences so that you can help serve them in the very best way that you know how.”
“This is really where you have the opportunity to be present with your client,” Karin said, “to not only listen with your ears, but listen with your eyes. To see their reactions, their facial expressions, their body language. And when you have a pause or gut check, that’s when another question needs to be asked.”
One attendee agreed saying that in her center they engage the client to hear their story first. “As they’re telling their story during intake,” she said, “some of these questions are answered, and other times we can do a follow up for it. So it doesn’t sound like you just went through all these questions and answers.”
Lisa encouraged providers to support one another, to rely upon their teams, and to build relationships with local clinicians and other support people.
- How long does therapy last or is it ongoing for life?
- LISA: We look at healing as a journey, not a destination. Where we are today is not where we’ll be three years from now. The experiences that are rooted in early childhood traumas come out in different seasons and spaces in our life. So perhaps the 20 year old that’s getting ready to launch into their career might feel triggered by insecurity and goes to therapy looking to find their courage and why don’t they feel secure? Then at 28, they’re looking to get married and have different insecurities and reasons for therapy. And all along, there’s an abortion experience under the surface. It will be different for each client.
- How would you approach a person who is suffering and unwilling to get any help?
- LISA: We can’t force people to be ready. Oftentimes a conversation will plant seeds and then maybe some fertilization will happen from other people. Then over time, the sprout will come out and they’re ready to begin talking to somebody. It’s a very individualized experience, based on that person’s ability to say, Yes, I’m ready. And sometimes it takes a very real, significant life experience for them to say, I’m ready for help.
- How can you help someone lost in addiction?
- LISA: Addiction will fog everything. It is a symptom to much deeper roots. But until the addiction is addressed, we can’t get any deeper. So, the addiction has to be addressed first.
KARIN: My addiction was to numb the emotional pain I was feeling. So it was not the right time for me to enter into something where I would feel that pain. Each person is different. Some questions to consider: Are you working a program? Do you have a sponsor? Are you just not drinking or using drugs? There’s a lot to go into assessing that.
- Have you noticed any differences in assessing the readiness of women who have experienced medication abortion versus surgical abortion?
- LISA: We’re seeing that medication abortion provides a complex level of trauma. Our experience is that women and men are reaching out a lot sooner because they can’t forget or dismiss what they saw. They’re in so much pain and are willing to do almost anything to get out of that pain. They’re looking for support right away.
JANE ABBATE (attendee and Life Coach) shared that she has experienced group dynamics challenges as a group leader stemming from having both clients whose surgical abortions were long ago and medication abortion clients whose trauma is fresh.
LISA: “Jane is an expert in her space, too.” Lisa suggested that facilitators could ask clients what type of abortion(s) they experienced and how long ago in consideration of group cohesiveness.
- Do you recommend a woman who is currently pregnant and who had a previous abortion go through healing during pregnancy?
- LISA: I would submit to you that we need to become more client-focused and less rigid about rules. If a pregnancy center client is ready to receive support in a healing program for a prior abortion, there should be no reason why we can’t support them on that journey. If you provide wrap-around services with mental health services and parenting support, etc., it is only going to help them attach to their next living child in a way that they wouldn’t be able to attach with that trauma connected to it from their abortion experience. But there again, we need to go back to that assessment and say, where else are you? What other things do you have going on? Because if you have other things going on, this might not be the right time.
- How long after someone has experienced abortion do you recommend they be connected to healing? Some suggest they should wait until after the due date of the terminated pregnancy.
- LISA: Do we have to wait one year after abortion? Absolutely not. We have found that some people are ready right away. Why would we wait a year to have somebody go through all of that pain and all of that trauma, find another numbing mechanism, rather than meet it head on in that moment? Now, the group that they start a month after their abortion is not likely the same group that they will experience five years from now. But remember, healing is a journey, not a destination. So we’re going to meet clients right where they are and then grow into a deeper healing program as they’re ready. I have found, working with clients, that we don’t do any harm if a client is ready and willing and wants to start the process. In fact, in those cases, when the due date comes, they’re more ready to embrace that experience with a healing mentality instead of in a devastated, depressive state.
Comment: We need to let therapists know that when they think it might be a sexual issue, don’t overlook abortion. Long before I ever admitted or sought help from my abortion experience I was in therapy. My therapist constantly asked if I had experienced childhood sexual abuse even after I said no. Years later it occurred to me that she was close. It was a sexual issue. She just never asked about abortion. I contacted her and let her know, You did a great job trying to help me. And I did have a sexual experience that was causing my struggle. You just never asked about abortion. And I certainly wasn’t raising my hand to talk about it at that time in my life. When I’m working with folks, I let them know, if you’ve worked with a therapist and you have found [abortion] healing, go back and tell your therapist.
LISA: Thank you for sharing. Time and again, our industry is not doing a great job in training licensed professionals about abortion. It’s still falling in the political and religious narratives. It has yet to fall deeply into the clinical space. We have an industry that is lacking the training on how to approach this topic.
- Is there a difference in assessing readiness for different programs? For example, weekly or biweekly support groups with participant interaction compared to an individualized weekend retreat?
- LISA: There are different ways in which we support people, but we really have to assess when and if somebody is ready to be with others. Can they respect that environment or are they so focused on their experiences that they won’t be able to be in an environment that really requires empathy for others.
- What’s the next step for someone who has some formation and preparation for spiritual or inner healing to be ready to facilitate abortion healing without becoming a licensed therapist?
- LISA: I think it starts with understanding where your strengths lie and where your weaknesses are. As a clinician, the biggest thing I hear in my training to become a life coach is to know what you’re there for with your client and what you’re not there for. As a coach, you’re there to help them move forward towards a goal. You’re not there to go into the past pain (like a therapist would). So I think the first step is to assess the gifts and talents that you bring to a client situation. For anything that falls outside of that, you’ll want to have a team of people you can refer to. For example, a client has past sexual trauma and that’s not a space I’m ready to be involved in, I have a person for that. Or this is an addiction issue, or pornography issue. Also there are things in our lives that we have yet to deal with, and if we’re walking with a client and we haven’t dealt with it ourselves, we can do more harm than good. So we need to assess our own healing needs.
Click here to watch this webinar and to register for next month’s free webinar.
Click here for the Support After Abortion Client Group Readiness Assessment Tool
Recap of April 19 Abortion Healing Provider Webinar
Greg Mayo, Men’s Healing Strategist and Chair of the National Men’s Task Force for Support After Abortion led a discussion on men and abortion healing with guests Scott Baier and Tim Jones. Scott is the CEO of Community Pregnancy Centers, the largest pregnancy resource center system in Florida. Tim shared his personal story of abortion and healing.
Setting the Context
Greg shared some key findings from the Support After Abortion’s research study on the impact of abortion on men:
45% said they did not have a voice or choice in the abortion decision
57% said it wasn’t their decision (it was their partner’s or someone else’s)
71% reported experiencing adverse changes after abortion
83% tried to find help or said they could have benefited from help
18% knew where to go for help
40% prefer a religious approach to abortion healing
53% rarely or never attend church
43% identified as atheist, agnostic, or no religion
He encouraged people to check the website for the white paper on the research which will be released April 24.
Boots on the Ground: Pregnancy Centers Caring for Men
Scott explained that the male role is often misunderstood. He said the stereotypical narrative of men wanting or forcing an abortion or willingly not participating in the decision is not what he has seen. He said, “Women often want to hear the man say, ‘I’m here for you – to walk through this with you.’” He said, “So I hope [pregnancy centers] invite the male partner into the counseling room. They need to be told they have a voice.”
Scott also highlighted the need to help clients communicate with each other. He shared a story of a married couple, both 19 years old, who came to one of the clinics recently. They had already chosen abortion for a previous pregnancy. This time, after talking to each other, they left in tears. She said, ‘I thought you wanted me to get the abortion last time.’ He said, ‘I thought you wanted me to tell you you should get the abortion.’” He noted that it’s important to be mindful that the majority of people seeking abortions are 18-24 years old – they are young, without a lot of life experience, and not polished in communication skills.
Scott addressed the value of men who have experienced abortion and received healing to help other men. He also encouraged pregnancy centers to have male staff and volunteers to take part in Support After Abortion training.
He discussed the need for churches to overcome obstacles and discuss abortion healing. He said, “Only 3% of Christian churches in America are active in the pro-life space.” He said many men including pastors often don’t feel comfortable promoting or talking about pro-life because they have their own abortion experiences and don’t feel ready, equipped, or even that they’re the right person to talk about it. And, “they don’t know where to turn for training and guidance.”
That’s why the Support After Abortion research showing 82% of men and women don’t know where to go for help “jumped out at me,” Scott said. “One of our goals is to connect them to the resources available and … address their needs.”
Scott responded to a question about the impact on a man if he has a man to talk to at the clinic. “Ideally it’s a male-to-male situation,” Scott said, “but there is value in females talking to males. A lot of clinics don’t have male staff or volunteers.” He explained that some men feel like they can never be forgiven – that their partner won’t forgive them. “Having this other female saying to a male that he can be forgiven is impactful.”
Scott emphasized the need to provide resources – not just offer forgiveness. He said, “You can repent from sins of your faith, but you can’t really repent from your wounds. We have a culture of wounded people who are looking for help. We need more people to share resources for support and healing.”
Greg pointed out that the Support After Abortion research found that only 40% of men want a religious approach to abortion healing.
He asked Scott, “Can pregnancy centers meet men where they are and serve those who don’t want a religious approach?”
Scott said, “This is huge. We must meet them where they are and create options-based programs to meet their needs. Males often want anonymity and virtual in the beginning. This doesn’t mean that later they won’t be ready for a three-day healing retreat.” He encouraged providers to focus on the person and “be the hands and hearts of Christ to them” without the need to speak about God or faith. He said, “clients need to know you’re there for them and care for them – that you’re not just ticking off a box or focusing on whether or not they’re saved. They want help and want to know you don’t have an agenda and are simply there to help.”
Tim Jones shared that he had a good childhood, was raised with married parents, and a large extended family. He grew up Catholic, going to church regularly, and hearing that abortion was wrong. Yet in his teen years he “started dating, smoking, drinking – the whole deal. Then in my early 20s I got a girl pregnant.” He said,
“I immediately rejected it. It wasn’t time. I was in a good period of life. I didn’t love her (I didn’t love myself at the time, although I didn’t know that then). She was waiting to see what I said. I’m the one who swayed it, called it. I felt relief that day. I could go about my normal, selfish life. The next day it hit me so hard. I went to confession; Jesus forgave me, but I didn’t forgive myself.
My 20s were the darkest years of my life. Things progressively got worse including bad friendships, alcohol abuse, drugs, acting out, poor decisions with more girlfriends, just complete destruction. Thank God I had a good family that was there to carry me through and help me.
In my early 30s I was still like a teenager until I moved to Florida. I think that was the Holy Spirit getting me away from bad relationships and destructive behaviors. I got into AA and started the 12 Steps. I felt amazing, good, and started to live normally without the obsession for drinking. I started going to church.”
Tim shared that he saw a tear-away flyer for Project Rachel at church, remembered his abortion, and texted the number. He said, “We talked for a bit, but I didn’t think I needed healing like she was talking about. I had gone to confession and was in AA now.” The woman told him about Keys to Hope and Healing and encouraged him to go through that six-week program, which he did.
Tim said, “I found a lot of relief just talking about it and hearing other people’s stories. I thought I’m healing and I’m good. But then I was offered to do the Almost Daddy 12-Step program with Greg. Again, I didn’t think I needed to go that much further with it because there was still a lot of shame involved. It was uncomfortable initially every week, but as I did the 12 steps, I can’t tell you the healing I experienced. I had physical pains that left. All that tension of stuffing down this situation for so many years. The freedom I feel now – I feel my soul – and I want to help other people because of how much it’s impacted me. I believe there are so many people drinking, doing drugs, hurting people because of their abortions. And it breaks my heart because I was there. I know I know what it’s like.
Base Camp – abortion healing for men
Tuesdays 12p, starting May 2
Scott and Greg echoed Tim’s experience that often men find healing, then want to help others find healing. They both shared that they get something new in their own healing journeys each time they lead others.
Greg shared a new way for men to connect to healing. Base Camp is an open forum, weekly virtual discussion group for men who’ve been impacted by abortion. Greg, who will be the host, said, “Men can pull up a chair and have a chat in a way that is not judgmental. The idea is to let guys share what they need to share. There are no forms to fill out, no registration.”
“It’s wide open,” Greg said in response to an attendee asking if Base Camp is Christian-based. He said men are free to share what they want – some may share something they learned from their faith or church, others may share some insight they gained while walking in the woods. It’ll be up to the men who attend what they want to discuss and in what way they want to talk about it.
“I hear all the time that we need resources and help for men. And, I hear that men heal differently from women – that they’re less likely to want to be in groups or share openly about their emotions or experiences. How do you overcome that?” – Asked by Mary McClusky, from USCCB Project Rachel Ministry
Greg, Tim, and Scott all agreed that men walking with men, and men sharing their stories, is key.
Greg said that “Me too, bro” was what got him involved in abortion healing. “I stumbled into abortion recovery,” he said, “and only because I shared my abortion story in a men’s group that had nothing to do with abortion and other guys came forward. I realized I wasn’t the only one, met with my pastor the next day, and it got started from there.”
Tim shared, “I agree the vulnerability thing is huge – and was very hard for me.” He described forcing himself to talk about emotional stuff to men in the barber shop where he works. He said “Just talking in conversation – I made major mistakes in life and I can pinpoint where it was. But I tell them with hope – I’m healing, I changed my life. Then they want to hear how and why.”
Scott emphasized that conversation comes first. He also said that both men and women should hear, “I’m sorry for your loss.” He noted that hearing that goes a long way. He also said he believes male-to-male interaction is important in small groups and strongly encouraged separate small groups for men and women.
Tom Walker, from Love Life South Florida: Guys just want a conversation, not bells and whistles, or this program, or that church. As far as inviting guys in when they’re hesitant to join groups, if you approach them as we need your input in the group as opposed to you need help, you’ll get a lot further.
How much did it weigh you down? Did it interfere with your life drastically?
Greg shared that his abortion experiences “impacted everything in my life in ways that I wasn’t even conscious of until I found healing. Choices I made, things I did, avoidance behaviors. It impacted the way I parented when my wife and I started having kids. Nothing went untouched.” Tim agreed with that experience, “absolutely.”
How did you realize where the pain came from? How did you move on?
Greg: Well, the thing is, I never moved on. I just moved. I’m in Indiana, so forgive the basketball metaphor, but I played life on defense, and you never win a basketball game playing on defense. When I was in that men’s group, this voice in my head said, ‘Hey, share your story about the abortion. And my first thought was, we’re not doing that. I’m in a church group at my church with guys I go to church with. There’s no way I’m sharing this story. And the voice kept bugging me. And so finally I did. And it wasn’t until I shared that and started looking into healing that I started making the connection that this really did impact my life. I thought I had just been living my life and problems and life happened, and I didn’t know for a long time that it was related.
Tim: For me it was a moment in a Publix parking lot when it just hit me – everything bad that I’m shameful about happened within two months of my abortion and just spiderwebbed. And I just kept stuffing and stuffing to the point where it had to come out. Getting help with alcohol was the start of healing, but I didn’t know the root was the abortion. I had no idea. I had to get rid of the obsession and cloudiness of drinking to go deeper. To go look and dig deeper to get to the root of the problem, I had to remove the drinking first.
Chris Rainey – Member of the Support After Abortion National Men’s Task Force – I have alcohol abuse history, and that history, coupled with recovering from abortion are just intertwined. By the time guys come to me [for abortion healing], they’ve reached their tipping point. They’re ready to do something different to get different results. It’s like when a guy walks into his first AA meeting, sees all the people, and thinks, “You, too? I thought it was just me.” I use that in after-abortion counseling – it creates a credibility foundation to move forward. Alcohol and abortion recovery – there are incredible parallels.
Greg – Abortion often triggers other behaviors – drugs, alcohol, sexual behaviors. By the time a man comes for healing, it’s like he has to clean off the layers of whatever he’s been doing to cover the pain before you can get to the pain of the abortion.
Chris – I estimate that there are 51 million men with abortion experiences in the US. The question is how do we reach them? Every time we speak, men come up afterwards and pretty much unload. The message then is Be Bold – don’t be afraid to talk about it. We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. When it’s brought up, men respond. The guys who come up are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They are ripe for healing. Be bold and keep talking about it.
- Men are hurting from abortion experiences.
- Men respond best to conversation and hearing other men share their stories of abortion and healing.
- Need to be bold and speak about men, help them share their stories, and find hope, healing, and freedom.
- Watch the video of this webinar
- Read the white paper on the Long Term Negative Impact of Abortion on Men (Release date April 24)
- Watch Ron Ransom, who had planned to share his abortion healing story, but had technical issues, on Maria Vision on Mon, April 24 at 8p EST. Click here to watch live.
- Base Camp rolls out for men – Tuesdays, 12pm starting May 2
Register for the May Abortion Healing Provider Meeting
What’s God got to do with it?
A recurring theme throughout all of Support After Abortion’s resources and healing programs is that, in order to truly help someone, you need to meet them where they are – and often, they are in a place where religion and spirituality is not something they are interested in. Yet most programs that offer after-abortion healing are faith-based.
This raises a multitude of questions and concerns. If you’re a faith-based provider, you may struggle with the question of: can someone truly heal without Jesus? If you have always led with a faith-based approach to abortion healing, you may want to push back against any kind of program where God is left out of the equation. And if you come from a secular, pro-life standpoint, you’ve probably already asked a million times, “What’s God got to do with abortion healing at all?”
These are all valid concerns and questions, which Greg Mayo, Men’s Healing Strategist and Chair of the Support After Abortion Men’s Task Force, and Fr. Shawn Monahan, OMV, Assistant Director of Spirituality at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat and Spirituality Center in Venice, Florida and member of the Support After Abortion Board of Directors, seek to tackle in this webinar.
While the vast majority of abortion healing programs are faith-based, the vast majority of people looking for healing after abortion are looking for non faith-based resources. The gap between what people need and want and what is offered is enormous.
Support After Abortion research shows that 73% of women and 53% of men who have abortion rarely or never go to church. Fifty-four percent of women and 31% of men who have abortions identify as atheistic or agnostic or no religion, and a mere 16% of women and 40% of men want to be met with a religious approach when it comes to abortion healing.
Twenty-two million men and women would seek healing if they knew where to go but here’s the deal: 17 million of them won’t even be helped because programs aren’t available that seek to meet them where they are.
Do most abortion healing programs really lead with faith if so many people are looking for something else? The short answer is yes. But if we, as abortion healing providers, can change our approach while still being open to the Holy Spirit and showing the love of Christ, it’s very possible to reach many, many more people in need of life-changing healing.
Bringing in the Priest
It may seem counterintuitive to have a Catholic priest as the main speaker on a webinar that is focused on how to provide abortion healing programs that are not faith-based but hang with us. This discussion doesn’t go the way you may think it goes.
Father Shawn leads retreats at a spirituality center in Florida and often works with people who have experienced some kind of abortion trauma in their past.
Father Shawn explains that ground zero for healing is our belief systems and it is each person’s individual beliefs that we inform emotions and determine how we feel. Our emotions also tell us if we are being loved or not, which can be significantly damaged through experiences where we are wounded, leading to a distorted view of ourselves and, if we believe in an Almighty Creator, a distorted view of God himself.
If you’re confused, don’t worry, Father Shawn and Greg work through what all of this means throughout the webinar, leading viewers to understand that ultimately, as abortion healing providers, we need to recognize when someone is coming to us with deep brokenness and through that understanding, trace it back to their belief systems.
This can happen just through simple questions of “where are you now?”, “what are you feeling?”, “what do you believe in?”, “what do you believe about yourself?”
Trauma has so many awful consequences in our lives and one of the biggest ones is that people who have suffered trauma oftentimes are led to believe they aren’t loved or are not worthy of being loved – by themselves, others, or God. Or that God cannot forgive them for their abortion decision, that they couldn’t possibly obtain forgiveness.
Showing Jesus without Mentioning Jesus
Jesus was the ultimate example of love, mercy, and compassion. He looked at humanity with deep, deep love and people he encountered on his Earthly journey knew there was something special about Him.
If you are a follower of Christ and work in abortion healing, Father Shawn points out that you can spread the Gospel by being like Jesus yourself – by loving those who come to you in brokenness, by creating a safe and non-judgmental space for them to share with you, by being compassionate, kind, and acknowledging and validating the pain they are going through. It takes time to heal and by praying for those you serve and by loving them as Jesus did, it will be noticeable by your actions that there is something special you have – and maybe a time will come when you can share it with those who have entrusted their healing to you, and where you can lead them to the ultimate Healer.
To watch the webinar for free, see this link.