As therapists, we work hard to help women discuss and navigate abortion (and beyond) and to support them in their individual choice. But it’s complicated.
The media often gives the impression that abortion happens to someone else, yet one in four women have had an abortion. It’s a common struggle. Nevertheless, it’s still a difficult subject to talk about on a personal level, let alone on a public level where there is even greater vulnerability for women.
It’s not a place that women generally would choose. The medical procedure itself is hard and it’s a stressful time in life that is not easily forgotten. It’s not surprising that abortion is psychologically complicated.
Additionally, the “backstory” is often hard to process and discuss. Relationship breakup or abandonment, a physical or mental illness, fetal abnormalities, drug or alcohol use, a poverty or resources crisis, violence or a personal existential challenge (such as wondering if you are capable of being a parent), can all be part of the narrative.
Therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in particular) can be helpful for women and, if appropriate, their partners or families. CBT provides a safe and empathic framework to navigate abortion and life post-abortion.
Here are several ways that therapy can help you cope with the challenge of an abortion:
Understanding your feelings: Discussing your feelings with a therapist and translating them into words helps put the abortion into perspective. Processing paralysis, grief, loneliness, abandonment and simultaneous positive and negative feelings in a secure and empathic setting is essential. Ultimately, this makes it easier to work out your next steps.
Understanding what abortion involves: There are two different types of abortions, a pill that you take at home and a surgical abortion involving anesthesia where the uterus is cleared out. Discussing these options with a therapist can help you figure out what is best for your situation. This is particularly pertinent in states with legal restrictions that need to be considered.
Understanding your personal backstory: The reason why therapy works is because it’s a safe space to consider all aspects of yourself that are impacted by an abortion. It is the processing of the contradictory, confusing and often frightening aspects of abortion in terms of who you are as a person that leads to personal growth. Appreciating the nuances of your life story through therapy is different for each person but it is always meaningful and affirming.
Anti-abortion rhetoric: In the popular press this can involve unsettling critical judgment that verges on bullying, mixed in with a harsh version of religious or political certainty. Psychotherapy helps you to understand and discuss your choices and challenges with those who may try to impose their views on you.
Overall, therapy is a kind and compassionate approach to your story that understands the great vulnerability of this moment and the value of personal autonomy.
That’s why we, as therapists, see abortion is an individual decision and we work hard to support women through it and beyond.
We invite you to reach out and schedule an appointment if you think that we can be helpful to you or someone that you love.
Ashlee Cioffi MHP-LP and Tomer T. Levin M.D.