Counseling Today, Online Exclusives

Disclosing an innermost secret

By Bethany Bray March 26, 2018

Should I tell my partner about my abortion?

Fielding questions about sensitive and complicated topics is all in a day’s work for many professional counselors. This question, however, is one that counselors must handle with particular care.

Abortion is among an infinite number of scenarios that clients might want to work through with a counselor so they can fit it into their self-narrative. Telling others about their abortion, whether it occurred one month ago or decades ago, can be an action that some clients consider as they work through the feelings they may have related to the procedure.

Sharing their story — both in therapy and in other outlets — can be one of many potential ways that clients find release and closure, says Catherine Beckett, an American Counseling Association member with a private practice in Portland, Oregon. Counselors can offer support as clients weigh their options and decide whether to disclose an abortion to a former or current romantic partner, family members or friends.

“Help the client assess the potential risks and benefits of sharing, with whom and when, and support them in a decision they feel good about,” says Beckett, an adjunct faculty member in the doctoral counseling program at Oregon State University. “Help them thoughtfully consider and think through what is going to be the most right for them, and perhaps introduce different options [to them as the counselor].”

Trudy Johnson, a licensed marriage and family therapist who splits her time between Arizona and Tennessee, notes that when clients feel ready to tell others about a past abortion, it can be a sign of progress. At the same time, counselors should remind and help prepare clients that their family members and friends may not feel the same way that the client is feeling.

“You can share with others, but you have to be strong enough not to worry about how they are going to respond. Remember, they are not in the same place as you,” says Johnson, who presented on abortion-related issues at ACA’s 2012 Conference & Expo in San Francisco. “You just have to realize that the person you’re telling might not respond the way you’re expecting, and you have to be OK with that. I often get the question, ‘Do I need to tell my children?’ That doesn’t necessarily need to happen. You have to be very careful and make sure that’s what you want to do. Will it serve a purpose? Will it help them to know? Do they need that information?”

It is a delicate “gray area” that has to be considered on a case-by-case basis, Johnson says.

Explore the reasons why the client is feeling a need to share, Beckett agrees. Counselors should help clients find release, whether it is through disclosure or other outlets.

Some clients may ultimately decide that the risks of disclosing their abortion to loved ones outweigh the benefits. Risks include the possibility of difficult feelings regarding the procedure — including grief and shame or stigma from culture or family — resurfacing. Clients who decide not to share might find release instead by posting their story anonymously on an internet message board or by writing a letter they never send, suggests Beckett, who specializes in grief counseling.

For those clients who do decide to disclose their abortion, it might be best to start small, tell just one person whom they trust and then go from there, Beckett says.

“For those who really feel the need to share, determine what is the safest place or who is the safest person to share it with. Then see how that feels: Did it help? Do they want to share further?,” she says. “I think, as counselors, that one of the most valuable ways we can support these women is to serve as someone to talk to about their options, who is not going to pressure or push them in any particular direction.”

 

 

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Although most women will not experience long-term mental health problems after an abortion, some may still endure feelings of loss or other negative emotions caused by external factors such as culture or family. These feelings can surface in counseling sessions.

For more on this topic, see the feature “When post-abortion emotions need unpacking” in the April issue of Counseling Today.

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Josie Guido

    Another area of caution is the client might feel so relieved after disclosing an innermost secret to a counselor that the client might tell family, friends, or a significant other right after their counseling session due to the validating empathetic response of the counselor. This is something to acknowledge with the client to assist them in avoiding this type of reaction.

    Reply
  2. Anne Lastman

    As a post abortion grief counsellor of 22 years experience, it is important to share the experience of an abortion with a partner because if and when a baby is conceived with the partner and especially after birth flash backs will occur. A partner who loves and understands will enfold her in his arms and console her. If he judges and humiliates her then its a wrong relationship. If PND were to happen this is exacerbated by the previous experience and depression becomes more severe. It is definitely wrong to say that only a small percentage of women suffer post abortion grief. a huge percentage suffer severe post abortion after effects. another issue is the fact that these two go into what is supposed to be a loving and permanent relationship and a lie is underpinning this. Post abortion sequelae exists, is real and makes itself felt in ways that can destroy not only peace of mind but their relationship and/or other relationships. It is short sighted to pass this off as a “minor procedure” then move on. it’s not.

    Reply
    1. Counseling Today Post author

      Hi Anne — From the article:
      Although most women will not experience long-term mental health problems after an abortion, some may still endure feelings of loss or other negative emotions caused by external factors such as culture or family. These feelings can surface in counseling sessions.

      For more on this topic, see the feature “When post-abortion emotions need unpacking” in the April issue of Counseling Today magazine.

    2. Krista Lindquist

      Anne,
      Thanks for responding from your 22 years of experience. When I read, “Although most women will not experience long-term mental health problems after an abortion, some may still endure feelings of loss or other negative emotions caused by external factors such as culture or family.”, I questioned the validity of such a comment. No researched numbers to back up the “most” comment and from my limited experience, women just carry their own heavy burden of guilt, regardless of “external factors such as culture or family.” So anyway, thanks for speaking up.

  3. Sirine

    Thank you, Counseling Today, for posting the link to the research and data showing that most women will not experience long term mental health problems after an abortion. In my observation of many women I know who’ve had abortions, including myself, the degree of post-abortion sequelae a woman experiences is in direct proportion to the degree to which she struggled with arriving at the decision to have one.

    If she had no real issues or difficulty deciding an first trimester abortion was the right decision for her — especially if she came from a pro-birth control, pro-women’s-rights, &/or pro-choice family — she is nowhere near as likely to suffer long term mental health problems after an abortion as is a woman/girl raised in a pro-life, anti-choice, anti-birth control, non-women’s-rights supporting, very religious background.

    For example, in the recovery room after mine, there were 5 Latinas, one African-American woman, and two of white women including myself. Four of the Latinas (generally speaking, though not always, Catholic) were crying. The rest of us were like, “So, when can I go?”

    So it really *is* a very minor procedure if that’s how you view it prior to having one. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to discharge you the same day, and women wouldn’t be able to repeatedly get pregnant again after one, two, or multiple abortions. And trust me — they can. The modern first trimester abortion technique was perfected in Japan in the 60s specifically TO preserve fertility, because their culture did not legalize the birth control pill until the late 90s.

    And, anecdotally speaking, of the 6 women I know personally who’ve had abortions (or more than one), only one was worried or concerned about it — and that was only prior to the birth of her son. After he was born, she said, “I don’t know what I was so worried about.” Our other friend with three kids who’d also had a couple abortions (one before she had her kids, one after), said, “I knew you’d be fine after you had him — I was!”

    Just saying.

    Reply
  4. Sandy

    These comments seem to solidify the concept that “Counselors” must leave their biases at the door when counseling. I would not want to assume that a person should or would feel a certain way after an important life decision. It seems it would be best to allow the person to determine for themselves how they are being impacted and the possible repercussions for disclosure of the decision.

    Reply

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