In order to identify and respond to emotional needs of women and their loved ones after an abortion, Exhale uses a counseling model that empowers and supports our callers to take care of themselves and to make their own decisions. Our Pro-Voice approach emphasizes listening, validation and support, in addition to offering callers resources and information to foster coping skills and self-confidence in their ability to manage a range of life events.
Qualities of Pro-Voice Counseling:
- values emotional wellbeing and embraces the full range of emotions;
- approaches each caller as a whole person, recognizing that many facets of an individual’s life are part of an abortion experience;
- respects each individual’s belief system: religious, social, and political, and works within this belief system to support the caller’s needs;
- works with each caller to discover her or his own experience of wellbeing, as well as the personal strengths and resources s/he can draw on to navigate challenges.
The counseling process
First, we listen. Each person’s experience with abortion is unique. The circumstances in each caller’s life may have similarities to and differences from others’ lives. Likewise, the emotions that arise are unique and varied for each person. When speaking to a caller, we ask open-ended questions so that we can learn about that person’s feelings, the people who are important to her or him, what he cares about, and what she is seeking in this phone call.
Then, we validate and reflect. There is no right or wrong way to feel after an abortion. Feelings arise, and our job as counselors is to acknowledge them. Sometimes this means we let the caller know we have heard similar feelings expressed by other people who call our talkline. Sometimes this means we reflect back to the caller what we are hearing from him. For example, “It sounds like you are feeling grief.” Sometimes this means letting the caller know that her feelings are okay: “It makes sense to me that you feel angry.”
We also reflect by using the language a caller is using. For some, abortion is a procedure. If that’s how a caller describes it, then we will say procedure, too. Sometimes a caller is grieving the baby she did not have. When a caller talks about her baby, we will listen and talk to her about her baby. If a caller is concerned about God, we will ask her how she feels about God. We do not tell him what to think or feel; we ask him what he already thinks and feels. We reflect back what we hear to make sure we understand and to convey that we are listening.
Another way we reflect is by reminding callers of their personal strengths and resources. We know that reaching out for support takes strength, and we reflect this back to each caller. When we hear that something is going right in the caller’s life, we celebrate it. This might be as simple as noting his ability to recognize his own emotions. Identifying these strengths, these resources that a caller already has in her life, and what is working (or has worked for her in the past) can remind a caller of her own capability and encourage her to continue taking care of herself.
We explore options. When a caller identifies what she or he is seeking, the counselor will help explore how to reach that goal. If he does not have a specific goal, we help him explore how he wants to take care of himself, and what wellbeing means to him. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. We do not tell the caller what to do; we collaborate with the caller to identify her own expression of wellbeing. We ask what has worked in the past, we ask who the caller has already talked to, and we ask what she has already tried. We might brainstorm ideas together. The caller is the person who decides what steps to take. We know that there doesn’t have to be a “solution” – it may be enough to help that person better understand her own feelings and articulate what her experience is.
We share resources. Knowledge is power. Providing information, resources, and connections with community services provides a caller with tools and creates a support network that extends beyond the boundaries of one service. We also recognize that each person has to evaluate and decide which resources are right for her.
We respect confidentiality. We respect the courage it takes to pick up the phone to call Exhale. We value each caller’s trust. We consider everything that is shared with us on the talkline to be completely confidential. We never make a person’s words or story public without clear authorization.
As a community of women and men with personal abortion experiences, we stand with each other as we shape what’s next after a personal experience with abortion. Together, we strengthen our emotional wellbeing; engage friends and family in conversation; and lead new conversations with our shared stories. We are creating a social climate where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported and respected. We welcome each caller as we listen, connect, and learn together.
Our recommendations for service providers
We are currently drafting our recommendations for service providers who want to support after-abortion wellbeing. We plan to publish these “Pro-Voice Counseling Practices” on this website in the future. Please join our email list if you would like to be alerted when this publication is available. You can do so using the form at the top of this page in the right hand column.