American Association of Therapists Treating Abortion Related Trauma
Professionalizing the treatment of abortion related trauma
Bridging the gap between research and practice
Bridging the gap between research and practice
In the video above, Nick Nolte in the movie Prince of Tides, demonstrates to Barbara Streisand his therapist, how often times a man is afraid to open up about the trauma they have experienced in the past. Streisand asks Nolte at one point how he feels. He pauses and is not sure how to answer. This is very typical of a man in that he is more likely to respond from his rational brain through thinking versus feeling. He is also more likely to act his pain out versus talk about it. It is more likely to come out in symptoms versus talking about feelings. Streisand is able to get past Nolte's defenses and he finally breaks down crying in her arms. Nolte is a good example of how men often deal with trauma in their past. They are more likely to stuff it or act like they are okay in order to not show weakness. In this month's blog, I will be addressing the question of whether men really hurt and experience trauma from an abortion decision in their past.
I have been specializing in how abortion affects men for over 10 years. In that time, I am often asked the question, does abortion really affect men that much? Can it really be just as traumatic for them as women even though they are not the one's carrying the unborn child, or experience the abortion procedure to their body? If so, how come they never admit to it or seek help?
The first thing I want to say is the way one measures the impact trauma has on a man needs to change. To begin with, one needs to understand why men don't seek help in the first place for any trauma or difficulty they have gone through in the past. Kurt Smith LMFT (2010) gives 5 reasons why he believes men don't go to counseling. They are: because men are problem solvers, they see it as a sign of weakness, pride, fear of change and control. Neil Chethik (2004) wrote a book called FatherLoss. In the book he interviewed 70 men whose fathers had died. He found that 90% of them did not seek grief counseling. He suggests that men avoid grief counseling because often the services do not reflect their style of grieving. It seems like men are influenced the most by both gender and cultural conditioning when it comes to the idea of seeking help. So to begin with, answering the question of whether men hurt from abortion and experience trauma, can't be determined by whether men seek help or not for their previous trauma.
Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery states, "The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. When truth is fully recognized survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom." (Herman, 1992). Over the years of working with men who present with sexual addiction, often times the men also experienced some form of trauma in their history. The trauma may have been childhood trauma but also many of these men presented with an abortion decision also in their history. It was often hard to tell whether the childhood trauma or the abortion decision had a greater impact on the presenting problem of sexual addiction. What I do know is many clients seem to escalate in their addiction after the experience of abortion, even if their addiction already had an etiology in childhood trauma.The second thing that needs to be considered when determining whether men hurt and experience trauma from an abortion decision, is to consider the most effective way to measure the effect. Measuring the effect might include first looking at the symptoms that men seem to get help for, and then looking at previous trauma that may be impacting those symptoms in order to begin to make correlations. Men are more like to seek help for a crisis, as a result of their symptoms and unlikely to seek help because of an abortion decision in their past. In the beginning of counseling, men will often not be able or willing to make these connections. The encouraging part is that as treatment progresses, they are often later able to see that previous trauma had and is impacting their presenting symptoms. They are then able to see the importance of working on those past issues in order to see improvement in their presenting problems or symptoms.
In summary, men do hurt and can experience trauma from an abortion decision. The way to measure the impact needs to change and adjust. Answering the questions need to first take into account why men are less likely to report an effect or seek counseling in the first place. Finally, a better way to measure the impact previous trauma, including an abortion decision has on men, is by assessing previous and current symptoms that appear post trauma and determining the possible correlation. Determining symptom correlation may be a better indicator than a man's self report because of the mentioned issues.
Chethik, N. (2004). FatherLoss, Hachette Books
Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery, Basic Books
Smith, K. (2010). Counseling Men Blog. Retrieved From the Guys' Stuff: Counseling and Coaching Website
Gregory Hasek MA/MFT is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Oregon.