MADISON — Theresa and Kevin Burke, the founders of Rachel’s Vineyard, were in Madison recently to offer training for priests, therapists, and other pro-life workers on the trauma of abortion and healing after abortion, and to train teams for Rachel’s Vineyard retreats.
Rachel’s Vineyard, a ministry of Priests for Life, offers weekends for healing after abortion year-round. A retreat will be held at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison Friday, Nov. 14, through Sunday, Nov. 16. For more information:
• call (confidential line) 608-821-3177
• visit www.rachelsvineyard.org
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Between training sessions on the effects of abortion on men and trauma and the brain, Theresa and Kevin sat down with the Catholic Herald to talk about how important it is for those who work pastorally and in counseling to recognize trauma from abortions and what Rachel’s Vineyard offers to those men and women who have had experience with abortion and now seek healing from its wounds.
“Abortion is one of the last things people will mention, and most therapists will never ask about it” when men and women come in for counseling, said Theresa, who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology, has written books on the subject, and has lectured and trained professionals internationally on the subject of post abortion trauma and healing.
“To really help open a therapist’s eyes as to how symptoms can be rooted in this traumatic experience is what our goal is,” she said. “It’s not included in their training — it’s not something we learn in school.”
But often this can be the underlying cause of other problems and can be acted out for many years before it is addressed, Theresa said.
“We have a lot of different stories to illustrate the hyper-arousal — people who get angry, they get agitated as soon as anything is connecting them to memories or feelings,” she said, “It’s a reaction of trauma.
“When you understand that, it makes the whole polarized debate between pro-life and pro-choice make so much sense,” she said. “These people are so wounded, they’re having trouble confronting the feelings that are evoked, and they have to lash out.”
Important to understand
Everything that she presents in these training sessions, Theresa said, is accepted trauma theory, illustrated by examples people can understand. The trauma theory can be applied generally to how the mind tries to cope with abortion.
This information can be helpful for anybody, she said. “It’s helpful for priests to know — so that they can understand the angry reaction of someone who would walk out on a sermon, to help them learn how to speak with greater compassion to those that are suffering, and to recognize how much they’re hurting.”
“When anyone looks at their family, when a priest looks at his congregation, there are so many people who have been impacted by abortion,” said Kevin, who is a licensed social worker and has authored and co-authored several books on grief and abortion. “They need to understand and hear about the symptoms and effects of abortion on an individual because there are people in their lives suffering and hurting. They can learn ways to share the good news of healing in the Church.”
Offering healing to all
Rachel’s Vineyard offers retreats for those of all backgrounds and faiths. Through a very specific model, what Theresa calls a “sensory-based treatment,” the team and retreatants integrate prayer and spiritual rituals to help calm and soothe and enter into a grieving process that will empty and release that grief and transform it into something that has meaning.
The process is confidential: “It’s the beauty of a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, that people can go for a weekend where no one knows them and really enter into the grieving process,” Theresa said. It is also cost-effective: “With all the counseling appointments, it would take a year to get the number of hours you get in one weekend.”
Kevin said that it is important for couples who have had experience with abortion to find healing, especially before entering into marriage. “If they stay locked up in the pain, it’s like a cancer in their relationship,” he said.
Even when only one of the couple has experienced abortion, it can be very effective for both to attend, he said.
“They bond together on their healing journey, they bond with the living Scriptures, the experience of the sacraments with Christ, and they bring that experience into their marriage,” he said.
But whether together as a couple or alone, Rachel’s Vineyard offers healing through the shared experience of men and women together journeying through their grief.
“There really is a genius in the process, and we see the effect of it,” Kevin said. “This ministry has been spread by those who have been helped by it.”
But there are a lot of people out there who haven’t made that step, leapt the chasm to find healing, Theresa said. “All I can say is that there’s new life to be found. It’s like a gift you could give yourself — it’s just there waiting. In 650 places this year there is a gift waiting to be opened that will free people to experience the fullness of life that Christ came to give us.”