Academic journal article Outskirts

Focusing and Art as Ways to Explore the Implicit and Non-Verbal Aspects of Women's Abortion Experiences

Academic journal article Outskirts

Focusing and Art as Ways to Explore the Implicit and Non-Verbal Aspects of Women's Abortion Experiences

Article excerpt

Introduction

Spaces and opportunities for women to share, reflect upon, and explore their personal experience(s) of abortion are limited by the stigma and controversy that surrounds abortion in many countries around the world (Kumara, Hessinia, & Mitchell, 2009). My PhD project, entitled Lilith's daughters: distilling the healing wisdom of women post abortion, is designed to provide such spaces. My project methodology reflects my understanding as a feminist that offering a multi-dimensional listening space is beneficial both to a woman and to her immediate community in a myriad of ways. Foremost is the broadened sense of identity that may develop when a woman has the opportunity to explore her abortion experience(s) in a way that privileges her bodily felt senses. This bodily way of knowing favours the implicit and the non-verbal, and hence uncovers the often previously unexplored, unknown and unexpressed aspects of a woman's abortion experience(s).

In this paper I will focus solely on the two-stage process that I employed to gather information from women who volunteered to participate in my project. Stage One included 17 semi-structured interviews and Stage Two was comprised of eight Focusing and art sessions with women that I had previously interviewed. The innovative Focusing and art process was developed through my reading of both academic and therapy-based literatures pertaining to the body, as will be demonstrated in the section that follows.

Why I did what I did

Based on my feminist position of valuing the diversity of women's experiences, I sought to provide my participants with multiple options and a unique way of accessing and expressing their own perspectives through the research process. In designing my project I set out to provide open-ended questions and processes that allowed a woman's abortion experience to be explored and expressed in ways that were engaging and meaningful to her (Sprague, 2005; Wilkinson, 2000). In doing so I rejected the narrow view of abortion represented by the pro- versus anti-abortion debate and conventional psychological literature on the impacts of abortion. The methods that I used were designed to provide a space that may not have been experienced by the individual women in their day-to-day lives. That is, I aimed to provide a confidential, interested, attentive and non-judging space where a woman could explore the events that happened around her abortion(s) and how she responded to them. The questions asked and the art-based process offered my participants an opportunity to identify, express and review any conclusions that they may have previously reached about themselves and their lives in relation to their abortion experiences.

As a feminist, I adopted a post-structuralist approach to identity and subjectivity because this allowed me to take a broad approach to how a woman might make sense of her own abortion experience or context. I was inspired by the rhizomatic ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari which imply the complex, multi-faceted, interactive, and exploratory nature of subjectivity (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Rather than viewing the self as fixed or determinable, Deleuze and Guattari's work encourages an approach to humankind which allows that subjectivity transforms, morphs, interacts and changes shape in response to the varying contexts and situations which are encountered by individuals ongoingly. Deleuze and Guattari's view of identity challenges narrow psychological views of the self that predict, categorise, and limit (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Such approaches to identity constrain not only the way that research on the self is conducted, but also the experiences of self that participants will likely have through participation in this kind of research. The approach that I took in my project afforded my participants space for exploration and self-discovery of their own subjectivities.

Although I found early in my research process that the post-structuralist readings on multiple subjectivities provided me with latitude and a sense of space, I did wonder how a woman's bodily knowing about her abortion experiences might be accessed through an appropriately sensitive and supportive research process. …

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