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WD: Why Couple's Counseling makes abuse worse.
February 9, 2004
4:25 pm
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Worried_Dad
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First of all, know that I am not making up the part about couple's counseling being contraindicated for abusive relationships.

Couple's counseling is about how to help a couple who really wants to have a respectful, loving relationship. It is fine for couple's that just need to learn about boundaries, self-actualization, communications skills, anger management, couples where there is present an "ordinary" amount of neurosis.

An abusive realtionship, on the other hand, is where one half of the couple, let's call them the victim, is living in a reality where they value equality, respect, and all the virtues. They are delusional, because they believe that their partner shares the same values and has the same intentions regarding the relationship. Infact, the abusive partner is not about respect or equality or mutuality. The abusive partner is motivated by POWER and CONTROL.

The essence of abuse is the substitution of the victim's perceptions, values, motives and interests with that of the abuser.

A couple's counselor who has not identified ABUSE as THE issue in a relationship will try to treat other problems. It is as if you go to a doctor to get treatment for your chest pains, and then they just give you a prescription for viagra.

Couple's counseling sends the message to the abuser: "What you are doing is partially your partner's fault." It conceals the underlying abuse and encourages the abuser to escalate, simply by not identifying the abuse. The victim's complaints during counseling sessions may enrage the abuser and lead to escalation.

Victim's already believe (wrongly) that they are partly or entirely to blame for the abuse. Because a percentage of victims do fight back (for a while, anyway) either verbally or physically, a victim may feel badly about their own angry responses to the abuse. More often, a counselor ought to be saying something to the victim along the lines of "Anyone would be angry over what has been happening to you." Instead, Couple's counseling encourages that guilt of the victims, by encouraging victims to work with their own anger issues.

In working with abusive relationships, professionals need to be very conscious of the phenomenon called COUNTERTRANSFERENCE. Sometimes, therapists have feelings about their clients. That is called countertransference. Anger is almost always a huge issue in abusive relationships. The abuser is angry because they expect to be in control, they expect their every demand to be automatically complied with. The victim is angry because they have been subjected to name calling, lying, cheating, crazymaking, manipulation, witholding, denying, minimizing, and all the rest. The natural, adaptive human response to outrageous behavior is...OUTRAGE.

An unaware therapist may react to the natural and justifiable anger of victims, by thinking that the problem is that the victim is angry and mean. Then the victim becoimes the one "with the problem."

A couple with an abusive relationship who goes to a couple's counselor will come out of each session a little crazier than when they went in. UNLESS it is understood at the outset that THE goal of the counseling is to address and correct the ABUSE.

February 9, 2004
4:26 pm
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Worried_Dad
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Couple's counsling also sends the message to the abuser "You can get away with this--we will blame at least half the probnlem on your partner."

February 9, 2004
5:29 pm
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gingerleigh
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I don't know, I'm not buying it just yet. Not trying to be disrespectful in any way, just analyzing. Suppose that a couple goes into a session, their first one, with a counselor. The counselor says "So what brings you by?" And she speaks first: "My husband hits me and I want it to stop." How does the abuser get away with it then? I find it highly unlikely that a trained counselor will look at her husband and say "oh, that's OK. She probably had it coming." I'm not quite understanding.

February 9, 2004
5:37 pm
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Kessie
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Hi Ginger, - I think that when people go for counselling the victim doesnt actually come out and say that. They are far more likely to blame themselves initially anyway; or at least have the idea that they are at least partly to blame. By the time one gets as far as to think that something is wrong the self esteem of the 'victim' is considerably distorted by the abuse. Of course that may have changed now that people are so much more up front about things, but do you think people can always be that direct?

K

February 9, 2004
5:46 pm
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free
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Couple's counseling was a disaster for my marriage, and a Godsend to my future.

My ex monster couldn't/wouldn't accept any responsibility at all. I mean, at all. He'd tell me what I wanted to hea, tell the counselor what he wanted to hear, and continue about his nasty abusive ways.

Counselor saw through it. Then I was forbidden to go kuz counselors and therapists and psychologists are all just quacks. he refused to continue.

Well, I kept going. And that quack, if that's what one wants to call him, helped me to change my life. Bye-bye monsters!

free

February 9, 2004
5:50 pm
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gingerleigh
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What an interesting world this would be if we were all so direct to ask exactly for what we want and need. That would have positive implications for both abusers and victims, don't you think? Maybe if we were trained to ask for what we need and want, abusers wouldn't take out their anger through abuse of their partners. And maybe the abused would not stick around long enough to be abused further.

Chicken and egg though, it's a cycle, how do you break it? Maybe having a really good and perceptive counselor is a good start, as Free was lucky enough to find.

February 9, 2004
5:52 pm
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Oh, and the abuse definitely got worse as I went alone. It sucked.

the abuse got a bit different after the divorce.

Now, he gets to go to 52 weeeks of batterer's treatment at his own expense, community service, all those wonderful natural consequences of being convicted of stalking.

I continue seeing the same therapist we began with- way back in 1994, three years before I finally filed for divorce. As I need to, for on going issues.

the therapist has to be a good one. Must have lots of patience. Must be educated and specialize in domestic violence situations and all the dynamics involved.

free

February 9, 2004
5:55 pm
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Kessie
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Hi worried D.

*They are delusional, because they believe that their partner shares the same values and has the same intentions regarding the relationship*.

That struck such a chord with me! I am struggling to free myself from such a relationship. For months I have assumed that the above was true, - ie that he shared my values etc. You have just put into words what I needed to hear. I keep asking 'why does he have to do these things?' but I was asking that from the wrong perspective.

Thank you so much.

K

February 9, 2004
5:59 pm
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free
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Kessie

Does he screw it all up and then you run around trying to fix it? thinking that maybe you are the one who screwed it all up?

free

February 9, 2004
6:13 pm
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Kessie
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Well, Free, I used to, not any more. This was a complicated set up because this isnt my husband, he was a gay man I met through a club I belong to. He was an alcoholic. we were both officers in the club, and I genuinely thought I could help him. Over a year I talked to him, got him through his drink-driving case, took him to hospital appoinments etc, took him to a residential clinic where he was offered a place: then on the day he wouldnt go. But we had become involved emotionally, if not any other way. I assumed I had got everything wrong, - We were friends, though; close. We talked to each other. Then he started doing things - spiteful things, and when I was bewildered and questioned his housekeeper, she said he told her I had 'turned on' him. Sorry - that's the tip of the iceberg - too long to go into. I found out he had been telling lies - to cover the Machiavellian things he had done to undermine me - I ended up thinking that I was going mad, except that I knew really I wasn't. What hurt immensely was knowing that other people were believing him rather than me. Or were they? And why do I care?.

See what I mean?

I think i'm doing OK so far. I havent seen him since January 2nd; but I can't resist the desire to ring him. He is distantly polite, and all the while I wonder why is he behaving this way to me, when I cant think for the life of me what I've done to deserve it?

AND I didnt mean for all that to come out, but it has now.

February 9, 2004
6:44 pm
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Molly
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If the victim was able to face that it was an abusive relationship, I doubt that he/she would participate in counseling. Thus the problem and cycle of abuse. Having been there on many occasion with many therapists, what he speaks is truth. Wearing 50% of the brain washed responsibility, you go to the therapist with the surface problems, he doesn't help and gets mad when I ask, she spends to much money and flips out when questioned. Usually the therapist will focus on communication, har har har... or the closest agenda she/he can toss the dart at on the marital discord dart board before the timer goes DING.....perhaps a home work assignment, which is good for WWW3...
Individual counseling is also difficult as the therapist will co-sign the victim often to strongly, and the victim will become confused, and defensive, as well as often more than not go home and tell the abusive partner, who will put on their wings and look like an angel, just long enough....

February 9, 2004
6:48 pm
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LCV
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Yeah....my husband has wings on as we speak. He is learning alot of the "code words" now, and is saying all the right things. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.....

February 9, 2004
6:52 pm
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LCV
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Reading my post it sounds like I am waiting for him to fail...before I would be very optimistic...but now I am very pessimistic about long term change....So my stance stays...sorry for the negativity....

February 9, 2004
7:23 pm
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Zinnie
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Hi Ginger,

In a class that I took, it dealt with this issue...

The reason is bad for an abusive couple to go to counseling is as WD states - the counselor if she/he does NOT know about the abuse - and the couple do not say this is why we are here tries to look for the reason why the batterer gets angry.

Sadly to many couples who are in this situation go to counseling hoping to make the marriage better. But, like WD states above, although the one partner is living in the reality of the fact that they are being beaten, they also have the delusion that "if only I" the other person will love them and stop.

In order to stop the abuse, the counseling must start with "he/she is abusive and it has to stop" - not "if only I... then he will stop."

Does that make sense?

Z.

February 9, 2004
11:53 pm
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silk
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I think that the counselor almost has to accept the victim's expression of "if only I...then he will stop," at least in the beginning, if they hope to reach either of them.

The victim will not listen to/hear anything else in the beginning, oft times. If you can't or won't try to fix their relationship...one she or he will betray anyone to keep...they will walk. Possibly even never attempt therapy again.

Some counselors would be OK with people leaving therapy forever because of their aggressive approach. And it is not a wrong thing. It is only one approach, though. It also depends on the personality of the counselor.

Being accepting of people where they are, no matter how infuriating it may be, can often be the best approach. But it requires patience.

You risk break down of the therapeutic relationship, if you lay down the law too early in the rapport building process.

What do you think?

I am not saying to be agreeable at all costs. I am only saying that perhaps some counselors are merely giving space to the couple to get to the real stuff under the surface that they grapple with...and that this comes with acceptance and a few small doses of challenge along the way. Enough food for though to get the wheels of change turning.

Healing can take a really long time. With couples couseling, you have at least 2 people healing together...sometimes for a really long time.

February 10, 2004
12:02 am
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I thought what Molly was saying was that if a person realizes they are in an abusive situation, then they know that couples counseling isn't gonna cut it.

And what wd was saying is that couples counseling doesn't work kuz the victim is all into fixing things and so the abuser gets to go even more haywire.

free

February 10, 2004
1:49 am
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gingerleigh
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OK, I'm seeing the logic now.

February 10, 2004
11:32 am
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Worried_Dad
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Couples counseling and psychotherapy also give the abuser the chance to learn "the lingo" of psychology, which allows them to "pass" as a normal person who is truly concerned about mental health, good relationships, etc.

As far as battering goes....physical battering ussually isn't happening all the time. Even a batterer's arms get tired. But the opression and the power struggles are there always. A period of time without battering may seem positive in comparison...And during the "Loving-Contrition," or "honeymoon" periods, a victim may actually feel love and hope for the relationship.

Long and short...a counselor is not necessarily even hear about or know that physical violence is happening. And even when they do, they may underestimate its importance.

February 10, 2004
2:41 pm
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gingerleigh
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OK, so if couple's counseling doesn't work, what does? I see links to something called DV Therapy. Does that work?

February 10, 2004
3:02 pm
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Worried_Dad
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What works? It is a matter of controversy whether or not ANYTHING works.

As best I can tell, for the victims, education is important. They need to hear that what they are experiencing is not a REAl relationship, but an ABUSIVE relationship. If they have been trautmatized, counseling can help.

For abusers, they need CONFRONTATION. Cognitive-behavioral therapy. In short, they need to hear and need to learn that what they are doing is destructive and wrong. They need to hear "What you are doing has NOTHING to do with your partner and NOTHING to do with your relationship. You have chosen to be abusive and you have both the power and the responsibility to choose otherwise."

The abuser needs to be confronted regarding their sense of entitlement, their lack of empathy, and their willingess to physically and emotionally punish those who do not automatically comply with their demands. They need to hear that their demands are, indeed unreasonable. They need to learn to take "NO" for an answer. They need to hear "Just what is it about 'No' you are having trouble with? Is it the "N" or the "O?"

Abuser's need to be confronted with their own direspectfulness. They need to hear something to the effect of "Just who the F**K do you think you are?"

Only after definitions of abuse, as well as behavioral expectations are given and accepted, does deep exploration of the abuser's psyche become helpful.

Then, you are often faced with treating personality disorders. Unfortunately, some personality disorders are very difficult if not impossible to treat.

February 10, 2004
6:56 pm
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Molly
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GL--- don't know about this DV therapy, but what WD speaks is right on... Like working it backward,so,how was your child hood ? You can figure out with the how and the why, but eventually ending up with a personality disorder, how do you fix that ? Like the brain is a hard drive,hard to change the origional configuration. Reaction to action takes alot of concentration, and commitment... even still there is the opportunity for relapse.

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