No, to couples counselling when domestic violence/abuse is the issue

I’m writing this after having presented a presentation on domestic violence/abuse for the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) in 2018, and having brought this important point to the table, on this very event.

I was distressed to learn that people in the field of counselling and psychotherapy and working with survivors still challenged this and disagreed, regardless they hear from survivors and victims themselves why this is dangerous, when many other voices have spoken and research carried out  raising awareness of the dangers.

I was told that they were in the domestic abuse field, for twenty years and thought they were clever to challenge a survivor and professional myself who had experience of how it is from a survivors point of view. (Having my own personal experience of domestic violence and abuse). It really concerned me they would still believe this dangerous myth, after so many years in practice an after so many years where we should know better.  I was also concerned at how they were not prepared to grow and learn but to continue to put others at risk.

This is a profession where we strive to better ourselves professionally and personally, where professional development and personal development is a part of our work and where it is our responsibility to keep our clients safe and feeling safe as much as we can and in our control. I explained my reason and stuck to my guns and I will be explaining my reasons here in the hope that others may learn and take from this.

Couples counselling is for problems and issues that occur in a ‘romantic’ relationship but if a partner is being abusive and domestic abuse is present, then this isn’t about a couple’s problem, this is about an abuse problem. This isn’t something to work out together, this only puts the blame on the victim and takes away the responsibility from who should be held accountable; the abuser.

Abuse is an abuse problem, it is not a relationship problem. 

The victim isn’t doing anything to cause it, abusers cause it with their mental attitudes and beliefs based on abuse and their desire for power and control.

Abusers are masters of manipulation and will seduce professionals and make themselves out to be the victim. Professionals themselves can be manipulated and deceived and especially if they are not aware to recognise these tactics. A victim of abuse will still be under the control and fear the abuser in the same room with them and will say all is okay and fine to point the counsellor or therapist may believe this and that all has been successful. The victim cannot feel safe and cannot speak candidly or without restrictions. It can also place them at greater risk, because abusers punish their victims for speaking out or defying them. Another example, is that it could create a false sense of safety and security for the victim, who feels able to disclose things having the therapist present feeling safe, but once out of the counselling room the abuser will take back their power and control by punishing them for that disclosure.

Couple counselling takes away the focus on the problem which is abuse, and suggests that the victim somehow contributes to this, many victims already blame themselves and the abuser brainwashes them into believing that it is them and their fault and so the therapist or counsellor meaning to or not, encourages this and gives the abuser an added reason to use as evidence. The abuser may turn to their victim and say: ‘See! Even the therapist thinks and says you’re the blame.’ This not only takes the attention away from the abuser but helps keep them in a state of denial of their own abusive behaviours.

It enables abuse and keeps victims stuck in their abuse and further feeling unsafe and that nobody understands and that nobody will help. Why are we forcing anyone to have to stay and work things out when their lives depend on it, their well-being depends on it? This is like asking rape victims to marry their rapists.

It can also be hard for therapists or counsellors to feel comfortable challenging the abuse or if seduced they may see the perpetrator as the victim, such failure then to directly confront abuse or the abuses will only contribute to minimisation and denial.

Counselling must be done separately, the victim should be supported and offered this not to be blamed, but to have her pain validated, to help her gain back her sense of worth and self esteem that has been effected, to help her explore her feelings and help her to gain back self compassion and recognise the tactics abusers use, support them with boundaries and to let them know that in no way did they cause the abuse or are at fault.

Abusive partners who want to change (it is rare that they do, due to the privileges they derive for it, but change is possible, however, it must come from them wanting it not because we want them too), have access to programs themselves.

These programs are often referred to as Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPPs), although they can be referred to by other names. They focus on teaching accountability and non-violent responses. These programs can be effective, but only if an abusive partner is truly committed, as real change is a difficult process that can take months or years.

For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5