Violence in Intimate Relationships and Counselling
October was Violence Prevention month, so in the next 3 blogs I will share some of my perspective on relationship violence and counselling, effects and prevention.
As a society we still struggle to understand and intervene helpfully in relationships where there is physical, sexual and emotional violence. One reason is the major difficulty in discerning what really happened. Since most altercations begin in the family home without witnesses. It is a case of he said/she said. This makes it difficult for police, counsellors, neighbors, and family to have a genuine certainty about who to believe and how to help.
When I do a counselling assessment finding out about recent and past abuse is important Physical abuse includes pushing, shoving, hitting, threatening, breaking items or hurting pets. Emotional abuse includes name calling, mind games, minimizing, intimidation, using the children, and social isolation. Sexual abuse includes unwanted touching, coercion for sexual gratification and rape. Financial abuse can occur when one partner has more financial resources than the other, or the victim is dependent on the abuser due to immigration or staying at home with the children.
Secrets about violence will undermine counselling – if one person is afraid of consequences about speaking honestly about what is really going on, then personal emotional and physical safety may be at risk . Both the victim and perpetrator may feel shame which tends to trump other emotions. Safety and non-judgment are important to counselling. So what should a counsellor be doing?
As a counsellor, when seeing a couple, asking about abuse and violence is not a good question when both partners are in the room. Good practice is to have some individual time, in person or on the phone if there are any concerns. The answers to these questions are fraught with minimization, stigma and shame. Some counsellors might assume that they will be told, but even when we ask it might not be revealed.
If the abuse is recent or significant, couple counselling may be contra-indicated unless absolute safety and alternate means of dealing with relationship distress are in place. The perpetrators must take responsibility for their actions, effect on their partners/families and prevention. The victims need empathy, support and a safety plan they are willing and able to follow.
There is hope for victims and perpetrators to heal from their wounds and actions. It takes truth, compassion, self awareness and a willingness to be accountable. When there has been violence in intimate relationships some relationships can be repaired, others cannot. In either case, both victim and perpetrator can move forward and make different choices when they have received the support they need and deserve.
My next blog will look at the effects and circumstances related to violence in intimate relationships.