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Recognition of Abuse in Therapy

Recognition of Abuse in Therapy

by Dr. Irene

May 7, 2000

I make reference throughout the site on how important it is to find a couples therapist who is familiar with abuse issues. Patricia Evans1 has been particularly vocal on this issue as well in her books, making reference to uneducated counselors blaming the victim, etc.

The American Psychological Association agrees! See the APA article here . They recognize that ordinary counseling is likely to harm the victim by not focusing on the abuse issues; that a traditional focus may in fact escalate the violence. They suggest that psychologists be trained in abuse and routinely conduct initial interviews that screen for family violence. 

This is a huge step in the right direction. But, it still falls short. Violence is addressed, but, the invisible broken bones of emotional and verbal abuse are not addressed!  While domestic violence begins with verbal and emotional abuse, verbal and emotional abuse do not always escalate to violence! Yet, the the psychological and interactional dynamics in violent abuse cases are exactly the same as those in non-violent abuse cases! Both violent and non-violent forms of abuse need to be treated with the same  emphasis on stopping the abuse and in correcting the balance of power. 

Case in Point: Recently I answered a private email from a woman in traditional couples counseling. She described numerous clear cut instances of emotional and verbal abuse. However:

bulletThe husband told the therapist he loved his wife - and I'm sure he meant it. Yet, when the woman asked him how could he love her given his treatment of  her, the therapist told her to stop invalidating his feelings!
bulletWhen she showed the therapist some abuse literature and asked if her marriage was emotionally abusive, she was told it was not because 1. verbal and emotional abuse is deliberate rather than unintentional, and 2. her husband did not rant and rave!!!  This is simply not true!
bulletShe was told she was codependent (Correct, but entirely missing the boat) -  and that the problems were essentially her doing. Not only was this individual not helped, she was harmed . The counselor enhanced the already disproportionate balance of power between the couple!  
bulletBy invalidating the woman's correct gut-level suspicion, the counselor unwittingly increased the woman's already disabling codependent-victim's self-doubt and guilt! 
bulletNote that the counselor's performance was technically correct - unless the case involved abuse!

The good news is that word is spreading. The rest of the good news is that with the advent of the internet, abuse issues are being addressed - and people who suspect abuse have somewhat of a forum to validate or refute their suspicions. I really hope the woman who wrote me got the point - and stopped blaming herself!

Dr Irene

I want to read the posts.

Evans, Patricia1 . The Verbally Abusive Relationship .