Domestic Violence Counseling

Domestic violence counseling is usually a mandated result of a misdeameanor conviction for domestic battery, and the definitions of what that is will vary by jurisdiction.

Spousal abuse is one of several kinds of family violence including the growing phenomenon of elder abuse, child abuse, sibling abuse, and pet abuse.

In their diagnostic and treatment guidelines for physicians, The American Medical Association defines intimate partner abuse as "the physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse to an individual perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner. While this term is gender-neutral, women are more likely to experience physical injuries and incur psychological consequences of intimate partner abuse."

In a study, published in the Archives of Family Medicine, designed to measure physician's attitudes and practices toward victims of domestic violence, Snugg, et al, defined domestic violence as "past or present physical and/or sexual violence between former or current intimate partners, adult household members, or adult children and a parent. Abused persons and perpetrators could be of either sex, and couples could be heterosexual or homosexual." The traditional Duluth model adds some elements to the definition of domestic violence, which was initially seen as a male to female issue, like psychological or economic or emotional abuse.

I have been involved in counseling court ordered perpatrators, primarily male, since 1998, and in most jurisdictions, there is some model for domestic violence counseling provided by the jurisdiction.

The theory or model is seldom a perfect fit for the individual who comes through the door, an individual who has a history which usually includes some neglect or violence done to them as children or as adults, addiction, criminality, abandonment, prison, ect.

Surprisingly enough, if we build a container in which a little bit of trust grows, the individuals who come to me are open to learning skills. One of those skills is about how to restore and sustain hope. Many of the folks who get to me have managed to marginalize themselves, primarily because of a felony conviction. When one is hopeless, violence is an enticing way to become powerful.

The hook which gets most of them is the future for their kids.

The men who have daughters may be adamant about not trusting adult females, but they overwhelmingly want the best for their daughters, and I can teach them about the role of Dad's in a daughter's life, and the need to bless her so that she grows up to be a competant and successful adult.

For the men who have son's the approach is similar, along the lines of, "You know what it feels like to have your trust taken, how will you protect your son, and how will you help him understand some of the scary or hurtful things that happen to him?"

Skills in Domestic Violence Counseling

But before we hook the men in my program, we have to build some trust, so we do introductions, I tell my story which I think is very important for them to hear, because most of what I teach is based on things I have had to learn about myself, then each of them talks about the decisions they made that day or night which got them arrested.

As the group participants hear each other's story, and get used to the idea that everyone has a dilemma with no simple answer, that touching and expressing pain, or anger, or sorrow, or frustration, or fear, or sadness is OK, an experience of trust grows.

Of course we cover the confidentiality issue too.

Thus begins the accountability process and the exploration of belief systems, right in the introductions.

Often the more veteran members of the group will confront very effectively, and are very good at winnowing out the incongruities in various participants stories.

And then I can begin to weave in the skills teaching, much of which I take from the John and Julie Schwartze Gottman model called the Art and Science of Love.

I chose that model because most of my clients experience it as having some validity. It has lots of written exercises and videos that we weave through the curriculum, all of which is designed to teach offering choice rather than doing power and control.

I also use a number of powerful visual and audio aids to indicate the impact on the brains of children of either witnessing or experiencing domestic violence, and how that experience is stored in the amygdala for recall as an amygdala high jack perhaps decades later.

Those tools include the Frederick Wiseman documentary called Domestic Violence, the video called Hidden Victims of Domestic Violence-Children, and a 9-11 tape of a terrified little girl calling for the police as her parents fight nearby.

I use the Gottman CD on raising an emotionally intelligent child, which means paying close attention to your own emotional intelligence because the kids model what they see.

The Wiseman tapes in particular help to illustrate the width and the breadth of the issue of domestic violence in our country for the men. They are very surprised to get the information that in Florida, where the documentary was filmed, there are 38 shelters for women and none for men. The numbers for Illinois, where I am, are even more astounding.

I have posted a number of local newspaper articles about domestic violence and how deadly it is to women, and I also have posted some powerful turn-around types of stories for the men who come to my program and and complain about not getting an opportunity.

Most of the success stories overcame huge obstacles to succeed.

Other aspects of my domestic violence counseling include learning the information about flooding and how to calm down which is part of the Gottman model, assertive communication, "I" statements and reflective listening, using repair phrases, parenting from a system rather than from your emotions, how fast we respond to facial expressions, from the work of Paul Ekman,Ph.D. (which is about 1/25th second, by the way, or 2 and 1/2 times as fast as I can blink my eyes), and HeartMath or heart rate variability biofeedback as a way to restore internal calm in a heart beat.

I also use Allan Schore's work on attachment as a key piece of what I teach, which ties into Donald Dutton's research about domestic violence, that it is an issue of insecure attachment, rather than patriarchy.

Schore writes specifically about the roles of the father in the children's brain development, especially his job of teaching the youngsters, especially the boys, who have the greater aggressive endowment, about how to regulate arousal. We actually do that, Dads, when we wrestle with them on the living room floor.

There is certainly a way to combine domestic violence counseling with 12 step models, especially if we look at the 12th step as a way of being in service and offering choice to the still suffering alcoholic. If you can offer a wino choice, you ought to be able to offer choice to your mate.

We talk frequently about the need to access and express grief appropriately, because a perceived betrayal not grieved will exert a terrible impact on the next adult relationship, and we teach forgiveness and reconciliation as learnable with discreet skills.

Accountability is contrasted with apologies.

We certainly teach REBT and CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, especially how to dispute automatic negative thoughts, and I am very adamant about teaching how nutrition impacts my ability to manage my emotions. Low blood sugar and food allergies and heavy metal poisoning are key pieces of recidivism according to former probation officer Barbara Reed Stitt.

Domestic Violence Counseling From the Heart

One of the things that John Gottman,Ph.D. talks about in his work is what he calls DPA or diffuse physiological arousal, more commonly known as fight or flight response, and how once our pulse gets over 100, it is very unlikely that we will be able to have a civil conversation until we calm down.

For men that calming down can take up to 20 minutes.

I like to train or at least expose my clients to the HeartMath tool, and I have used it with couples before in order to give them a sense that the relationship has a heart beat, just as they do, and that relationship heart beat changes just as quickly as their individual heart beat coherence does, and that it must be attended to and adjusted constantly.

I actually hook the folks up to two computers, get their individual heart beats in coherence, then hold hands while they work on and observe the coherence of their joint heart beat.

Clients get an experience that each of their thoughts changes their body, and that each of their thoughts impacts the relationship coherence, and that again is each of their thoughts.

So they can operate from coherence or incoherence as they see fit, but coherence is much more rewarding. Often one person in coherence can invite the other back rather quickly.

Here are some links to the HeartMath tools. HeartMath and coherence heart beat by heart beat offer some excellent parallels to a relationship where there is freedom of choice.

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