By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
As a professor in a counseling program, I am a strong believer in the power of counseling to help people heal from past abuse, along with addressing a variety of other mental health, life, and relationship challenges they may face. According to the American Counseling Association, counseling is defined as “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” Therefore, counseling offers many potential benefits to survivors of abuse and others whose lives are touched by domestic violence to both help address problems that arise related to the abuse and promote their future health and wellness.
Seeking counseling can be an important part of self-care for survivors of abuse, as well as for professionals who work with them and others in their support networks. Some of the reasons that people affected by domestic violence may seek counseling include the following:
For survivors of abuse, it is especially important to seek out a counselor who is competent to understand and address the dynamics of domestic violence, as I’ve written about in this past blog post: http://www.seethetriumph.org/blog/finding-a-counselor-who-is-competent-to-serve-survivors. From our research with survivors, we heard from some participants about problems they encountered from counselors who lacked this competence. For example, one participant said, “The therapist I was seeing during the abusive relationship didn't identify what was happening as abusive. He told me I was ‘triggering’ my ex's controlling behavior and sexual assaults, and encouraged me to focus on my own ‘contributions’ to the problem rather than find ways to stay safe. He also referred the two of us for couple's counseling, which also reinforced the idea that I was partially responsible for my ex's abusive behavior.”
When I hear stories of negative counseling experiences like that one, I’m deeply troubled that some people don’t find the support and help they need when they seek counseling. And, I’m reminded of the importance of clients being very careful in the process of selecting a suitable counselor. If you don’t find a helpful counselor on your first attempt, keep looking! It’s important to find a counselor who you feel comfortable with so that you’ll be able to address the most important issues that you’re facing.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of our research participants who mentioned counseling as part of their healing process reported positive experiences. The following quotes from survivors who participated in our research support the value of counseling for survivors as part of their overall self-care practices: