How Domestic Violence Therapy Can Help You
One out of three women and one out of four men have experienced domestic violence at the hands of their intimate partner. Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes. In addition, one out of 15 children is exposed to domestic violence, with 90% witnessing violence in their homes.
Domestic violence may start with verbally or emotionally abusive patterns and escalate to physical ones. Many individuals develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or another mental health condition after the abuse they experience in an unhealthy relationship. Besides online domestic violence resources that can offer support, talking to a therapist can also help you see that you're not alone and find strategies for defending yourself, moving forward, and healing after violence.
What Is Domestic Violence?
According to the United Nations, domestic abuse or intimate partner violence is any pattern of physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or other types of coercive or threatening behavior that harms or threatens to harm another person. Domestic violence can be between family members or romantic and sexual partners. However, intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention identifies four types of intimate partner violence, including:
- Physical Violence
- Sexual Violence
- Psychological Aggression
In addition, abusive or violent behaviors may include but are not limited to the following:
- A disregard for sexual consent and other forms of sexual abuse
- Physical abuse, such as kicking, punching, or slapping
- Forced physical contact or sexual acts
- Financial control
- Using force to maintain power and control over another person to harm them
- Frequent yelling
- Gaslighting (telling someone their experience is incorrect to make them doubt themselves)
- Cheating and not using protection, exposing a partner to potential STIs
There are many warning signs and forms of abusive behavior, and it can be challenging to see if you're in an abusive relationship. Psychological abuse, for example, can be less obvious to identify. If you feel unsafe, afraid, or concerned, talking to a therapist or a hotline may help you make plans to protect yourself.
What To Do If You're Experiencing Abuse
If you are actively experiencing domestic violence in any form, resources and services are available to you. Consider reaching out to the following:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- The Sexual Assault Hotline at RAINN: 1-800-656-4673
- The YWCA: An organization offering crisis and housing services to women and families leaving domestic violence
- The 211 Line: A line dedicated to helping individuals find local resources for financial insecurity, food challenges, or family matters
You can also reach out to local safehouses. If you're unsure where to find resources in your area, the above hotlines can support you. RAINN and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (which joined with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to create Project Opal) also offer a live chat with an agent on their websites, which can be done discreetly without calling, or you can search for "domestic violence counseling near me" to have a list of your options within your location.
Note that you're not alone, and it can be brave to reach out for support. No matter the situation you're going through, leaving abusive relationships can be possible, and community resources may help you take this step. You may also want to reach out to a loved one if you believe they are experiencing abuse, but it's best to be careful how you approach the subject. It may be helpful to research the proper ways to talk to abuse survivors; for example, make sure not to use terms like “abuse victims” or “victims of domestic violence”, as these aren’t appropriate.
What Is Domestic Violence Counseling?
Domestic violence counseling is therapy with a counselor, psychologist, social worker, or therapist focusing on the topic of domestic violence. In these sessions, you might discuss the following:
- Past traumatic experiences with a partner, including sexual violence or abuse
- Mental health conditions and symptoms
- How to leave an abusive situation
- Family concerns
- Divorce and separation
- Child custody
- Keeping yourself safe
- Practicing self-care and improving self-esteem
Therapists trained in domestic violence support are often experienced in how it can impact an individual. They may use a specific therapeutic modality developed to treat trauma or support you through talk therapy as you discuss what occurred or the circumstances around your present-day challenges.
You may find domestic violence counseling from domestic violence service providers (DVSPs), one-on-one practice therapists, professional clinical counselors, or online. Note that if you are in crisis, contact the domestic violence hotline options before reaching out to a long-term provider.
How Can A Therapist Offer Support?
A therapist can offer support in various ways. Many domestic violence counselors are trained in methods of helping survivors practice self-care, feel safe after trauma, and have healthy relationships. They might practice a type of therapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help the individual discuss their thought patterns about themselves after the abuse.
They might also practice forms of therapy like rapid eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), which is specifically targeted to symptoms of PTSD. If you're meeting with a therapist for the first time, ask them about their experience in fields related to mental health, issues they’ve had success dealing with, and how they might be able to support you through these challenges.
Therapists can also offer counseling, local resources, and suggestions for those looking to navigate the process of leaving someone. For example, they can offer emotional support after or before divorce proceedings, help the client devise ways to set boundaries with their ex-partner, and discuss the individual's safety plan.
Alternative Forms Of Support
Other forms of therapeutic support might not involve traditional counseling sessions. For example, many clients partake in support groups for survivors of domestic violence, abuse, and assault. These groups can allow them to connect to others who have been through similar experiences and feel less isolated after leaving. Some might also partake in retreats for those who have experienced abuse, which are longer-term getaways that facilitate the healing process and allow for rest and relaxation.
You're not alone if you're experiencing mental health challenges related to domestic violence. Many resources are available to support you, and taking the first step can be brave. If you are worried about meeting a therapist in person due to fear, mental health concerns, or barriers to in-person therapy, you can also consider meeting with a therapist online.
Online therapists have the same licensing requirements as traditional ones and can offer many of the same forms of therapy. In addition, they can be more cost-effective as you and the therapist do not have to commute to an office for the session to take place. You can partake in therapy from home or anywhere with an internet connection.
One study found that online therapy can be highly effective for supporting those experiencing or recovering from abuse or domestic violence. In the study, participants were given a virtual trauma-focused intervention. After successfully finishing the intervention, depression and PTSD scores were significantly lower for most participants. If you're interested in partaking in this type of counseling or another form online, consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp, which can allow you to be matched with one of over 30,000 licensed compassionate counselors based on your needs, preferences, and location.
Domestic violence can be traumatic and scary, and you're not alone. No matter what has happened in your life, in-person or online trauma-informed counseling for domestic violence is available. Consider reaching out to a professional to gain further insight into this practice and ask how it might benefit you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are several frequently asked questions on the topic of domestic violence support.
What Is A Goal For Domestic Violence Therapy?
Every survivor's goal can be different. Some individuals may have a goal to move to a new city and start a new life for their family. Others might aim to feel more in control of themselves and learn to have healthier relationships. Your therapist can help you develop your goals when you discuss your treatment plan in the first session.
What Is The Best Type Of Therapy For Abuse?
Many types of therapy can be effective in treating the impact of abuse. If you suspect you have PTSD or have been diagnosed, you might benefit from trauma-informed therapy like EMDR or internal family systems therapy (IFS). If you are looking to discuss your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings after abuse, CBT or DBT may benefit you. Any of the above may be valuable if you want to increase your ability for healthy relationships.
Should Domestic Violence Prevent You From Marrying Someone?
If you know you're experiencing abuse, reach out for support. Marrying someone that acts abusively toward you may put you under a financial or legal obligation to them. If you are already married to someone that has been acting abusively toward you, reach out to a lawyer to discuss divorce. You can also call a hotline to ask about local resources.
Can Churches Or Religious Organizations Help With Domestic Violence?
Many churches and religious organizations help individuals escaping domestic violence find shelter, local resources, and financial support. Talk to your religious leader, congregational counselor, or support system to learn more about what your organization does to help. However, if you're seeking counseling, ensure you meet with someone licensed to practice therapy.
Can A Married Woman Experience Domestic Violence?
Anyone of any gender, age, sexuality, or background can experience domestic violence. A married woman can experience abuse, and women make up a majority of abuse and violence survivor cases worldwide.
What is the importance of abuse counseling?
Why is it important to raise awareness about domestic violence?
What is the best way to help people who are victims of violence?
How can we promote domestic violence awareness?
What is the important role of counseling to help the individual?
What is the goal of therapy in counseling abuse victims?
Why is it important to help victims?
What is the first and most crucial step in helping a victim of abuse?
What are the ways to prevent becoming a victim of violence?
Why is it important to be able to recognize and respond to abuse?
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