Couple Counseling in Violent Family Relationships

The following is an excerpt from the policy statement that appears in Confronting the Batterer, written by Phyllis B. Frank, M.A. and Beverly D. Houghton, Ph.D., for the Volunteer for Counseling Service of Rockland County, New York, Inc.

Couple counseling is not a viable therapeutic tool for use in violent family relationships. We define a violent family relationship as one in which physical or sexual assaults occur, threats of violence occur, and/or the woman lives in an environment of fear caused by her partner. [Editor's note: Even one physical blow qualifies as violence, and creates fear.] Couple counseling remains inappropriate even when both parties request it and/or want to maintain the couple relationship.

Couple counseling is beneficial to work on marital problems. Wife battering, however, is a violent criminal act, not a marital problem. It is illegal. It is a behavior that is solely the responsibility of the violent person, is chosen by him, and he alone is capable of changing it. This is true regardless of the alleged provocation, since the behavior of one family member cannot compel another family member to be violent. Violent behavior must be addressed and stopped before couple counseling takes place. Treating a couple together, before violence is address and stopped, could:

  1. Endanger the battered woman who may face violence or threats of violence for revealing information;
  2. Lend credence to the common misunderstanding that battered women are responsible for the violence inflicted upon them;
  3. Ignore the denial, minimization and deception about the violence that occurs when the focus of counseling is on the couple's interaction;
  4. Indicate that the therapist condones violence or that violence is acceptable or not important;
  5. Reinforce stereotypic sex roles, thereby ignoring the battered woman's right and responsibility to choose whether or not to save the relationship;
  6. Increase the battered woman's sense of isolation, as she may prevaricate about the violence out of fear to speak, even in therapy.  This can have the effect of discouraging her from taking any other positive action to eliminate the violence inflicted on her;
  7. Imply that the battered woman has responsibility for seeing that the batterer gets help;
  8. Ending violence in the relationship is dependent solely on the batterer's motivation and commitment to do so.

More information on domestic violence in the Abuse in Christian Families section of this site.

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