Domestic violence is defined as a behavior or behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control others. I have to admit that before I started working with clients who have experienced this themselves and have suffered significant trauma from being in these types of relationships, I used to think that domestic violence only included physical abuse against others. Now that I have been exposed to this from working with families in their homes and currently as a new Mental Health Clinician, I realize that Domestic Violence is much more than physical and has many different levels.
Commonly we assume that the perpetrator in domestically violent relationships is male, but the reality is that men can also be victims of domestic violence, we just rarely hear about it as they are less likely to report it is happening. Types of domestic violence can include name calling, using intimidation to get the results you want, actual threats of physical harm, sexual assault, and several others. The victims of domestic violence are not the only individuals affected by the abuse, it also affects children and any other individuals in the home or out of the home indirectly. It is so important to think about the indirect effects. Children who have been exposed to domestic violence can be affected behaviorally and emotionally. Even in infancy. Trauma effects children no matter what age. Being non verbal doesn't mean there are no effects.
Because often times a victim of Domestic Violence aligns with their abuser, they may have difficulty leaving the situation. They may feel love for the other person and be confused between the positive feelings and negative feelings they have for that person, believing that the good can overcome. They may feel no support due to the controlling factor in these relationships and isolation that occurs for many reasons. There may be children involved, and they may resist going to a shelter that is too hard to get into anyway and feel there is no other option than to stay or be financially insecure.
There are cycles to domestic violence which begin with the tension that builds right before the abusive incident, the blow up happens where immediately after the offender is calmer, realizes what has been done, may begin to blame the victim and feels sorry. Then the making-up stage begins where apologies and promises are made, then the calm begins which is where the nice things in the relationship happen that is difficult to walk away from. This is the stage I like to refer to as the honeymoon stage where the offender continues to make promises and might even go as far as buying the victim gifts, then something happens and the tension begins to build. The cycle begins again.
Some of the psychological effects domestic violence can have included guilt, shame, humiliation, anxiety, depression and withdraw. These same psychological effects are present in men and women victims of domestic violence. If you are a victim of domestic violence or if you are a provider and a client reports past or present domestic violence there are some short-term and long term interventions that can be used to help them.
Short-term interventions include making a crisis plan intervention, making a plan for safety. If you are a provider, following your agencies policy for reporting, complete a crisis intervention plan with the client, provide them with resources/psychoeducation about domestic violence, and also giving them resources on domestic violence shelters and hotlines they can utilize until they see you again. Other interventions may be planning for departure, making a plan for your children to be safe, contact the authorities and obtain a protection order to ensure safety. As a provider, it is important to attempt following up with the client in between sessions if able.
Short-term interventions can also be offered to the batterer through therapeutic interventions for them to deal with their own traumatic content that prompts them to offend. Referrals to education and emotional management programs or other appropriate interventions. This may help them develop appropriate ways to express their emotions other than doing things they probably don't want to do anyway. Along with these immediate or short-term interventions, you can also utilize EMDR interventions to process the trauma.
EMDR is a very effective way to reduce the maladaptive behaviors at the source. It helps to resolve painful experiences for the victim and the offender of domestic violence!
I feel as someone who is recently graduated from a Masters Level Mental Health program, it has is important for me to continue educating myself as a new Mental Health Clinician to make sure I continue educating myself about new interventions that can be used to process trauma so I can be effective in meeting my clients where they are in their process. A good rapport between the clinician and the client is so important for the victim to feel like they have a safe place to share their experiences. But most important it is important to take care of yourself!
Contributed by Nicole Reedy, MA