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Therapy for Domestic Violence

Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Domestic violence is a crime with high costs to all involved. Once the abuse has stopped, natural healing is often lent a helping hand by healthcare professionals. This lesson will outline some techniques used to treat the mental health issues that come from domestic violence.

Domestic Violence

In entertainment media, like television or film, domestic violence is often subject to some stereotypes. Often, the perpetrator is a male in a heterosexual relationship. His preferred victim is often his wife. Usually, alcohol is involved. While this image of the domestic abuser is not entirely inaccurate, it often can distort the real meaning and impact of domestic violence to its victims. Even after the cycle of violence is broken, many domestic violence survivors have mental health issues stemming from the abuse. Domestic violencerefers to confrontations in the home that involve physical or sexual assault or the fear of such an assault. It can involve gay or straight couples and people from any walk of life, gender, or ethnic group. Here we will discuss some of these issues and treatments.

Mental Effects

Domestic violence can occur to many different kinds of people, from so many walks of life. It is difficult to prescribe a single set of treatments to survivors. The effects of violence in the home can take many forms. The most common mental health issues that survivors encounter include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) is a mental illness suffered by many survivors of violent trauma, including combat veterans. Once known as 'shell shock,' PTSD involves feelings of uncontrolled thoughts or the sense that violence may erupt at any moment. These are often coupled with sleep disturbances, nightmares or flashbacks reliving the traumatic event.

Anxiety disorders often involve feelings of dread or panic and may lead to panic or anxiety attacks. These are often coupled with avoidance behaviors and phobias (irrational fears), and they can lead to compulsive behaviors that temporarily relieve anxiety. Depression is a pervasive feeling of hopelessness, with real feelings of worthlessness and the inability to feel happy. People suffering from depression often have erratic sleep schedules and many have difficulty feeling that getting up in the morning is worthwhile.

Therapy for Survivors

The very first step in treatment for health issues related to domestic violence is that one should get out of the situation. Treating mental and physical health issues related to domestic violence is difficult enough without the situation continuing to develop during therapy. The victim has to get out of the situation. This seems like common sense, but it is the first step and not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, this involves law enforcement intervention to remove the abuser from the home, while other times the victim must find a safe place to live.

Group Therapy

One successful therapy for survivors of domestic violence involves cognitive-behavioral group therapy. Cognition is the proper name for the process of taking in information from the environment and determining what to do with that information. Therefore, cognitive-behavioral therapies work with the survivor's sense of the surrounding world and how they act in that world.

Survivors often must learn that they can express their opinions to others without fear of violence. Other survivors need to learn to feel safe around people. Group therapies place the survivor in a group of similar individuals who engage in discussion led by a facilitator. The facilitator, typically a certified mental health counselor, introduces topics to the group and ensures that the group environment remains safe for all involved.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapies are sometimes used as a compliment to group approaches, while other times they are used on their own. These therapeutic approaches include psychotherapy, educational counseling, and other forms of supportive counseling. Many former victims feel that allowing themselves to heal means that the abuse wasn't that bad in the first place.

Psychotherapy aims at improving how an individual functions by raising their awareness of how they deal with problems. In the case of former victims of domestic violence, this helps the healing process by stressing that the victims can let go of the pain without feeling the abuse is justified. This approach often takes years of therapy, but is specifically aimed at deep, unconscious issues that other forms of therapy may not address adequately.

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