Many people are interested in working on relationship issues through the use of couples counseling. While couples counseling can be very beneficial, it is the policy of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) that persons involved in the nonviolence classes complete those classes prior to participating in couples counseling. It is essential that people have dealt with their use of violence and abusive behaviors and have made the commitment to remain nonviolent before starting couples counseling. Couples counseling is hard work and can be stressful and painful. Couples counseling must be a safe place for both parties involved. A woman may not be free to discuss what she needs to bring up in a couples counseling situation and her safety may be jeopardized if she reveals certain private information.
However, if you do decide to pursue couples counseling prior to your partner’s completion of the DAIP nonviolence classes, we encourage you to keep in mind certain questions before making the decision to pursue counseling or choosing a therapist.
Feel free to shop for the right therapist. Don’t choose the first therapist you meet. Try to interview as many as you can. You should feel comfortable with the therapist. You have the right to feel safe in the sessions. Some questions you may want to consider asking a therapist include:
- Why do men batter women? If s/he answers “well, it is about power and control,” ask her/him to explain what that means. The therapist should have a grounded understanding of woman abuse and be able to thoroughly explain it. Be aware of warning signs such as “it’s because of: low self esteem, he grew up in an abusive home, he lacks communication skills, it’s stress, or provocation.”
- Where did you get your domestic violence training? What ongoing training do you receive? Many therapists have not connected with advocacy programs or shelters to further their understanding of battered women’s experiences. This leaves them with a narrow perspective. Many colleges teach that domestic violence is about women being helpless or having a lack of self esteem. Also, many theories are outdated and don’t fit within the reality of women’s experiences.
- How would you deal with him (my partner) if he admitted to physically and emotionally abusing me?
- If you identify as a woman of color, it’s very important to ask the therapist about her/his experience and knowledge of communities of color. Also, has the therapist worked with her/his own racism issues? Be wary of weak comments, such as “I don’t see color at all in working with people” or “I’ve worked a lot with those kind of people and have lots of experience.”
* Created by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, Duluth, Minnesota (www.theduluthmodel.org).