Working definition of domestic violence: “a pattern of coercive behavior used by one person to control and subordinate another in an intimate relationship. These behaviors may include physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse.”—Oregon Domestic Violence Council
1. Focusing on the relationship assumes that each person contributes to the abusive behavior, when in truth the perpetrator is fully and solely responsible for his abusive behavior.
2. Focusing on issues other than the abusive behavior allows the abusive behavior to continue.
3. Danger to the victim may increase due to the counselor’s involvement in the relationship. Because the perpetrator’s goal is to maintain control of the relationship, any interference on the counselor’s part may lead to an increase in his/her controlling behavior. The therapist may unwittingly elicit information or initiate interventions that escalate abuse.
4. Blaming the victim. When abusive behavior is identified, the victim may be asked “what was your part in this?” Alternatively the perpetrator may use comments and observations of the couple’s counselor to justify his/her abusive behavior (e.g., “remember he said how your refusal to answer my questions only makes things worse”). Many victims already tend to blame themselves; the counselor may unwittingly encourage this.
5. Out of fear of further abuse, the victim may not be honest about the abuse or other issues in the couple’s session, giving the false impression that things are better than they really are.
6. On the other hand, the victim may have a false sense of security and safety in the couple’s session. This may lead to disclosure of information that would normally be withheld, believing that the therapist will keep her/him safe. Once they have left the safety of the counseling room, he/she may then retaliate with more abuse.
7. In couples counseling, if the therapist focuses extensively on the abuse, the perpetrator may feel shamed, scape-goated, and to blame for every problem in the relationship. In a perpetrator intervention group while he/she is held accountable for his/her abuse he/she is not blamed for every problem in the relationship. Couples counseling may discourage the level of disclosure that is possible in a group.
8. Before other issues in the relationship can be effectively addressed the abusive behavior must end. Abusive behavior tends to distract attention away from other issues, like a smoke screen. This is akin to couples counseling where one or both parties are active alcoholics; until they are sober such interventions have little effectiveness. Similarly, until the abuse has stopped, other interventions have limited effectiveness.
9. It colludes (*acts together with evil or harmful intent) with the perpetrator’s denial. It allows him/her to continue to blame the partner and/or the relationship for his/her abusive and controlling behavior. He/she can then take advantage of the couple’s sessions to further his/her agenda of control and power.
(*added by Oasis for clarification using dictionary.reference.com)
10. Often in couples counseling there is no assessment for violence. If an assessment is done with both people present, the potential for honest disclosure will be undermined.
11. A couple’s counselor who is focused on the relationship may be hesitant to strongly confront just one of the individuals, concerned this will be viewed as favoritism. Such failure to directly confront abuse contributes to minimization and denial.
12. Couples counseling can keep a victim in the abusive relationship longer than she/he would otherwise stay in the false hope that the counseling may make things better. Some forms of couples counseling require couples to make a time commitment (e.g., 3-6 months) of not separating while in the counseling which may prolong an abusive relationship.
Summary by Chris Huffine (Allies in Change), Psy.D. of a discussion by the Tri-County Batterer Intervention Provider Network. 7/1999, rev 5/2012