Ask Ava

Ask Ava, Episode 124: "Can couples counseling heal abuse?"

August 11, 2022 Ask Ava Season 1 Episode 124
Ask Ava
Ask Ava, Episode 124: "Can couples counseling heal abuse?"
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 124: "Can couples counseling heal abuse?"

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On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about couples counseling.

This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.  

Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, Can couples counseling heal abuse?”

This is a really common question that we get from teens and adults. Couples counseling is usually not an effective way to heal abuse. This is a tricky road. We think the main reason people ask this question is because a lot of TV shows and movies show that couples having problems go to counseling together. And a lot of times, this solves their problems.

Domestic violence organizations like ours don’t typically recommend couples counseling for an abusive relationship. There are a few reasons for this. First, it’s another place for the abusive partner to manipulate someone – in this case, the counselor themselves. This is especially if the counselor is unfamiliar with how abuse really works, and the partner’s different manipulation tactics.

Also, in counseling, an abusive partner might gaslight their partner, or manipulate them emotionally to make them think that everything they are experiencing is a lie. The partner may say, “They’re too sensitive,” or, “That didn’t happen, what are you talking about?” Since the relationship counselor is not with the couple all the time, they don’t really know what’s really happened, and what hasn’t. The abusive partner can use this to their advantage, to get the counselor to think the other partner is at fault for everything.

Another major reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is because abuse could get worse in private. For example, this could happen if the non-abusive partner talks about the reality of the dangerous situation with a counselor, or the counselor makes the abusive partner feel called out and at blame. The person who’s causing harm might then increase their violence in private.

If people who cause harm want to come to terms with their behavior and change, we recommend looking for a professional individual counselor who specializes in working with perpetrators, or a batterer’s intervention program. Stopping abuse takes constant, individual, hard work. The key is understanding why you use abuse in the first place.

The non-abusive partner might also look for individual counseling while they are in an abusive relationship, or when they have left. This could play a huge part in their healing, but again, we recommend looking individually. For example, Safe+Sound Somerset offers free individual and group counseling for survivors of abuse.

To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning. 

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