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The Dangerous Myths of Domestic Abuse

My experience, in the field of psychology, has left me with the observation that domestic abuse is often obscured by media-driven mythology.  Over one-third (35.6 % ) of American women report that they have experienced either physical abuse upon their person or stalking by their former intimate partner.  This statistic is across the lifespan.  At our practice, at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center, each therapist has developed a specialty or niche population, in which they practice.  However our CEO, Dr Ray Kadkhodaian, and our clinical director,  Jean Kadkhodaian encourage and train all of the staff therapists to be alert to the presence of domestic abuse.  The entire staff remains vigilant, regarding the hopelessness, that a woman may endure when she realizes that she is trapped in an abusive relationship.  Often the presence of domestic abuse is obscured by the overt symptoms such as anxiety and depression. My training has prepared me to gently examine the origin of the overt symptoms.  I am acutely aware that the obvious symptoms may mask unaddressed domestic abuse.  In a culture where entertainment and information often blend together, it is vital, that the  entire picture, of the emotional deregulation,  be examined.  My goal, in suspected domestic abuse, is to determine if hopelessness, financial insecurity and lack of gainful employment, are signals that domestic abuse is present.  The chief impediment is the mythology that surrounds domestic abuse.

For example, the myth that domestic abuse arises solely out of alcohol or substance abuse, this is not supported by current research.  Alcohol and substance abuse may be part of the abuser’s overall profile, but research tells us that rehabilitation programs may “fix” the dependency, but the clean and sober abuser’s psychopathology is still in place.  The victim of domestic abuse remains in peril.

Another myth, that I find especially foolish, is the notion that the victim of domestic abuse “brought in on herself.”  This may make for interesting films or television, but the research tells me that this is hardly ever present.  Victims of domestic abuse do not enjoy the abuse.  It is ill-advised to blame the victim.  Our staff at The Lighthouse would not characterize a victim of domestic abuse as someone who provokes her own treatment.  Our staff addresses the emotional symptoms and determines the origin, but seldom if ever, assigns the blame.

Finally armchair observers of American culture often posit that “women stay in abusive relationships because they choose to.”  Not likely!  I certainly have treated several victims of domestic abuse who were forced to stay in an abusive relationship, but they were hardly willing.  There are other factors that bind some women to an abusive relationship.  These factors, such as financial insecurity, lack of confidence and the presence of young children.   Chronic hopelessness arises out of the belief that every alternative is frightening.  Leaving the relationship becomes as frightening as staying.

My approach, when addressing emotional dysregulation, is to gently seek out the origin.  If domestic abuse is present, the safety of the abused client becomes paramount.   This is best served by a strong therapeutic alliance.  Afterwards I begin cognitive-behavioral therapy.  The abused client is guided toward an assessment of her belief system.  The clinical question becomes ” what are your beliefs regarding interpersonal relationships?”  Are the beliefs illogical or logical?  The clinical picture is often clarified when the abused victim compares an ideal relationship with the relationship that they are currently in.  The examination of the contrast plants the seed of change.

Once the presence of domestic abuse is determined, and any legal questions are answered, the decision on whether or not to treat the family as a whole is addressed. Our model, at The Lighthouse, assigns a therapist to each individual member of the family.  This requires courage, cooperation and adherence to a general strategy.   All of the staff at The Lighthouse are trained to proceed cautiously.  The danger lies in the abuser being exposed within the family system.  Remember the goal is not to assign blame, but rather safety and stability for the victim of domestic abuse.   Once safety and stability are restored the goal becomes threefold:  1. Improved conflict resolution skills. 2. Adequate anger managment skills and 3. Recognition that domestic abuse is in place.  All of these can occur with or without the presence of the  domestic abuser.  What is demanded of the therapist is strong communication skills.  All of the staff at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center apply a rigorous safety standard.  This is the underpinning of the therapeutic alliance.

Domestic abuse is a pox upon any culture.  Exposing the myths perpetuated by the entertainment culture remains necessary for the delivery of mental health services.

Edward L. Oriole  L.C.P.C.  N.C.C.