A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Interview with Catherine DeLoach Lewis (Part 1)

Catherine DeLoach Lewis is a Christian counselor. I came across Catherine when watching a presentation (via DVD) that she gave at a PASCH conference in 2011. PASCH = Peace and Safety in the Christian Home; an organization that is now sadly defunct.

Cathy impressed me as someone who was taking innovative action in the field of Christianity and domestic abuse. When I was recently in Charlotte, North Carolina, I made a point of meeting up with Cathy. I asked her to do an email interview for our blog; here is Part One of the interview.    [click here for Part 2 of this interview]

My questions are in italics; Cathy’s answers are in regular type.
For more information about Catherine DeLoach Lewis, MA, LPC, BCPCC, go to www.christiantherapyservices.com.

* * *

Please tell us how you came to understand about domestic abuse and apply your understanding to your practice as a Christian counselor.

I began my professional counseling career August, 1998. I was working with a married couple and in what came to be our last marriage counseling session, I noticed how close he was sitting to her and how he kept smiling and squeezing her hand. I also noticed how frightened she looked. I knew something was very wrong but I did not know what it was.

The next day I was attending a workshop on domestic violence and substance abuse. During my first break, I called the wife of this couple and said, “I am in a workshop on domestic violence and now I know what is wrong in your marriage. I will not conduct marriage counseling because now I understand you are not safe disclosing your concerns in front of your husband. If you can forgive me, I would love to work with you in individual counseling to help you work on your safety concerns. Would you be willing to work with me individually?” Through her sobbing on the phone, she said yes.

What proportion of your clients are victims of domestic abuse?

Three years ago it was 25%. Now it is 40% and here is the reason for the increase. About three years ago, I became frustrated in not knowing how to connect a victim of domestic violence to resources in my county. I am in private practice and am limited in how much support I can provide my clients which is why early on I begin helping my clients create support systems as I help them create a safety plan. Out of my frustration, I created a one-page resource tool for myself and others like pastors and lay ministers and really anyone who wants to help a victim of domestic abuse but needs resources in the community to do so.

I presented this tool for the first time at the PASCH conference in Abbotsford, B.C., May, 2011. I was so moved by people’s response, that when I came back home, I started scheduling training sessions with pastors and lay ministers who would meet with me. Because I now ‘hang my shingle’ so to speak as working with adult victims of domestic abuse, my referrals have increased. The greatest proportion of these referrals is adult victims of domestic violence.

What is your impression of how Christian counselors are handling domestic abuse? Do you have any concerns? What things would you like to see changed — if you could wave a magic wand in the field of Christian counseling and domestic abuse, what changes would you implement?   Do you have any positive stories or impressions of how some Christian counselors are improving their response, and handling the issue well? 

My overall impression is…not very well. Not because they don’t care but because this issue does not seem to be on their radar…and it’s not just Christian counselors. Counselors, especially marriage and family counselors are trained to save the marriage and family. Often times, the counselor will recommend that the abusive family member participate in family therapy, not realizing the danger they are creating for the other family members. This behavior also applies to marriage therapists. They are trained to save the marriage, not understanding that marriage counseling places the victim in danger. Remember my story as a new counselor? The difference in my story and other counselors is that it took my being in a domestic violence seminar to realize what was in front of me in the marital counseling session. I needed to have a name for what was happening and then to know what to do and NOT do.

I have many concerns and will attempt to be succinct. Many counselors do not receive training in domestic violence. I believe one of the main reasons is that most DV training is not approved for Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for their license renewal. Counselors, especially those in private practice, will not give up a work day of income to attend a seminar unless they can earn CEUs towards their license renewal.

The lack of training leads to another concern . . . counselors unknowingly creating danger for the victims of domestic abuse. In the attempt to be neutral and view the marriage and the family as a unit, the neutral view sides with the abuser. One cannot be neutral on abuse. One must take a stand against abuse in marriage and families. I have been unpleasantly surprised at the colleagues to whom I refer for marriage and family counseling (I only work with adult women now) who have wanted to include the abuser. Their reasons they give me is to save the marriage and family. When I attempt to explain the danger in their approach to the victims in the family, they just don’t seem to understand. Unfortunately, I only have one counselor to whom I can refer who has radar for domestic violence. This truth makes me sad and angry. But God is leading me to use my anger creatively by writing two domestic violence training programs, one for Christian counselors and one for non-Christian counselors and the attendees will earn CEUs for license renewal.

There are many concerns I have and at some point your readers would just stop reading, and I wouldn’t blame them. But one more concern I must hold up is the ignorance and denial the body of Christ has about domestic abuse. It seems to me that our response as Christians to domestic abuse is dismally similar to the world’s response…maybe even worse. Christians seem to hold up marriage and family as an idol to be worshiped at all costs, even at the cost of the victim’s life. If she survives physically, she dies spiritually, emotionally, and mentally when she is not believed and told to submit to her abusive husband. So pastors, friends, Bible Study leaders, small group leaders in their ignorance create danger for the victim of domestic abuse. As I mentioned earlier, God wants me to use my anger at this ignorance (remember, it used to be my ignorance as well) to make a dent in this denial with the tool I’ve created and the training I am currently writing.

If I had a magic wand to wave over the field of Christian counseling it would do this…open the hearts, minds, souls, and bodies of Christian counselors to be educated on domestic abuse and know that God wants victims safe and supported and wants abusers accountable and to stop their abusive behaviors. He wants both to get the help they need while also realizing that some people will never be safe enough to engage in reconciliation. This magic wand would have the word “SAFETY” written across it and every decision made would be based on what would create safety for the victim. Safety first and foremost….

Two years ago I was asked to provide some very basic training to a group of Christian counselors who work in a church setting. This training included my DV resource tool which also lists Do’s and Don’ts when working with adult victims of domestic violence. Remember the magic wand I just described? As a result of this training, these counselors started referring adult victims of domestic abuse to me because they now could recognize domestic abuse, work within the limits of their training, and collaborate with me on helping these women. Each referral I received from this group of counselors said that they felt safe with these counselors and that it was the first time someone believed their story. These women also learned just how abusive their marriage was because these counselors were able to hold up this very hard truth to them. So when these victims became my clients, I just kept building on the foundation that these counselors laid for me as a result of the training they received. By the way, the training session was only 1.5 hours.

Read Part 2 of this interview

15 Comments

  1. Brenda R

    She has one of my main concerns “The Body of Christ” and the ignorance there seems to be of the problem. I am in a congregation of about 400 people. When my pastor has mentioned that abuse is not a part of marriage and not to twist scripture to make it ok he actually said he could do a whole series on the subject, but he wouldn’t do that for just one person. I bet to differ. In a congregation that size I believe there has to be at minimum 1 more. One more that is pretending and hiding. If a woman, namely me, dares to say something negative about her husband, which happens to be the truth, those around duck their heads until you say something like: Oh but he is trying. Then the smiles come out. I don’t get it. If there is another lady that is having trouble in her home I want her to feel free to speak up. This is not helping anyone.

    • You know the old saying that if you see one roach, there are a hundred more in the walls. I think it is also true with abusers. For every one you know about, there are a lot more that haven’t been exposed yet.

      • Brenda R

        You got that right, Wendell. As much as I don’t there to be more, I’d rather have it exposed.

  2. Just Me

    I find it shocking that most domestic abuse courses aren’t eligible for CEUs. That just seems crazy! Is that because the licensing boards don’t give credit for those courses or is that because the mainstream companies that offer CEU courses don’t offer any on domestic abuse?

    I’m a licensed dental hygienist and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen courses domestic abuse courses I could take for CE credits. Actually, a quick google search shows that Florida REQUIRES dental professionals to periodically take a domestic abuse coarse.

    • A Non A Mouse

      Florida also requires Registered Nurses to take the DV course to maintain their license.

    • Dental professionals being mandated to take domestic abuse courses periodically! That’s fantastic. I’ve never heard of that before. In Australia, I don’t think doctors or nurses are mandated to take domestic abuse courses, or even given it as a compulsory part of the initial training. So the idea of dental professionals being mandated … that’s starting to look like my ideal world!

      I have heard of Australian domestic abuse courses being delivered to hairdressers (who do women tell their secrets to? their hairdresser!) but not mandated for all hairdressers.

      • Brenda R

        Dental offices have been taking DV courses here in Michigan for years. I am not sure if it is required or an elective Continuing Ed class. Hairdressers would be a good idea.

    • Why are dental hygenists required to take domestic abuse courses? I think it’s great but the connection is not intuitive to me.

      • colleenr

        maybe they see broken teeth or other evidence of physical violence but recognize the source more easily with the training?

  3. Ellie

    “It seems to me that our response as Christians to domestic abuse is dismally similar to the world’s response…maybe even worse. Christians seem to hold up marriage and family as an idol to be worshiped at all costs, even at the cost of the victim’s life. If she survives physically, she dies spiritually, emotionally, and mentally when she is not believed and told to submit to her abusive husband. So pastors, friends, Bible Study leaders, small group leaders in their ignorance create danger for the victim of domestic abuse.”

    yup

    • yes yes yes

  4. DONE

    I have been seeing Cathy for 8 or 9 weeks now. In the last 22 years of my marriage, we have seen 11 different counselors, those I can remember by name. Not one, except the one at the local women’s shelter in 2000, recognized the abuse AND treated it as such. I had a pastor direct me out of the shelter after 2 weeks of being there because he said you can’t work on a marriage if you’re not in it. I didn’t think I could make it on my own then with 3 small children. At that time, I was still so blinded to the abuse and didn’t hear all the things my husband was saying to me that were abusive. I grew up surrounded by abuse. He has now been out of the house 8 weeks, we have a one year restraining order, and we are still working on recovery. I have a lot of psychological healing and learning to do. When I first saw Cathy, I didn’t give her the details of the abuse but she saw in me the same things she saw in other clients. I even asked her why she believed me? I still can’t believe this is where I’m at. I know the denial is lifting, the fog is clearing, and I’m learning about what I’ve lived in. My 6 children and I are just beginning to listen to the sermons by Jeff Crippen. They’ve received counseling through our local shelter and after the first sermon, my 16 year old commented that some of the behaviors his dad had displayed, he thought was normal. I wish abuse had been on all those counselors radar. They did see that the marriage issues were his, but the counseling never lasted long and the “honeymoon” period was quick to end. I am so grateful to be seeing Cathy! She gets this and is working to open my eyes to all we’ve lived in. Seems odd that you wouldn’t know you lived in severe abuse but that is where we are. It takes a heavy toll on your heart and mind. I don’t wish it on anyone and I won’t allow it to happen to me and my children any longer!!

    In April this year, God gave me the verse Ex. 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” I had spent so MUCH time praying for my husband, I really thought He was going to heal my marriage. But rather than things getting better they got worse and worse in the escalation though I was marking my calendar and noting the days when conflict started, how many days it lasted, why it started, and how many days in between the abuse. I thought, was hoping to see, things get better, my oldest son (17) later pointed out to me that he was abusing us every day. So sad. This week, I have realized the answer to that promise. I have complete support. My family, friends, church, almost everyone around me is supporting me. I have seen the Holy Spirit prompt hearts in ways that are truly amazing. Family that I thought would be fighting against us are not. Cathy keeps telling me that my support is very unusual. I can only give credit to God. As I keep my eyes on Him, I can cope with all of this, when I look around me, it’s overwhelming. I could not imaging going through this without Him holding my hand.

    • I love that God said He would fight for you – such an awesome promise to rest on! and that your children’s eyes are being opened! Huge blessings! congratulations on your new freedom, and God bless Cathy. 🙂

    • King'sDaughter

      Done,
      Thank You for sharing your story. It mirrors much of my own (revelation of the abuse, trusting God to heal but instead being delivered,,,)
      I had to testify yesterday to try and stop my abuser from having unsupervised visits with our children. His lawyer asked me about the abuse and why I had stayed in it for seven years. When I explained that I didn’t recognize it as abuse until I started to get educated, she declared, “SO you have been living together for seven years, then you started doing research on abuse and suddenly you are abused?” Made me pretty angry but thankfully I was able to calmly respond, “No. I WAS abused.” Then explain the lies I believed how I could help him not loose his temper by being better, etc and how being educated I learned that he is responsible for his choices and his choices were abuse.
      Talking about our experiences is vital in recovering and exposing abuse. I never would have been able to articulate the abuse six months ago.
      I am happy to read your story! You are doing remarkably well despite the years of abuse. God truly is faithful!

    • Hi Done, I love your screen name!

      Seems odd that you wouldn’t know you lived in severe abuse but that is where we are.

      Yeah, it seems odd, but from what I’ve observed with myself and other survivors, it’s very very common to not realise you are being abused for many years. And when we finally realise, it’s like our world turns upside down; actually it’s turning the right way up and we’re seeing things correctly at last, but it seems like upside down because it’s so different from how we saw things when we were in the fog. Then the recalibration begins…. hang on for the ride! It’s quite a roller coaster, cascading recollections of events and episodes being seen with new insight — “Oh…. Oh….. Oh….. that was abuse too!…. and that…. and that…. and I overlooked that but it was abuse as well!” Keep your hat on. You’ll get there. 🙂 And I’m so glad Cathy is helping you.

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