A Cry For Justice

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

Thursday Thought — Is Therapy the Answer?

Our society’s answer to everything that troubles people has become “You should go to therapy.”  But is talking with a psychotherapist succeeding at making people feel better?  The outcome research is mixed; it shows therapy having modest benefits on average, with many clients not finding it particularly helpful. 

Under what circumstances does therapy work for a woman who has had, or still has, an abusive partner?  First, the therapist has to get what controlling and degrading men are like.  The sessions become counter-productive when the counselor starts to make the abuse partly your fault, or makes excuses for your partner’s behavior.  It also doesn’t help if you get analyzed about ‘why are you in a relationship like this”; the reality is that any woman can find herself involved with a man who turns out to be a bully.

Second, the therapist has to respect you and support your right to make your own decisions.  If you are under pressure within the therapy to stay with your partner, or to leave him, or to continue in therapy when you want to quit, that’s inappropriate.  It’s important that the counseling not start to have control dynamics like your relationship.

Third, you have to feel that your therapist cares about you and is happy to see you, and you need to feel good being with him or her.  If you find the counselor too businesslike or analytical, you’ll end up feeling even more starved for love and kindness.

In short, it can take some hunting to find a therapist who is a good match for you.

Don’t think of therapy as the only option.  It is one approach among many healing paths. . . The best place to begin is usually at a program for abused women.

[Entry from Lundy Bancroft’s Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?* pp369-370]

***IMPORTANT NOTE:  While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the ‘healing retreats’ Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his ‘Peak Living Network.’ See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns. 

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link

***

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24 Comments

  1. Stronger Now

    Here’s my question – many many years out from under the thumb of my abuser, yet continuing to have contact because of the kids, and much healthier now in how I choose to interact. Yet the PTSD remains. It’s not nearly as bad as when I first got free, but it still impairs my ability to function in terms of memory loss, ability to multi-task, and how much stress I can handle.

    Is there effective therapy for PTSD when one has been traumatized for 20-30 years?

    • Not sure about the answer to your question, Stronger Now, but you might find these posts of ours a little bit helpful.

      Triggers Due to Trauma: A Journey of Recovery (in Progress) – by Deborah

      I just hate feeling like I am back at square one when some of these triggers come

      • KH

        PTSD acquired over such a long term marriage mimics post childhood adversity syndrome’s affect imo. The idea behind pcas is that because the trauma is ongoing and long-term and the child is unable to escape or change the situation, the type of trauma acquired has some unique features that affect health and wellness long-term.

        Also, I know this is an unpopular viewpoint, but best practices suggest that returning soldiers who struggle with PTSD should be on psychiatric medication (in addition to other holistic interventions) for the same amount of time as they were deployed in a war zone. It is my personal opinion that abusive household are like a warzone, so I think long-term medication is sometimes a gift.

      • Hi KH
        welcome to the blog. 🙂

        We deleted the link you’d given in your comment because one of the things it suggested was yoga and as Christians we don’t recommend yoga. You might like to read our policy on moderating comments at this blog. It is on our New Users Info page — scroll down to the subheading ‘Including Links or Resources in your Comments’.

      • Hi KH, could you please email me at barbara@notunderbondage.com

        Don’t worry, you haven’t done anything wrong! I’d just like to discuss a comment you recently submitted. 🙂

  2. Herjourney

    The best therapy for me, has been no contact with the abuser.
    Until the victim gets out of the fog … which can include psychological abuse, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, and isolating the victim from contact with her children…. the cycle will be like running on a rodent wheel. The door is there but the anxiety of it all keeps the victim from seeing the only out. [I encourage victims to] open the door and never look back.

    Faith in God has been my only source of healing from toxic people.
    It’s not easy! In fact it’s been the most difficult fight of my life.
    If this message helps one victim get free. Praise God!
    Onward to the high calling God has, for those who TRUST God.

  3. Gothard Survivor

    I seems that mindfulness is what is prescribed for PTSD — being aware of triggers and helping yourself know how to respond or telling yourself the truth about the situations, etc.

  4. Still Struggling

    I was fortunate that I was steered by a family member toward a domestic violence counselor who is a licensed psychotherapist. She helped me identify the types of abuse I was suffering with and understood the dynamics involved. She guided my thinking but never told me what or how to think and I knew she was not going to make decisions for me. She’s Catholic and I’m not but she understood my need to honor and obey God. So although DV centers are generally run as secular they often have counselors who are Christians or at least are not anti-Christian. Her willingness to speak to me on our first appointment about what Jesus says in the bible made me confident that she was the right person to help me.

    With her help and Lundy Bancroft ‘ s books I realized I had suffered abuse in a previous relationship before I married an abuser. I also came to terms with the fact that I was sexually abused and raped by my own husband. I was in deep denial about that. If I had not found the right person for therapy I’m not sure I would have gotten any help. Church did not seem to be a safe place to open up, especially about something that devastating.

    I actually found this blog while searching “sexual abuse in marriage ” not expecting to find anything and especially not from a Christian perspective that I could trust. But God heard my cries for help and the very first website listed lead me here.

    I was skeptical at first but quickly learned through reading many articles here that you have founded a safe place that is therapy in itself. I find comfort, compassion, understanding and validation here as well as sound doctrine.

    My DV counselor/therapist was what I needed in the beginning to help lead me out of the fog but this blog is what I need now. I’m still struggling in my marriage after several separations and decades using nearly every reason listed on why people stay. I have a long way to go to heal and this blog is a lifeline.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Still Struggling. And I want to say that every commenter here has contributed to the blog being a ‘therapeutic community’.

      (hugs) to you all!

      • Still Struggling

        Yes, Barbara! I have been helped by so many commenters here. So many people have insight and knowledge and testimonies to share that deeply touch me and I know others are blessed by what everyone contributes. I’ve been reading the blog for a long time but never commented before. It was time to become a real part of the A Cry For Justice community.

    • And hey, welcome to the blog! I see this is your first comment 🙂

      • Still Struggling

        Thank you!

  5. Kay

    My husband and I went to a Christian marriage counselor. He was so very good. After only a few sessions, he nailed my husband’s abusive behaviors and confronted him. He told my husband:

    You think that if I fix your wife, your life would be fixed; you treat your wife with contempt; you cannot or are unwilling to hear anything your wife says; and you need to deal with your rage episodes.

    He also told my husband that he needed to get help, but unless it was something he wanted for himself, it wouldn’t work, and he was able to draw out of my husband the following statements (and it was like drawing blood):

    1)”I probably shouldn’t have a woman,” and

    2) “My rages are a way of manipulating my wife.”

    The counselor turned to me and said that he wouldn’t put me at risk by continuing the sessions, and he encouraged me to come in for Plan B. This was the best possible therapy for me because he was the only person that has ever validated my experience. He was also the only person who has ever witnessed and correctly identified some of my husband’s crazy-making behaviors.

    I also had individual counseling with a Christian therapist who helped me understand that fight or flight is a natural reaction to what I was experiencing, and since I couldn’t flee, my response was to fight. That was really beneficial in helping me to understand my own behaviors as well as my panic attacks. I had experienced abuse for years and years and I was to the point where I was easily triggered.

    • freeatlast8

      Wow. Revelation. We fight because we can’t flee. That is a nugget I needed. Not to excuse my bad behavior, but to explain my reactions to the bullish bullying. Thank you for posting that, Kay!!!

    • Anne

      Wow, i needed to hear this now. Sitting in the dr office right now because my panic attacks have gotten so bad in the last few months …. worse than they ever have been. I have been wondering …. why? I know I’m abused, have been seeing a counselor, made a lot of progress. I should have less anxiety, less panic and ptsd …

      But my plans to leave have been stalled because of another life situation so I’m stuck here for now, in the abuse situation. Its not as bad as in the past, husband is in a ” nice” phase, but i guess my body is telling me that things aren’t good. Can’t flee now, so fighting?

      • Still Struggling

        “But my plans to leave have been stalled because of another life situation so I’m stuck here for now, in the abuse situation.”

        Anne, I think you’ve [maybe] hit the nail on the head here for why your anxiety and panic attacks are worsening… I’ve just recently figured it out too. [In my experience] being stuck once one has made a plan to escape takes away the hope that healing and freedom are coming. The relief you know you’ll feel once you are out and the dreams you have of a new life get extinguished. So, if you can no longer flee your body and mind want to fight but how do you fight against an abuser and especially during the “nice” phase? They seem to always win no matter what we do. It’s exhausting.

        Most life situations will be temporary. … I keep reminding myself of one of my favorite scriptures Jeremiah 29:11 which was brought to the forefront of my mind through the article “Why Did Jesus Warn Us About Balaam? Pt 1.” The creator of the universe loves us so much he created a plan for us. He has chosen us to save eternally so he must love us enough to save us physically, emotionally and materially in this life. In fact He promises us!

        Luke 12:27
        Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

        Matthew 10:26-31 (NIV)

        So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

      • Anne

        Still Struggling, THANK YOU for your reply. The bible verses are very encouraging and helpful.

        I wish i could explain the situation that has me stuck for now, but i think a moderator would edit it out for being too identifying (not complaining .. thank you mods for helping keep us safe!)

        But because of this situation in the last few days, I’ve come to realize the abuse by husband is not isolated. I’ve always told myself i had a happy, normal childhood, but have had to face now that one of my parents was as much, if not more, verbally and emotionally abusive than my husband.

        In dealing with issues in my parent’s life now, I’ve had to revisit and face the truth of my childhood. This parent used to call me their little diplomat or “the peacemaker” …. it was how i avoided being a target. I learned early to be quiet, duck and cover, be the “perfect daughter”, the “good girl”. My sibling didn’t so they received most of the abuse, or at least the harshest and most overt of it.

        Because I’ve been trying to do the right thing and standing up for myself and my parent, who is in declining health but doesn’t want to face it, I’m under attack by the stepfamily, my parent too. I now understand what my sibling went through because I’m now in the position of resisting what I’m being told to do because it’s not right . But that makes me the target now.

        I do feel like the light at the end of the tunnel is extinguished for now and after being so close to the freedom I’m dreaming of, to put escape on hold even temporarily, feels oppressive and suffocating. I’m doing it willingly because i love my parent, but it’s hard to come under further attack for doing the right thing especially since I’ve had to put my life on hold to do it.

        I’ve told myself a few times .. just walk away, why not just let this parent suffer and be taken advantage of, after all they did to hurt you back then and are doing now to hurt you? But that would be wrong and revengeful. But hopefully soon, i can walk away knowing I’ve done all i can do, have done the right thing and have a clear conscience about it.

      • Dear Anne
        I honour you for assessing and weighing up how to respond ethically to the situation you are in.

        And I hope I’m not offering you pat reassurance when I say that even though it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel is extinguished for now, in another sense the light may be one step brighter in that this situation has led you to realise and come to terms with the reality that one of your parents was as much if not more verbally abusive than your husband.

        That realisation sounds like it’s important, and in the long run it may help you navigate your way through the tunnel (when the tunnel opens up again).

        (hugs)

      • Still Struggling

        Anne, I’m so sorry you also have abuse coming from a parent. How overwhelmed you must feel! All I can say is keep holding on to Jesus. Hugs!

      • Anonymous

        Such beautiful truth from all the commenters here and this treasure that Freeatlast8 pulled out of Kay’s comment is gold! “We fight because we can’t flee.” Amen! And by the way, fighting against evil and lies is THE RIGHT RESPONSE and we are not sinning when we do this.

        Anne, regarding your panic attacks and why you think they’ve gotten worse–sounds right.

        I’m sharing this with my daughters permission. She and I had been through YEARS of severe abuse (spiritual, financial, emotional) and when we finally got set up and were attending college full-time, the stress compounded even more so. I think it’s as you noted, that we thought we should be free of some things by now but we had to remain tethered to the abuser for one reason or another. My daughter hadn’t yet turned 20 years old but she ended up getting shingles and cystic acne (both are extremely painful and unsightly) along with bowel problems. She’s also suffered from severe PTSD nightmares for years that seemed so real she had to ask me if what she had dreamt had really happened. She’d ask me this a couple of times a day, when the nightmares were excessively bad.

        She finally couldn’t handle it anymore and blessedly she went for help and found a great counselor. My daughter briefly explained her panic attacks to this doctor and how her sense of being overwhelmed controlled her at times. My daughter also said that she didn’t want to gain weight (circulation problems run in her dads family) and because of her acne (she was on meds for this) she had to be careful. This doctor actually LISTENED! She verbally repeated back what my daughter had told her, and then they talked about the different meds available and the side effects etc. The meds they chose ended up being such a blessing for my daughter and right away my daughter explained to me the difference it had made for her. The doctor explained that my daughter may only need them for this period of time in her life and not to worry about this aspect of it but to just continue on and they would evaluate together when and if my daughter wanted to stop the meds. There were no big guilt trips or fear inducing threats–just care and therapy.

        I have an appointment now for myself because I’ve seen the positive response in my daughter, and Barb has also mentioned that she’s been helped by this as well. I think when you said you were at a doctors appointment it made me think you may be considering this for yourself and I just want to let you know that there is nothing wrong with taking medications when they are needed. (Many of us have been made to think we were weak or crazy or abusing drugs if we asked for help this way.)

        Thank you all again for showing God’s love by sharing your hearts here at ACFJ.

  6. Anne

    Thank you Barbara, for your reply, the support and recognition of what I’m trying to do.

    I lost one parent to death many years ago, the one I was closest to, but just yesterday feel i “lost” my other parent.

    The mask came off with the anger this parent unleashed at me because i resisted what i had been told to do and did what was right to do. It was not easy. It’s been an agonizing situation for the last several months.

    But knowing now that what i grew up under was abusive i understand more how i came to be married to an abusive spouse. His abuse was so much more subtle that it was easy to convince myself it was normal and even good, compared to home life growing up.

    Comparing notes with my sibling in recent days (we’d been estranged for years … because of things parent said to each of us about the other), its amazing how much I’d “forgotten” about the fear and manipulation in our childhood home.

    Clearing the fog is part of healing. Guees this was just one more big cloud of it that’s finally dispersing.

  7. Anne

    Anonymous,

    Thank you for sharing your story and your daughter’s. For your encouragement as well. Yes, i did ask the doctor for meds to help with the anxiety. I opted for something i can take when i feel the need as opposed to all the time. Doing it that way gives me a feeling of control over my life … 😊 I make the decision: do i need this now or can i bear the anxiety a little longer till it passes? Sometimes knowing i have relief, should I choose to use it, is enough to stave off the next attack. The doctor was very understanding and worked with me to find something that fits my needs.

    I was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease two years ago. For a while, not wanting to face up to the fact that my spouse was abusive, i tried to blame my “symptoms” on the disease instead of a direct result of the covert emotional abuse. But when the disease was managed, “symptoms” still there so i had to face the truth. It wasn’t me.

    Right now husband is in a nice phase … he’s actually been in it for a while now. Sometimes i think … maybe he’s changing, but then i go back over all the many resources here, to Lundy Bancroft’s books and I realize that nothing has changed. The same lack of respect, the same little jabs, the knowledge that to say no to anything or have a different viewpoint on something will still result in “payback”. Armed with the knowledge I’ve gained here and from other resources, i am not walking in the same fear and trembling i was several years ago. But that doesn’t mean the abuse is over, just that seeing it, being aware of it makes it easier to bear. It’s not me, I’m not crazy, not a miserable human being!

    One thing that happened while we were away dealing with the family situation made me realize just how hard he’s worked to not allow me to have anger over anything … but yet he’s been angry with me and the kids all the time for any little thing he chooses. He uses “Christianese” to shut me/us down with guilt.

    I [was am] talking about the family situation to someone we’d met who had dealt with a similar situation with their elderly parent. When this first started, of course I was angry and upset. How could you not be, when an elderly parent you loved was being hurt and taken advantage of? But as we’ve moved through the process of putting safeguards in place, I’m not angry anymore, just relieved. But that does not mean I am letting stepfamily off the hook. Their actions have been wrong and I don’t feel they have any justification for what they’ve done to my parent without my knowledge and input. Any anger I have/had toward them I have felt was righteous anger and I don’t feel I was wrong to call out their actions as wrong. And as I take steps to protect parent, I become more calm and sure I’m doing the right things.

    I have kept husband out of and away from the process as much as possible because over the years, he’s always blamed me and shamed me that the reason my stepfamily is so unwelcoming, so nasty to me, is my fault. That I was mistreating them … and gosh that was SO crazymaking! I was trying so hard to form relationship, was so open to being a part of their family and they part of ours, but was rebuffed and excluded all the time. Even my own parent threw me under the bus all the time in favor of the stepfamily. I kept pointing out to husband … why don’t you see this or that is happening, it’s not me. But no, he would cozy up to them and be super nice and sweet to step parent, who ate it up and just loved it, especially when he would be critical or judgemental of me in front of said step parent.

    But, anyway, talking to this person we met, discovered they were Christian. To that point, husband had been “off”. Then suddenly, with a Christian audience, he was “on”. He went into a long spiel about how he tried to never judge other’s intentions or impute bad intentions towards others because you know, you really don’t know what is going on in their life to cause their actions …. yadda, yadda, yadda. Sounds great, right? But then he went on to justify my stepfamily’s actions towards my parent and judge me for daring to be angry about it!!! I was a bad Christian and judging others. He’s a good Christian who “understands” others and doesn’t get angry and judge them, assuming bad motives on their part.

    I knew if I had allowed him to be a part of the process, he’d have been over schmoozing with the people hurting my parent, being uber Christian, “explaining” me to them, and coming off as the good person dealing with such a damaged, crazy wife … but understand her please, like I’m telling her to understand you all.

    Facing their anger and death glares alone I could handle. Seeing him in action would have put me over the edge!

    Husband didn’t come down until after the proceedings with my parent (yep, I worked hard to make that timing happen!!!), but here he was acting like he was an integral player, even though originally he’d been pushing me to leave it alone, that I was the bad person for seeing red flags in step family’s actions toward parent! When he started trying to judge me for my initial anger at situation… I stood up to him and talked about righteous anger and that anger was not always a sin, but sometimes the right response… other Christian, a man, agreed with me!!! Woo hoo! Stood up for myself and scored a small win. Paid for it later, but it was so worth it!!!

    • Anne

      Haven’t known where to put this, then the new comment popped up and I read through the thread again, reading my other comments and the responses … seems like a good place to update …

      The problem with the extended family is now neutralized! I filed for divorce earlier this year after husband said […].

      […] Praise God! The way things have started to fall into place, I see the hand of God. It was so hard to be stalled and trapped when I thought escape was near last year, but if things hadn’t happened the way they did [details redacted] I wouldn’t have been in a place I’m in now where there is a prospect of safety.

      • Hi Anne, the ACFJ team are glad to know your situation. I heavily edited your comment to airbrush and remove details — for your safety.

        If you haven’t yet scoured our Safety Planning page, I suggest you do so. Or even if you have, I encourage you to look at it again as there are things there which might give you tips for strategies you might want to plan or put in place in your present and future circumstances.

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