Family Violence

The emotional impact of violent behavior is often minimized in our culture. Violent or abusive behavior between family members has a far greater emotional impact than between strangers or casual relationships since family is where relationships are the most intimate. Family relationships are meant to be our safest, most loving, and most supportive relationships, and thus, violence and abuse in the context of family relationships is a betrayal of family trust that cuts deep when violated. In the same vein, since family relationships mean so much to us, emotions run high and violence frequently occurs for those who might be inclined towards such behavior as a means of dealing with their own emotions or controlling others. Although the frequency of violence in the family is surprising to many of us, the reality is that violence occurs within close relationships more often than between strangers.

When working with issues of domestic violence, I work from a “safety first” perspective, which means that I will choose to address safety concerns before therapeutic concerns. I have 5 years of experience working with perpetrators of domestic violence in both court ordered and state certified programs as well as with those who volunteer on their own initiative to find ways to change their controlling, violent, or anger-management behavior for the sake of better relationships. I also have 5 years of experience working with victims of domestic violence in conjunction with victim support services for the purpose of healing, finding new direction, and/or new ways of relating in the aftermath of domestic violence.

I have often been asked if I will do couples therapy when there is a history of domestic violence. In general, I will not do couples therapy if there is a history of violent, abusive, or controlling behavior. Instead, I am willing to work with individuals or couples on safety-first planning and strategies. I call it safe-relationship training. If each individual in a couple can demonstrate over a period of one year that safety is their number one priority, that they have safety plans and strategies in place, and that they use them regularly without an incident of violence or controlling behavior for one year, then we can begin to step into the deeper work of couples therapy – but not before then.

Violence in intimate relationships is often hard to admit to yourself or to others. The first step is trying to find a safe place to tell the truth and get support for healing and a new kind of relating.