Couples Therapy of Domestic Violence


One of the most important features of domestic violence is that it is a recurring time incidents of multiple forms of violence, physical, sexual, psychological and economic. It is important to note the difference between family conflict and violence. The conflict is of an isolated local nature; violence is a systemic basis and consists of constantly following incidents. The conflict usually is based on a particular kind of problem that can be solved. Domestic violence, on the contrary, takes place with the aim of gaining full power and control over the victim. The abuser may list different causes of violent act. However, they are, in fact, not even a part of the real causes of violence. The main force driving the offender is the desire to establish full control over a partner or a family member. The situation of domestic chronic violence presents one person who controls or tries to control the behavior and feelings of another. As a result, abused person can receive psychological, social, economic, sexual or physical injury, damage.

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Phases of Violence as Conflict’s Vignette

Domestic violence vignette can be presented by defining main forms of violence and its phases. The five main forms of violence are:

  • Physical violence (spitting, pushing, grabbing, throwing, hitting, hold, strangling, beating, kicking, use of weapons);
  • Sexual abuse (constant sexual pressure, forced sexual relations by force, threat or blackmail (rape), forced sexual relations in unacceptable for a woman position, forced sexual relations in front of others, causing pain and injury of the victim by the action of a sexual nature);
  • Psychological violence (verbal abuse, intimidation, acts of violence with the aim of establishing control over the partner, the threat of violence against partners or others, the destruction of items of property, forcing the victim to perform humiliating actions).

Almost all researchers working with the problem of domestic violence say that there is a cycle of violence: a vicious circle of alternating each other’s situations breaking which is difficult for many women.

Phase 1 ‘tension’ – the first phase is characterized by sporadic outbreaks of insults that can be both verbal and emotional. At the same time they are somewhat more intense than usually expected from a partner. Women usually can react calmly, trying to defuse the situation; they may try to defend their position in the family or in the relationship with the help of the response. At the same time, both partners may seek to justify the behavior of the offender, seeking explanation for failures in stress because of work, money and so on. Most women believe that their adaptive behavior will help control the violence, or at least limit their extent and locate distribution. Sometimes it helps to gain time weakening and subduing aggression through strategies of conformity. However, this is only a temporary reprieve.

The duration time of the tension phase growth varies widely for different ratios. For some, the gap between actual incidents of violence can be days and weeks, but for others the years. However, with increasing stress a woman’s ability to regulate the situation and conformism can become less efficient in terms of self-protection and reduce stress. It is at this stage a woman tries to find the most support and help from relatives first and then from the other sides. An abused sees as the atmosphere becomes more and more intense, electrifying unfounded accusations and chattering failures on the part of man.

Phase 2 ‘acute incident of violence’ – this phase has the most intense discharge, major destruction and extreme emotional outbursts in their most negative form, as well as the knowledge that these situations cannot be predicted or controlled. A fit of rage are so powerful and destructive that the abuser cannot deny their existence, but a woman cannot fail to recognize that they have a stronger influence on her. Women usually feel in advance the approach of such a situation and approach it with a sense of fear and depression has increased dramatically. A woman can even try to speed up the act of violence to catalyze its offensive to relieve the growing tension because of not knowing exactly when a partner was going to throw wrath having no more strength to withstand the emotional stress.

Phase 3 ‘honeymoon’- during this phase, a man can transform becoming very loving, demonstrating the extraordinary kindness and remorse. It may look great father and husband to offer any help and promise never to commit violence or, on the contrary, to accuse a woman that she provoked the violence, brought it to collapse. During this period, a woman can feel very happy: she loves this man, believes he can change. However, it is likely that at the same time, a man can continue to use other forms of violence such as economic control, emotional abuse in order to maintain their sense of control, even during this phase.

Possible Assessments

The best therapist’s intervention is one which brings maximum results in a short time, preventing irreversible personality processes. Here are the following three assessments for successful intervention:

Assessment 1 – research – the main objective of this assessment is to create conditions for the couple to suspend too strong emotions associated with traumatic situations, the ability to look at it from the outside. Each of a couple tells the story of the traumatic event and depicts own reaction to it. The therapist helps identifying the problem to express feelings, associating them with events and people. Undifferentiated ‘lump of emotions’ and tension gradually breaks down into individual components. A person in a state of crisis is eager to get immediate relief. This is possible if one does not try to move on to the solution of the problem too quickly. Tension drops at the awareness and the analysis of the situation in a client’s emotional support. This assessment ends with the identification of relevant issues at the cognitive level.

Assessment 2 – Vision of a problem by a couple and therapist – the aim of the work at this assessment is the task of considering the problem from different perspectives, taking into account the past, present and future values, life plans and objective characteristics of what is happening. It is predominantly cognitive assessment of the work. Thus, a couple needs to expand the horizon of ideas, obtaining accurate information to collectively look at the situation.

Assessment 3 – alternatives and solutions – not every problem can be solved in accordance with the desired result. However, therapist can always find a joint discussion of the most appropriate choice under the circumstances.

Next, here are the method and tools implemented to help couples go through the violence. The couple’s post-traumatic intervention is carried out by the method of debriefing. This is particular kind of psychological assistance implemented as a group discussion on each member’s problems, traumatic events. The purpose of such discussion is to minimize the suffering of a couple and further filling of couple’s psychological resources. Debriefing can solve the following problems:

  1. The reduction of the unique feeling of one’s own reactions;
  2. The strengthening of couple support and mutual understanding;
  3. Preparation for the experience of the reactions that may occur;
  4. he integration of experiences and events;
  5. Identification of means of further self-help.

Debriefing can be conducted by the following tools:

The first tool – introduction – therapist presents the purpose and objectives of debriefing, defines the rules work. The second tool – contacts – each of couple’s members briefly describes what happened. Encouraging clarifying questions from members is necessary. The third tool – thinking – therapist and couple discuss the ideas occurred during the analysis of the event. Often these thoughts seem to be out of place, bizarre, reflecting the fear. The couple focuses on thinking and decision-making during a traumatic event. The fourth tool – feelings – the specialist helps a couple to talk about suffering and encourages each member to support a sense of community. The fifth tool – symptoms – discussion of specific or unusual reactions (emotional, physical and cognitive) that occur during and after the traumatic situation. The sixth tool is the rehabilitation – discussion and planning for the future, outlining strategies to overcome, how to support each other. The debriefing may be in the nature of regular meetings, becoming self-help for a couple.

Concerning techniques there are some which are quite notable. It is possible to work with a couple in art therapy if the traumatic experience of a couple could not be expressed with verbal description. The fine work facilitates access to depressed feelings as a result of injury, restores self-esteem and gives positive emotions. Aggressive feelings often splash in graphic activity and that interrupts the new cycle of violence. Typically, a couple’s session on art therapy begins with a light warm-up exercises like ‘doodle’ or ‘draw own state’. These techniques remove the fear of paints and paper. Then a basic procedure for employment, a plot that requires more details, is proposed. Discussion on artistic images focuses on verbalization of emotions and associations in the drawings. Expressive and creative techniques used in couple’s art therapeutic work with victims of violence are:

‘My Life’ Technique – this methodology allows revealing themes and problems left unresolved in the verbal communication. To use the method of collage is recommended to facilitate the beginning of artistic creation when each of a couple is invited to cut out pictures from magazines pasting them on the page. At the end, each fragment of the composition is given the name being associated with vivid impressions.

‘Self-Portrait’ Technique – use of this technique is the affirmation and strengthening of psychic identity of the client, the comprehension of own ‘I’. The image of ‘I’ may be implemented as a real, perfect; past or future. Self-portrait can be symbolic, as abstract pattern, plant, animal, architectural structures. At the end, each of a couple can try to talk with the image.

‘My coat of arms’ Technique – the purpose is the development of self-esteem and self-understanding, reflection of public ‘I’, reasonable social openness. Therapist offers each of a couple to paint or to portray own personal coat of arms on a sheet of paper using markers. The coat of arms shows the aspirations and attitudes of man. Upon completion, couple’s members show each other their emblems and mottos. Therapist asks clarifying questions with further discussion of the emblems and symbols similarities.

Short and Long Terms Goals

There are somewhat two methodologies of therapist’s intervention in terms of short and long terms goals. The short terms goals intervention presents effective therapist’s joining to couple’s ordinary life activities. It means often but short meetings so that a couple is guided by a therapist. The long terms goals intervention is built on voluminous and consistent communication with a couple.

At short terms goals intervention of great importance for the practice of psychological work with people who have experienced domestic violence is working with a couple in a whole system. For example, acts of physical violence committed on a regular basis by any member of a couple may at some point lead to a serious trauma or disability, or to compel a member of the family to escape from the house. Experiencing this kind of event, a couple cannot, while remaining closed to outside interference, count on restoration of normal life. In such cases, the therapist faces the task to connect to a couple’s system, study and analyze the characteristics of its nature, and then contribute to positive changes.

There is a structure is rigidly fixed roles structure or lack of role in dysfunctional couples, which prevents the natural development and adaptation of the couple’s system. Stiff role hierarchy, as well as its disintegration, may lead to the formation of roles that have traumatic effects on couple’s members. In couples, which are characterized by the regular repetition of acts of psychological or physical violence, there is often a role of absolute leader who is always right. In this case, the main stages of the system of psychotherapeutic work with a couple will be:

  1. Temporary therapist’s association with a couple, joining to impose its structure of roles. The therapist at this time becomes the leader of the requesting for help couple. At the same time therapist shows the family a new effective way of communication.
  2. Notes, non-judgmental stance, the ability to separate each and his deeds, respect for the individual, tolerance.
  3. Assisting in the formulation or reformulation of therapeutic inquiry. The therapist helps a couple to sort out exactly what changes are really necessary for the resolution of the crisis. Formulation of each member goals leads to the formation of a couple’s single goal making it the whole organism.
  4. Reconstruction of a couple’s relationship is the basic process of couple’s therapy, which should result in a correction of inefficient role requirements.
  5. Completion of psychotherapy and therapist’s disconnection from a couple. At the last meeting therapists should check the results of conducted environmental therapy: couple members are invited to present themselves in a number of situations in the future.

Long terms goal structural family therapy focuses on communicative behavior of couple’s members. Its purpose is revealing views of couple’s members on the real situation and the subsequent intra-changing communication patterns, for which in turn should be the restructuring of the entire system of intra-couple interactions. It should be noted, that the acts of violence perpetrated in couple, are often a kind of communicative acts. This occurs in cases where one of the couple members is not able to find an adequate way to transmit information and to achieve certain reactions and results in the process of couple interaction. Physical and psychological violence sometimes becomes the main argument in the process of resolving even the most ordinary family conflict.

As part of the structural model psychotherapists perform active control over the couple and guide its hierarchical structure. Role prescriptions and powers of each member should be determined and specified, the boundaries of subsystems (including generation, gender, interests and functions, cultural borders), to avoid conflicts, the formation of coalitions. Workings on the problem of domestic violence therapists carefully monitor all the features of interpersonal interactions that precede violent actions. Overt aggression in the couple are taken under the control, the rules governing the behavior of couple’s members, who are prone to violence, as well as those who consciously or unconsciously provoke aggression, are produced by members of the therapeutic process.


Interventions for violence by an intimate partner build up a process, starting with the simple questioning about referring victims to specialists and ending with highly structured intensive treatment of a couple. According to the publications learnt, the success of the intervention depends on the population studied and purpose of intervention. Most studies involved a female victim, drew the attention of the authorities or male perpetrators, whom the court appointed a compulsory treatment. In population studies, couples must have a high motivation to seek treatment on the condition being stigmatized in society. The success of the treatment of concomitant disorders suggests the possibility of applying the methods of treatment of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder in the manifestations of violence by an intimate partner.

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