The Hear Believe Act Project believes that professional counselling has an important role to play in helping survivors recover from the trauma and grief arising from the abuse. We believe that the ideal situation is when this professional counselling is supported by brothers and sisters providing what we call ‘spiritual counselling’. In this blog post we discuss what this can achieve and why we consider utilising these services is important for survivors. In a future blog post we will discuss counselling and abusers.
The counselling we are talking about is not couples therapy or marriage counselling. Domestic violence counselling is typically provided by domestic violence services or by psychologists, and usually those specialising in domestic violence.
We are pleased that there are professional counsellors in the Christadelphian Brotherhood including some specialising in domestic violence - these are a particularly valuable source of help, especially given their ability to frame their psychology-skills with their understanding of Christ’s teaching and to help victims hold those two things together in a balanced way that does not threaten their consciences. These Christadelphian counsellors can be accessed through the links on the website or contact us directly if you’re locale is not mentioned there. Some of them even provide help over skype or the telephone. [If you know of others please let us know too!]
How can a professional counsellor help?
Understanding: a professional counsellor can help victims and survivors to understand the nature of the abuse. Professional counsellors can link up the often numerous abusive behaviours suffered and show how they are connected. They can help the victim or survivor to see how those behaviours were not caused by them, and that they are not to blame for them.
Context: a professional counsellor can provide good context for victims and survivors who only have their lived experience to go by. They can speak from a history of other cases they have dealt with and help the victim to understand they are not alone. Further they can provide evidence for the severity of the abuse, and help the victim to understand their risk and the risk to their children. They can help the victim to moderate their enthusiasm to return to an abuser by pointing out the aspects of risk that the professional counsellor can see, and explaining the usual patterns of behaviour seen by abusers ‘called out’ for their behaviours.
Navigation: a professional counsellor can help victims and survivors to navigate their life free from abuse. In particular, they can support the victim to get any police or court-ordered help they may need, explaining the processes and supporting the victim’s engagement with those agencies. A risk assessment from a professional counsellor can smooth the ‘intake’ process for other services such as crisis accommodation, housing, children’s services and financial assistance. They can provide the victim or survivor with strategies to enable them to do the day to day things required without putting themselves or their children at risk, including those aspects of life where they may need to engage with the abuser.
Mental resilience: a professional counsellor can help victims and survivors regain their mental resilience which has often been destroyed by years of abuse. The perpetrator’s thoughts are so ingrained into the victim that they begin to lose sight of who they truly are (Gilligan, S. (1997). The courage to love: Principles and practices of self-relations psychotherapy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.). Professional counsellors are skilled in teaching people thinking techniques and strategies to overcome negative thoughts and condition them to be better prepared to cope with predictable events that might otherwise have caused anxiety and fear. For instance, some of them use cognitive behavioural therapy to help victims to find new ways of feeling and behaving. This web page, for instance, provides a short description of some of these approaches. (https://knowledgeforgrowth.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/cognitive-behavioural-interventions-with-victims-of-abuse/ )
Risks in professional counselling
Like with advisors in almost any aspect of our life, for instance financial advisors or doctors, many of the people we listen to are humanists and do not share our understanding of God, nor our commitment to living in Godly ways. That said, it is not hard to find Christian counsellors. As with any other aspect of our life we need to show judgement and weigh up the advice we are receiving in the light of Christ’s teaching. In any case, almost any professional counsellor who we advise of our spiritual beliefs and commitment to them will recognise the place they have in our lives and will not seek to undermine them. This is why it is important to be clear with them about our own priorities and beliefs and we can expect them to be considerate and committed to working with us without compromising them.
Some people have told us that it is ‘the wisdom of the world’ and it is no place for Christ’s disciples to go. We know that not all the wisdom of the world is wrong. We are getting help to think more clearly and behave in line with our beliefs - the techniques used themselves do not challenge spiritual thinking, rather they can be used help us to be committed to our beliefs in our behaviours. Indeed, sometimes victims are in vulnerable and needy situations and may be morally ‘living life on the edge’. Better thinking techniques can help us to be strong, not to feel as vulnerable and to help us adhere to the barriers our spiritual thinking leads us to.
It is important that the victim or survivor is not left alone to engage with the counsellor with no brother or sister to help - the ecclesia would do well to look for brothers and sisters who are well positioned to help a victim, and particularly, to confidentially help the victim to engage with the professional counsellor, help them understand the benefit of continuing with it and framing what they hear within the context of Christ’s words.
Counselling for children
It is important to remember children are suffering psychologically through abuse. It is similarly important that children get counselling help to overcome the effects of abuse.
Ecclesias would do well to engage with their local domestic violence services to
understand the range of services they provide including counselling. While that connection ecclesias can understand how those services would be likely to engage with a victim or survivor who might be referred or taken to them.
If it ever became necessary to refer a victim or survivor to them for help, the personal connection may be of some value. Because the ideal services may be “paid for” services, and victims may be unable to access or not have any money to pay for this, ecclesias should consider if the case warrants the ecclesia paying for the counselling.
Let us make sure victims and their children are encouraged and supported to receive counselling where they are willing, and pray that this professional assistance in their life will receive the Father’s blessing.
If this article raises concerns you have about domestic violence in your own life or those around you can call 1800RESPECT (If in Australia) or similar services in other countries. There is also a list of support services on this website including Christadelphian Support Services.
Image credit: Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Lola Koloa'Matangi a counsellor at Tonga National Centre for Women and Children talks with a women who has been the victim of abuse by her partner. Creative Commons 2.0 license.