Counselling and recovery for abusers

Professional counselling to help abusers recognise and understand the real nature of the abusive behaviours they choose to use is an important part of the response of ecclesias to reports of abuse.

The ideal situation is that such professional counselling can be provided by Christadelphian counsellors. The reality is that this capability is very thin within the Brotherhood and there are few professional counsellors trained, able and available to work with abusers.

As an aside we consider developing this capability should be a priority for the Brotherhood. We know there is some scepticism about involvement with psychology. A sound foundation in our beliefs and a willingness to be judicious about the rationale and methods being taught (for instance and being able to recognise a when a humanist or overtly feminist approach contravenes Christ’s teaching) should allow brothers and sisters to be trained in these fields and become a valued capability to assist brothers and sisters and ecclesia. Many if not most of the methods and approaches of psychology do not contravene Christ’s teaching and can be used to help us correct negative behaviour and thinking habits and overcome self-destructive behaviour patterns.

Enlisting an abusers participation

The first challenge for those responding to a report of abuse is the challenge of leading the abuser to realise that they have an issue that needs professional counselling. To help this it is important we are careful with our language - professional counselling is a good term - perpetrator programs, or other such loaded language can act as a barrier to participation.

If the survivor has left the abuser they have sent a loud signal to the abuser that the abuse cannot continue and that significant change is required. The ecclesia dealing with a report of abuse in such a situation need not even need to make any accusations of specific behaviours to the abuser - it stands to reason that there is a problem that the abuser needs to work on. This is evident because the situation is enough that the survivor has felt sufficient fear that they have had to leave. Survivors and those close to them should consider this reality when weighing up a decision to leave.

If the survivor chooses not to leave the abuser it is much harder for anyone responding to the report of abuse to engage with the abuser without confrontation, and as we have said elsewhere, confrontation is rarely successful. Further, there is a high risk of consequences to the survivor which cannot be managed once they occur behind closed doors.

Making it non-negotiable

When the survivor and the ecclesia make participation in professional counselling a non-negotiable requirement of the abuser the likelihood of their participation is greatly increased. Doing this almost as soon as a report is made is critical to success - when we delay in doing this our experience has been that the abuser constructs barriers and brings in reinforcements - his friends, family etc, to vouch for him and starts to make demands and refuses to participate.

Further, the nature of the participation should be agreed between the brothers and sisters of the ecclesia dealing with the report and the abuser. This should be written down - a sort of agreement that can be referred back to in future. The agreement should include, where possible, a commitment to completion of the program and to giving the counsellor permission to discuss progress with trusted brothers and sisters and the survivor.

Ensuring ongoing commitment

Our experience has been that when the discussions with the professional counsellor get uncomfortable the abuser will find ways of avoiding participation. This might include finding problems with the counsellor’s language or approach, or suddenly identifying that their humanism or feminism is a problem for their conscience. We can consider this risk when engaging the abuser and help them to understand that they need to apply sound spiritual thinking to evaluating the advice of the counsellor, but that they must not “throw out the baby with the bathwater”. When they make their personal values known to the counsellor, the counsellor will generally respect these unless they are part of the problem (for instance a disrespect of women).

Counselling programs generally are paid programs. They are often extended programs of 9-12 months and some one-on-one counselling services may even be recommended to continue until the counsellor is satisfied that the issues are addressed. The ecclesia should discuss these costs with the abuser and get their commitment to paying for it, and/or getting the ecclesia’s support to pay for it. Costs are another excuse offered by abusers de-committing from counselling.

Spiritual Counselling

People who use abusive behaviours are habitually breaking the most important of Christ’s teachings that we love others are God has loved us. When we see others in sin we are called on to rebuke them, and to privately counsel them and the lead them to confession and repentance. Of course this does not happen with professional counselling. This work we choose to call spiritual counselling should be expected to take a significant and patient effort. It is something we are called to do. The ecclesia needs to find the brothers and sisters willing and able to do this. They need to be experienced and qualified for the work. They must not be conflicted - close friends or family. Sometimes this might need the ecclesia to enlist the assistance of brothers and sisters outside of their own ecclesia. It is a difficult work, but surely the recovery of one sinner who repents is a blessed and joyful work when viewed from the perspective of the Father and His Angels who rejoice when such a work is successful. We should be as willing to give of our time in this labour of love as we would be a young person desiring to learn God’s way.

Recovering the abuser’s relationship with His Father is the critical focus. When that is done, and when the survivor trusts the abuser has recovered and they are ready (if they ever are), then, and only then, should there be a similar attempt to counsel and support the couple to rebuild their marriage.

May the Father bless our labours in His Service as we seek to model His love shown to "we sinners".

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: Psychologist Foster (actor: Kelli Williams), Wonderland - Creative Commons 2.0 License.

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