- Helpful guidelines for evaluating therapy/counselling experiences
- Questions to ask a counselor if you are seeking support due to an abusive partner.
Accessing therapeutic help is often an important aspect of one’s journey in healing from abuse. Depending on your culture or upbringing you may have adopted certain attitudes or questions around therapy such as:
- If I’m a Christian I shouldn’t need a counselor. God should be able to heal me.
- Only “ crazy people” see therapists.
- If I see a counselor it means I’m hopeless and messed up.
- Other people who are struggling don’t see a counselor, why should I?
- What good will it do to talk about my problems?
- I saw a counselor and it didn’t help. I felt worse after.
These are all common and normal feelings and reactions to have. However, they can also get in the way of experiencing deeper freedom from past trauma. Nowadays there are so many different types of therapy and healing modalities that people can pursue. Talk therapy is only one, among a variety of approaches, that have shown to be beneficial in healing trauma.
Finding a counselor that is a good fit for you can feel overwhelming and daunting. It often takes time to find a therapist who meets your needs and with whom you feel safe.
If faith-based counselling is important to you, there are many professionally trained Christian counselors in most major cities in Canada. You can look at a list of Christian counsellors in your province at www.paccp.ca. Counselors registered with the Professional Association of Christian Counsellors and Psychotherapists (paccp) are required to have graduate level education. There are also many Christian counselors registered with accredited professional bodies such as:
- Canadian Association of Marriage and Family Therapy https://camft.ca/
- Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/
It is wise to ensure that the counselor you are seeing is certified with a professional body and has a Masters level education. Most counselors draw on multiple therapeutic modalities. Some of the most common forms of therapy used to assist people with trauma recovery and related conditions ( PTSD, depression, anxiety) are:
- Narrative Therapy
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Mindfulness and Commitment Based Therapy
- Expressive Arts Therapy
For a list and description of different types of therapy click here
Helpful guidelines for evaluating therapy/counselling experiences
Acceptable Attitudes and Behaviours:
- Office practices regarding fees and appointments are clear and professional
- Training and experience are readily shared
- Therapist maintains confidentiality and values your concerns
- You feel respected and treated with dignity and care
- Lets you learn how to deal with your life your way, promotes any and all sources of positive change
- Supports and encourages your self confidence and ability to choose your own life path
- Demonstrates how feelings can be safely and appropriately discussed and understood rather than acted upon
Reasons to discontinue the relationship, terminate therapy with this person, or consider reporting the inappropriate behaviour. Unacceptable attitudes and behaviours:
- If the therapist avoids or refuses information about credentials/licensing
- Uses alcohol or illegal drugs during sessions
- Uses sexualized behaviour or innuendos or attempts to sexualize the counselling relationship in subtle or overt ways
- Therapist’s behaviour seems unprofessional (being friendly is OK, becoming your friend is not)
- If too much of the focus is on the therapist’s feelings or problems rather than your own. E.g. the therapist does not ask questions but talks about their personal experiences the entire time.
- Degrading, humiliating, intimidating, shaming or pressuring you personally/emotional or socially OR physically/sexually ESPECIALLY for the purpose of sexual exploitation
- Using inappropriate erotic or sexual comments
- Touching you sexually, having any sexual contact with you in or out of the office with or without your consent
- If the therapist suggests any mutual activity which makes you uncomfortable
- If you enjoy the therapist’s attention but feel it’s not right somehow
- Clarify what’s happening with the therapist. Get a second opinion. Respect your own judgment
Adapted with permission from Jobst Frohberg, MFd RCC
If you tell the counsellor that you are worried about being abused by your partner, they should be talking to you about your safety plan:
- Giving you phone numbers of transition or safe houses in your area
- Helping you identify signals to watch for that your partner is becoming abusive
- Strategizing with you to keep yourself and your children safe
- Your counsellor’s primary consideration should be for the SAFETY of you and your children.
Call another counsellor:
- if you still don’t understand what they are saying
- if you sense that you are being blamed for what is happening
- if the counsellor believes that you are partially responsible for the violence you are experiencing..
- if the counsellor justifies your partner’s behaviour (calling it anger, temper, stress, etc., rather than abuse)
Questions to ask a counselor if you are seeking support due to an abusive partner.
Some counsellors do not have an thorough understanding of the dynamics of abuse. The questions below can be used to gauge if a counsellor is appropriately trained in intimate partner abuse. The answers following each question are the types of responses you are looking for to ensure it is a properly trained counsellor.
- I’m not sure if what is happening to me is actually abuse. My partner (hits me, threatens me, calls me names, controls who I visit). Would you say this is abuse?
Hitting, threatening, calling names, and pushing are all forms of abuse. If the person who is being abusive is someone you love, it is common to want to make excuses for that behaviour (work stress, business, financial pressure, etc.). No one deserves abuse. The person who is being abused is not responsible for the abuse, the abuser is responsible for his/her own actions.
2. I am nervous that if we come to counselling together my partner will make it sound like everything is my fault and I might not stand up for myself. How will you know if my partner is telling the truth?
When there is abuse in a relationship, it is typically more effective for couples to go to counselling separately rather than together. Individual confidential counselling with separate therapists provides a safe space for honesty. Some research suggests that couples therapy is effective in situations where there is moderate levels of situational couple violence. However, if the abusive partner’s behavior typifies coercive control, couples counselling is not be a safe or helpful option. It’s unlikely you will feel safe to share openly and the abusive party will likely use the session to manipulate you later.
3.Whom do you believe to be responsible for the abuse?
Often when a person is being abused, they are told over and over that it is their fault that this is happening to them. Rather than the abuser taking responsibility for their actions, blame is often placed on the victim. For example, sometimes women will be told the abuse happens because they don’t have good enough boundaries. A good counsellor will recognize that a person living with abuse is the expert on the relationship dynamics. Only they will know from their own experiences and gut instincts what responses to the abusive behaviours are safest. Putting up boundaries and standing up to abusive behaviour can be extremely dangerous for people living with abuse.
4. Are you experienced in counselling someone with a faith perspective, or someone who is seriously questioning where God or my beliefs fit in with my experience?
You may not totally share the same faith perspective or belief system as the counsellor you visit. A good therapist will be respectful and understanding of your personal beliefs and faith convictions, even if they are different than yours. If the answers the counsellor gives you are not clear to you, keep asking until you are satisfied.