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Will Counselling Help With Emotional Abuse?

by Annie Kaszina on July 26, 2016

Will counselling help with emotional abuse? That is a question that women frequently ask.  It is a question that goes right to the heart of the problem that victims of emotional abuse face.  Here’s why:

Before you ask will counselling help with emotional abuse

Before you can begin to answer the question will counselling help with emotional abuse, you need to know exactly what that question means – to you.  Does it mean:

  1. Will counselling make me see that it really is emotional abuse?
  2. Will counselling help me to tolerate/cope better with emotional abuse?
  3. Will counselling help me to understand the nature of emotional abuse?
  4. Will counselling help me to be a better partner to my abusive partner?
  5. Will counselling help my abusive partner to be a better partner to me – provided I can just drag him along to the sessions?
  6. Will counselling offer me someone who can help me “fight my corner” in my emotionally abusive relationship?
  7. Will counselling give me the courage to leave?
  8. Will counselling give me the tools/justification to stay?
  9. Will counselling make my relationship bearable?
  10. Will counselling validate me, proving conclusively that he really is the bad/mad one – and I am the victim?
  11. Will counselling help me to understand why I stayed in the relationship – and even what I was doing in the relationship in the first place?
  12. Will counselling show me how I can move forward?

This list is by means exhaustive.  Any woman who has spent time in an emotionally abusive relationship tends to ricochet between these questions.  She feels too confused by what has happened – and too overwhelmed by the effort it takes to keep herself afloat – to be able to think clearly. What the emotional abuse survivors would really like is for the problem she faces to go away – so she can remain in a (transformed) relationship.

The secret hope

Most commonly what those women really want who ask will counselling help with emotional abuse is to move on. But only so they can go back to the relationship they thought they had, at the start.

Emotionally abused women who ask, will counselling help with emotional abuse, long for the tools to psychologically “photoshop” both their abusive partner, and the fantasy future he appeared to offer at the start. They would like to soften the definition of the relationship, reduce the contrasts, and transform it from black and white into glorious rich technicolor. They long to remove the elements they don’t feel should be there.  Perhaps they would even like to give the relationship an entirely different backdrop.

If only!

What emotionally abused women do not do

There are just two key things that emotionally abused women do not do:

  • They do not start with the prayer: “Give me the courage to accept what is, and teach me to heal my heart  so that I may enjoy what lies ahead far more than I have ever suffered in the past.” (Emotionally abused women do not do not do this because they believe they already know what lies ahead for them – even though they cannot know what does not yet exist.)
  • They do not make it their business to establish whether the counselor to whom they entrust their psyche is fit for purpose.

Survivors of emotional abuse are  more profoundly damaged than most other client groups.  They require sensitive handling, deep compassion, and massive support and acceptance. They also need unconditional approval.  They do not do well with counselors who lack specific skills and experience in dealing with the problems emotional abuse survivors bring to the table. (This principle holds true also for therapists and psychologists who do not relate to the problem of abuse.) Many of my clients had struggled for years with conventional counselling ( or therapy). They became wiser, but barely happier. Yet, despite their previous experience – given the right tools and support – they progress further in a matter of weeks than they could ever have imagined possible.

Counselors do their clients no favors when they encourage them to pick endlessly through the wreckage of their past.  As Robert Holden rightly observes,

“Many, if not most, psychologists today share the belief that becoming more aware of your feelings (whatever they are) and then expressing them represents emotional maturity.  Nothing could be further from the truth… when you are in a low mood or feeling badly, you will generate negative thoughts 100 percent of the time.  If you feel badly and a psychologist (or anyone else) asks, “How are you feeling?” he or she is, in effect, asking you to explain how you see life when you are in a low mood…  There is no value in a low mood, except to remind you that you are thinking in a dysfunctional manner…”

Finding the best outcome

Counselors, psychologists, and therapists who assume that their discipline will help with emotional abuse are not asking themselves:

“What is the best possible outcome for survivors of emotional abuse? And how best can I help my clients to achieve that outcome?”

If counselors, or therapists, do not care enough about their client’s outcome enough to ask themselves these questions, they may well – unintentionally – sell their client short.

Nor should they become frustrated with the client that they, the professional, fail to move forward in their preferred time scale and label that client “addicted” or “broken”.  Still less should they project blame onto their client by trotting out idiotic platitudes such as, “It takes two to tangle.” And yet many of my clients say that they were labelled and judged by previous counselors etc who had a duty to know better.

Ultimately, it is not the job of counselling to help with emotional abuse: it is the job of the counselor. Helping the client means giving the client all the tools, insights, and validation she needs so that the client can transform her life.  Helping the client means walking with her along that journey. To misquote that well known saying, you need to: “Ask not what counselling can do for you, ask what you can expect from your counselor.” Ask, also, whether counselling, or therapy, is even the best tool for healing.

You do need to understand what has happened in your life – but that need not take years, or even months. Above all, you need to know how you can find the very best version of the person that you already are, that person who has laid dormant for so long – for reasons of safety and sanity – that you have probably more or less forgotten about her. You need someone who can wake you up quickly to the amazing woman you already are.

Will counselling help with emotional abuse is not altogether unlike my mother’s favorite question: “How long is a piece of string?” Both are vague questions.  When the question is so vague, the answer also will be vague.  Too vague to be useful.  That is absolutely NOT what you need. What any emotional abuse sufferer needs is the tailor-made package of skills and support that will enable them to heal quickly and profoundly.

 

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