Policy Statement on Domestic Violence Couple's Counseling



The following policy statement on couples counseling appears in Confronting the Batterer, written by Phyllis B. Frank, M.A. and Beverly D. Houghton, Ph.D., for the Volunteer for Counseling Service of Rockland Co., Inc. It is reprinted here with the permission of Phyllis B. Frank.


Couple counseling is not a viable therapeutic tool for use in violent family relationships. We define a violent family relationship as one in which physical or sexual assaults occur, threats of violence occur, and/or woman lives in an environment of fear caused by her partner. Couple counseling remains inappropriate even when both parties request it and/or want to maintain the couple relationship.


Couple counseling is beneficial to work on marital problems. Wife battering, however, is a violent criminal act, not a marital problem. It is illegal. It is a behavior that is solely the responsibility of the violent person, is chosen by him, and he alone is capable of changing it. This is true regardless of the alleged provocation, since the behavior of one family member cannot compel another family member to be violent. Violent behavior must be addressed and stopped before couple counseling takes place.


Volunteer Counseling Services (VCS) will not utilize couple counseling in violent relationships. Treating a couple together, before violence is addressed and stopped, could:


  • Endanger the battered woman who may face violence or threats of violence for revealing information during therapy which is disapproved by her partner;
  • Lend credence to the common misunderstanding that battered women are responsible for the violence inflicted upon them;
  • Ignore the denial, minimization and deception about the violence that occurs when the focus of counseling is on the couple's interaction.
  • Indicate that the therapist condones violence or that violence is acceptable or not important;
  • Reinforce stereotypic sex roles, thereby ignoring the battered woman's right and responsibility to choose whether or not to save the relationship;
  • Increase the battered woman's sense of isolation, as she may prevaricate about the violence of fear to speak, even in therapy. This can have the effect of discouraging her from taking any other positive action to eliminate the violence inflicted upon her; and
  • Imply that the battered woman has responsibility for seeing that the batterer gets help. Therapists need to be particularly wary of the manipulation inherent in a batterer's refusal of anything other than couple treatment.


VCS will recommend referral to a community's domestic violence services (shelters, safe-homes, support groups, advocacy services, and batterer's rehabilitation programs), to provide safety, legal assistance, and expertise in dealing with violence. Battered women should be encouraged to utilize these services. VCS further recommends that services be mandated for batterers. Should one or both partners receive individual counseling as a result, it is vital that the therapist be knowledgeable about the issue of domestic violence and therapeutic implications for treating battered women and batterers. This includes that therapists not assume that equal power exists in male/female relationships or that each partner is able to talk openly about violence. Therapists should directly and separately interview each partner to assess the incidence and current extent of the violence occurring in the relationship.


Ending violence in the relationship is dependent solely on the batterer's motivation and commitment to do so. This will not always happen and, if it does, it may not occur overnight. It is possible only if the batterer seeks help, gets help and keeps working at it. Many men will drop out of treatment along the way. However, even continued participation by a batterer in a program is no guarantee that he will change. If battering continues, a woman may eventually need to ask herself, "Am I willing to stay in a violent relationship?" The answer to that must be arrived at by each individual woman.


If the batterer does change and the relationship is intact, couple counseling becomes a viable modality--but only for nonviolent couples in which both partners separately request couple counseling. A former violent man can be redefined as nonviolent if:

  • The former batterer participates in some form of ongoing treatment (educational workshop, support groups, individual counseling, etc.) to consolidate his behavioral change and to prove his commitment to work on ending his violence.
  • The former batterer acknowledges his responsibility for his violent actions; he recognizes his ability to control and stop his violence toward his partner; he further states clearly that he will not be violent towards her; she validates, in a separate session, not only that he has not been violent, but that he has affirmed to her his commitment never to be so again;
  • A significant period of time passes during which his treatment continues and there is no further violence (approximately one year from onset treatment).

The batterer and the battered woman have two different problems. His problem is his violent behavior. Hers is that she is coupled with a batterer. These two distinct issues are safely and effectively dealt with in separate counseling.

Faith Trust Do and Dont's



Remember the Goals:


  • SAFETY for the women and children
  • ACCOUNTABILITY for the abuser
  • RESTORATION of individuals and, IF POSSIBLE, relationships OR
  • MOURNING the loss of the relationships

DOs and DON'Ts with a battered woman


DO believe her. Her description of the violence is only the tip of the iceberg.


DO reassure her that this is not her fault, she doesn't deserve this treatment, it is not God's will for her.


DO give her referral information; primary resources are battered women's services or shelters and National Hotline. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
1-800-787-3224 (TDD)


DO support and respect her choices. Even if she is aware of the risks and chooses initially to return to the abuser, it is her choice. She has the most information about how to survive.


DO encourage her to think about a safety plan: set aside some money; copies of important papers for her and children and a change of clothes hidden or in care of a friend if she decides to go to a shelter. Plan how to exit the house the next time the abuser is violent. Plan what to do about the children if they are at school; if they are asleep, etc. (This is both practical and helps her stay in touch with the reality of the abuser's violence. Safety planning is a process that is ongoing.)


DO protect her confidentiality. DO NOT give information about her or her whereabouts to the abuser or to others who might pass information on to the abuser. Do not discuss with the parish council/session/elders who might inadvertently pass information on to the abuser.


DO help her with any religious concerns. If she is Christian, give her a copy of KEEPING THE FAITH: GUIDANCE FOR CHRISTIAN WOMEN FACING ABUSE. Refer to for copies of this book and other helpful info.


DO emphasize that the marriage covenant is broken by the violence from her partner. DO assure her of God's love and presence, of your commitment to walk with her through this valley of the shadow of death.


DO help her see that her partner's violence has broken the marriage covenant and that God does not want her to remain in a situation where her life and the lives of her children are in danger.


If she decides to separate and divorce, DO support her and help her mourn the loss to herself and her children.


DO pray with her. Ask God to give her the strength and courage she needs.


DON'T minimize the danger to her. You can be a reality check. "From what you have told me, I am very much concerned for your safety..."


DON'T tell her what to do. Give information and support.


DON'T react with disbelief, disgust, or anger at what she tells you, but don't react passively either. Let her know that you are concerned and that what the abuser has done to her is wrong and not deserved.


DON'T blame her for his violence. If she is blaming herself, try to reframe: "I don't care if you did have supper late or forget to water the lawn, that is no reason for him to be violent with you. This is his problem."


DON'T recommend couples counseling or approach her husband and ask for "his side of the story." These actions will endanger her.


DON'T recommend "marriage enrichment," "mediation," or a "communications workshop." None of these will address the goals listed above.


DON'T send her home with just a prayer and directive to submit to her husband, bring him to church, or be a better Christian wife.


DON'T encourage her to forgive him and take him back.




DON'T do nothing.


DO consult with colleagues in the wider community who may have expertise and be able to assist you in your response.


DOs and DON'Ts with an Abusive Partner


If he has been arrested, DO approach him and express your concern and support for him to be accountable and to deal with his violence.

DO address any religious rationalizations he may offer or questions he may have.


DO name the violence as his problem, not hers. Tell him that only he can stop it; and you are willing to help.


DO refer to a program which specifically addresses abusers.


DO assess him for suicide or threats of homicide.


DO warn the victim if he makes specific threats towards her.


DO pray with him. Ask God to help him stop his violence, repent and find a new way.


DO assure him of your support in this endeavor.


DON'T meet with him alone and in private. Meet in a public place or in the church with several other people around.


DON'T approach him or let him know that you know about his violence unless a) you have the victim's permission, b) she is aware that you plan to talk to him and c) you are certain that his partner is safely separated from him.


DON'T pursue couples' counseling with him and his partner if you are aware that there is violence in the relationship.


DON'T go to him to confirm the victim's story.


DON'T give him any information about his partner or her whereabouts.


DON'T be taken in by his minimization, denial or lying about his violence.


DON'T accept his blaming her or other rationalizations for his behavior.


DON'T be taken in by his "conversion" experience. If it is genuine, it will be a tremendous resource as he proceeds with accountability. If it is phony, it is only another way to manipulate you and the system and maintain control of the process to avoid accountability.


DON'T allow him to use religious excuses for his behavior.


DON'T advocate for the abuser to avoid the legal consequences of his violence.


DON'T provide a character witness for this purpose in any legal proceedings.


DON'T forgive an abuser quickly and easily.


DON'T confuse his remorse with true repentance.


DON'T send him home with just a prayer. Work with others in the community to hold him accountable.




Please refer to for resources.


Document Created By: FaithTrust Institute, 2900 Eastlake Ave E., Suite 200 (please note our new address effective February 3, 2012), Seattle, WA 98102, tel: 206-634-1903, fax: 206-634-0115


Why Involve Faith Communities

Why faith community involvement is critical in responding to the problem of domestic and sexual violence


The Prevalence of Domestic and Sexual Violence:

Given the prevalence of the problem, it's fair to say that domestic and sexual violence negatively impacts many individuals and families within faith communities. The effects are devastating and long term, including children who witness violence. This negative impact can extend through generations.


The Complex Trauma of Relationship Violence

The trauma experienced in domestic and sexual violence leads to questions of meaning as the survivor seeks a context in which to understand the experience. Faith influences perceptions of reality and the way experiences are interpreted. It is also true that faith itself is affected by this experience. Too often service providers are not equipped to deal with the deep faith issues and questions that arise for the survivor. Faith leaders are often not equipped to deal with the pressing physical needs of the survivor. As service providers and faith leaders build trust and learn to work together, a more holistic response can be provided.


Faith Communities are Powerful Agents of Cultural Formation

Faith communities are a powerful force in either reinforcing or challenging cultural attitudes, beliefs and behavior, which provide the context for domestic and sexual violence. Ways in which faith communities collude with cultural values that allow this kind of violence to continue must be brought to light. Promoting values of justice, love, dignity and respect can greatly enhance efforts aimed at prevention.


Faith Communities are Entrusted with Resources

Resources within the faith community include people, expertise, space and facilities, materials and equipment, money, relationships and political influence. Mobilizing these resources in collaboration with others can have a positive impact in communities dealing with domestic and sexual violence.

FaithTrust Q & A's on Domestic Violence

Q: What is domestic violence?
Q: Who are the victims of domestic violence?
Q: How prevalent is domestic violence?
Q: What are the four basic types of domestic violence?
Q: How do I know if someone is a victim of domestic violence?
Q: Why does she stay?
Q: Who are batterers?
Q: What can I do to be helpful if an abusive situation is revealed?


Q: What is domestic violence?

A: Domestic violence refers to a pattern of violent and coercive behavior exercised by one adult in an intimate relationship over another. It is not "marital conflict," "mutual abuse," "a lovers' quarrel," or "a private family matter." It may consist of repeated, severe beatings or more subtle forms of abuse, including threats and control.


Q: Who are the victims of domestic violence?

A: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 95% of domestic violence victims in America are women, although men may also be victims. Regardless of who is being victimized, domestic violence is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by religious communities.


Q: How prevalent is domestic violence?

A: Surveys from the U.S. and Canada indicate that domestic violence occurs in 28% of all marriages. Researchers believe this estimate is too low since most domestic violence incidents are unreported.


Q: What are the four basic types of domestic violence?

A: The four basic types of domestic violence are:

  • Physical Assault -- Includes, shoving, pushing, restraining, hitting or kicking. Physical assaults may occur frequently or infrequently, but in many cases they tend to escalate in severity and frequency over time.
  • Sexual Assault -- Any time one partner forces sexual acts that are unwanted or declined by the other partner.
  • Psychological Assault -- Includes isolation from family and friends, forced financial dependence, verbal and emotional abuse, threats, intimidation and control over where the partner can go and what she can do.
  • Attacks Against Property and Pets -- Destruction of property that may include household objects or treasured items belonging to the victim, hitting the walls, or abusing or killing beloved pets.


How do I know if someone is a victim of domestic violence?

A: Among the more obvious signs of domestic violence is evidence of frequent bruises, broken bones and physical attacks. Often less obvious is emotional abuse, as evidenced by harassment, stalking and excessively possessive, controlling or jealous behavior, which are also signs of domestic violence.


Another warning sign is isolation: Victims of domestic violence are often cut off from systems of support by their batterers, becoming distant from friends, relatives or neighbors.


Women who are being battered are as different from each other as non-battered women. They come from all walks of life, all races, all educational backgrounds and all religions. A battered woman might be the vice-president of your local bank, your child's Sunday school teacher, your beautician or dentist. Anyone experiencing any of the patterns of abuse listed above is a victim of domestic violence.


Q: Why does she stay?

A: She stays because she is terrified that he will become more violent if she leaves, that he will try to take the children that she can't make it on her own. He has probably threatened her life.


She may also believe that divorce is wrong, that the violence is her fault, that she can change his behavior, that she can stop the abuse or that the violence is temporary. She may also be experiencing pressure from family, and her religious or cultural community. Since batterers often isolate victims, she might feel cut off from any social support or resources.


Q: Who are batterers?

A: As with their victims, individuals who batter fall into no specific categories. They come from all class backgrounds, races, religions and walks of life. They may be unemployed or highly paid professionals. The batterer may be a good provider, a sober and upstanding member of the community, and a respected member of his congregation.


Q: What can I do to be helpful if an abusive situation is revealed?


  • Listen to the victim and believe her. Tell her that the abuse is not her fault and is not God's will.
  • Tell her she is not alone and that help is available.
  • Let her know that without intervention, abuse often escalates in frequency and severity over time.
  • Seek expert assistance. Refer her only to specialized domestic violence counseling programs, not to couples counseling. Help her find a shelter, a safe home or advocacy resources to offer her protection. Suggesting that she merely return home places her and her children in real danger.
  • Hold the abuser accountable. Don't minimize his abusive behavior. Support him in seeking specialized batterers' counseling to help change his behavior. Continue to hold him accountable and to support and protect the victim even after he has begun a counseling program.
  • If reconciliation is to occur, it can be considered only after the above steps have taken place.


Document Created By: FaithTrust Institute, 2900 Eastlake Ave E., Suite 200 (please note the new address effective February 3, 2012), Seattle, WA 98102, tel: 206-634-1903, fax: 206-634-0115

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