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Help for the Abuser


Finish each day and be done with it . . .
You have done what you could
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in
Forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day, you shall begin it well and serenely.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The person who has abused a child has made some serious blunders, but many of these abusers can be helped. His deficiency in child development information and effective coping skills made him unprepared for parenthood.

Many did not have good role models and lacked stability in their home when they were a child. Some didn’t have a childhood, because they had to parent their parent. Others were reared in institutions or foster homes and never had their needs attended to.

This is not to excuse such a person, but it is an understanding of their behavior. Rigid, domineering, isolated and low self-esteem can describe sexual child abusers.
The child abuser has little satisfaction in his life. He is lacking social graces and seems to have a life full of stress. The child seems to be the only thing he has power or control over and he wields that power in a destructive manner.

The child abuser’s own overwhelming needs mask the ability to see anyone else’s needs or wishes. It is “me first” and “don’t do anything to upset me.” This is how the cycle of anger is perpetuated generation after generation.

The caseworker builds a trusting relationship with the abuser and makes him feel accepted. It is important that no negative feelings toward the abuser on the part of the caseworker or counselor be shown. He is made to feel valuable and told he has something worthwhile to contribute. Care is taken not to label the abuser.

Pete was a counselor working with Jeff. Jeff was physically abusing his wife and children. Pete listened to Jeff without moralizing or being judgmental, although he made it clear that Jeff’s behavior was unacceptable. Jeff formed such a positive relationship with Pete that he was eager to look at what he did wrong and explore different ways for change.

This is an example of a positive outcome with a change of behavior. Not every abuser is anxious to change his behavior. Some believe there are times that violence is needed and that it is an appropriate option. It takes a different kind of treatment to effect a change in this case.

Most counselors think that confrontation is the only way to deal with an abuser who is resistant to treatment. But it must be done in a supportive manner. “Do not be the judge, be an empathetic person whose main objective is to help the person.”

Confrontation usually takes place after the abusers have had the opportunity to express their feelings. It is important to do this at the right time, for trust to be established. Confrontation is an important part of the treatment because it gives the counselor the opportunity to “tell it like it is,” not as the abuser perceives it to be.

Because the abuser’s low self-esteem, this is the first thing the counselor works on. This is done by validating and acknowledging his feelings and experience. Any positive skill the abuser has is praised.

An abuser knows no boundaries, so this is one area that needs attention. He needs structure and consistency. Some counselors assign homework designed to reduce the clutter in his life. Abusers appreciates honesty and clarity from the counselor, especially anything pertaining to court appearances or consequences. They want to hear what they can expect from the child protective agency. They want to be kept informed.

Nobody likes ultimatums. A statement like, “You have to, or your child will be taken away from you,” only adds antagonism and ill feelings.
If too much is expected, too fast, it may trigger the abuser into depression or even suicide. When this happens, the abuser drops out of counseling and the outcome is unsuccessful. Other negative reactions may be anger, mistrust and lack of motivation for the therapy.

The experienced counselor must be prepared to deal with all of these reactions or find the help that is needed to get through this impasse.
The counselor has to be prepared for the abuser’s hostility. Usually this hostility hides fear. The counselor needs to identify with the abuser’s pain, to look beyond the abusive actions and ask, “Why? What experiences in my life led to this?”

Pete told Jeff from the outset that he was there for him. “When you feel the urge to be violent, I want you to phone me.” Pete made himself available to Jeff. Jeff felt that concern and he responded to it.

Abusers who are accepted into a counseling program are not given the option about the type of counseling they will receive. Usually the counselor will start the abuser off with individual or couple therapy once a week. In addition to that he may join a therapy group.

Amy and Stan are married and have two children, Carl and Meg, ages seven and nine. Stan had been abusive, and for a brief time he and Amy separated. Amy agreed to reconciliation if Stan would go to counseling. This couple had many problems they needed to work on, not the least of which was abuse of the children. They had poor communication, poor problem-solving skills and a conflicting opinions on parenting. The treatment plan for them included marital and family therapy.

One of the biggest barriers that a couple like Amy and Stan has to face is their mistrust and hostility. Stan expressed a lot of resistance. He ackowledged that he and his wife had problems, that everyone did, but that they wanted to work them out by themselves. It was Amy who insisted upon therapy.

The therapist won Stan over by disclosing his own problems with his son. It gave Stan new insight. He realized, “I never thought you people had any problems with your children. My impression was that you were just spouting off what you learned. I didn’t realize that you had to work on problems the same as us.”

The disclosure of the therapist put a different spin on therapy for Stan. He was more open and willing to listen to new solutions to controlling his temper.
Individual therapy is often the first step in the introduction of the abuser to the therapeutic process. Issues of immediate concern are addressed, and then the individual can become involved in group therapy. Many times both therapies are in progress simultaneously as an added means of support.

Parents who were abused as children may need to explore their own issues that are the result of that abuse. Assessment of the reasons for incest is pertinent in choosing the appropriate interventions for the perpetrator.

The perpetrator needs to admit responsibility for the abuse and begin to seek new emotional responses. He may need therapy to reduce abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

Group therapy is the preferred treatment for offending parents, but there are disadvantages to it. One is that the person’s response to his feelings may depend on what he think the group wants to hear. Another concern is that they may be swayed to feel the same concerns of other members of the group, and these concerns are really not his.

Group therapy is more cost effective than individual therapy and that is a vital concern today. With a group, a person may hear experiences that will help him see that he is not unique. Listening to other stories in a safe environment, shows him that his experiences do not have to be kept secret. This places the deeds out in the open and they lose their secret hold on a person.

The atmosphere of the group setting can also free members from their isolation. They receive helpful feedback and learn a new sense of self-responsibility. For most of the group it is a new way of learning to relate to others. They are forming a new identity in the group.
Experience has shown that successful completion of a program of treatment is most likely to happen when the legal system is involved in assisting the family.

When the abuser can admit what happened and express a willingness to seek counseling, professionals can then concentrate on keeping the family structure together. When the abuser continues to deny the charges and refuses to leave the home in spite of a child’s testimony, with proper legal authority the child may be declared the temporary dependent of the social service agency. The only acceptable solution in incest cases is for the abuser to admit the abuse, and enter into appropriate therapy.

“When I was told that therapy would last for at least twelve months, I thought that was impossible,” said Stan. “My initial impression was that we would be told what to do. I didn’t realize that I had to understand why I acted the way I did.”

It takes a lot of strength for members of a family to stick with therapy and improve their lives. “We still go back when we need to,” said Amy.

There is a tendency for the abuser to minimize the severity of the abuse or the frequency of it. It may take him a long time before he can talk about incidents and express the shame and guilt he feels about it.

Some abusers are intimidated by counseling. They attend a few meetings and then stop. They think that they have heard all they need to be cured.
The goal of the man who is the abuse is to end the violent behavior. The attitudes that lead to violence have to be changed. He is taught techniques to respond to conflict in a different way. Aggression is a learned response and is maintained by lifestyle.

The therapist can ask Stan the question, “What has your anger done for you?” This gives Stan the opportunity to explore all the trouble he has gotten into because of his anger.

In therapy, abusers are asked to talk about the worst incidence of violence they ever committed. This helps them to deal with the shame they feel because of their abusive ways.

Meditation and relaxation techniques are explored and taught. The person who abuses is asked to combine these techniques to reduce stressful situations. During sessions, participants are asked to note the number of times they are angry in a week. This is to call attention to how often they resort back to behavior they may have learned in childhood.

Termination from the program occurs when the therapist, group members and individuals all agree the goals of the program have been met. The importance of goals cannot be stressed too greatly. Amy and Stan wrote down their goals and what each hoped would be the result of the therapy.

Amy’s goals were:

•  to have a peaceful home
•  to have Stan control his anger
•  to have the children be more helpful
•  to decrease the children’s pestering
•  to have everyone in the family show love and concern for each other

Stan’s goals were:

•  to have peace in the house
•  to be able to control his anger
•  to be able to be more patient with the children
•  to understand the children’s needs
•  to have the family love and enjoy each other

It is not surprising that Amy and Stan’s goals are similar. They both want the same outcome. Stan is taking responsibility for his behavior that creates disharmony in the family. Amy is committed to doing whatever it takes to have a peaceful home. They both see it as a parental responsibility.

In therapy, Stan discovered that his anger stemmed from his childhood. He was raised with a lot of “shoulds.” Many of them were not legitimate, and he realizes that now.

The most common substance associated with violence is drugs, either alcohol or otherwise. Stan did not have this problem. His violence came from expectations. His rage was also episodic. He had to learn how to recognize signs of the rage building. He had to learn techniques to defuse the anger. It is clear that without stress, the violence would not occur. Stress can be the result of internal and external factors.

Stan’s childhood and home life were characterized by tension, confusion, chaos and violence. He had vivid memories of his father’s alcoholic, abusive behavior, and he was determined not to take any kind of drugs. He had no particular problems with anger during his high school and college life.

The stress of maintaining a family and a demanding career took its toll on Sam, and his anger erupted. Amy was also stressed by Sam’s anger. It is fortunate that she would not tolerate this inappropriate behavior and was willing to stand by Stan while he sought help.

Amy also learned what she could do to ease Stan’s burden. It is hard for a man to admit fear and once the problem was out in the open, it became more manageable. Stan felt the freedom to tell Amy that he was afraid and worried, and together they could explore their options and seek a solutions.

Once they were able to work together, the household became more peaceful. The children were made aware of their parents’ united front. Reasonable requests were made of them, and they were given rules and tasks to perform, and pestering became a thing of the past.

Stan’s expectations had placed him in a no-win situation. His main therapy was directed toward his becoming aware of the fact that control of the chidren and his unrealistic expectations of them were only creating more problems for him. The therapy showed him he had other options. He could use walk-away strategies or anger-control techniques. He also learned a new way to relate to the children, and the result of this was more cooperation from them.

Stan and Amy were a success story, but it didn’t just happen. They both had to be willing to turn their behavior around. It worked for them.

Some issues that abusers need help with:

•  admitted to being abusive
•  understanding what causes the rage
•  learning techniques to control the rage
•  learning what other options are available

It is necessary for an abuser to understand who he is and where he came from. What was the culture he was raised in? What values became important to him? What is his belief system?

A person gets his value and belief system from all the people he comes in contact with as a child. His parents, teachers, peers and friends. Treatment explores all these issues with him.

Alma and Dick were a young couple in therapy because of his abusive behavior. He was insistent that it was her fault. Alma said that she was afraid when he hit her, and she felt angry and hurt. She said she was nervous all the time. Dick did not seem to be concerned with her feelings. After many sessions of therapy, he was finally able to admit that his behavior was inappropriate. After a time, the abuse stopped and they were able to work together on other problems they had in the marriage.

Most couples, after a period of time, develop their own way of relating to each other. If this is in a destructive or negative manner, problems will erupt.

Frequently, it is the woman who makes the initial call for help in an abusive situation. Her self-esteem is low, and because of her pattern of behavior with her husband, she feels helpless and dependent. She takes the role of the victim, and he is in the role of the abuser. If this conduct continues, she will never have her needs met and it is a no-win situation. Therapy for her alone will either end before it reaches its constructive period, or else she will become strong and leave the situation.

The only way for improvement or change in a relationship is therapy for both parties. Sometimes they are resistant to therapy but get into it as the result of family court. Often it is fear of losing their children that will force them into therapy.

Katy and Derek were separated. Family court assigned their case to a therapist. Derek said the problem was Kate’s. There had been another altercation and the police suggested an Order of Protection. She said she didn’t want one as she was trying to get Derek into therapy. Things did not go well when they both went to therapy; Derek became very defensive and discontinued participation.

The resistance to change was very strong in this case. Therapy alone is not always effective treatment. The commitment of a couple can affect an outcome. If an abuser is not committed to the relationship, separation may be the only solution.

Crises do occur in families. Dysfunction may lead to inappropriate behavior. Police are frequently called upon to intervene in a domestic quarrel.

Officers are taught basic skills in stopping abuse. If the abuser is intoxicated, he is taken to jail. The police officer’s role is not only to restore peace, but to explore possible community resources available to the couple. There is usually a team available to follow up on the family concerns.

When a stranger molests a child, he does it because he likes it. Later he may experience guilt about it, but not at the time. These persons are the most disliked, and one solution would be to lock them up and throw away the key.

Molesters don’t seek help willingly. The threat of a long prison term is what brings them into therapy. In states with treatment programs, the sentence will combine a jail sentence with treatment.

The sex offender who has the lowest chance of success is the pedophile. This kind of person is the most dangerous and the one most likely to offend again. Therapists say he is the one most difficult to treat.

Mandatory treatment forces the person to attend a particular program. It is imposed by the court and given as a condition of probation. It could also be a way to avoid going to jail or to retain custody of a child.

Those who attend treatment on a voluntary basis are the least likely to go back to abusive behavior.

A sexual child abuser can be described as a rigid, domineering, isolated person with low self-esteem.

He has little satisfaction in his life.

His overwhelming needs mask the ability to see the needs of the child.

A multidisciplinary team makes the decision about the best treatment would be for such a person.

The abuser knows no boundaries.

The counselor validates the abuser’s feelings and allows him to express himself.
Individual therapy is often the first step in introduction of the abuser into the therapeutic process.

Group therapy is the preferred treatment for offending parents.

Experience has shown that successful completion of a program of treatment is most likely to happen when the legal system is involved in assisting the family.

An abuser is on his way to healing when he admits that he is an abuser and is committed to changing his behavior.

The abuser should contemplate his values and belief system. These values were formed when he was a child, and as an adult they may not be valid.

Therapy explores the issues of a particular person.