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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Psychology in Fiction Q&A: After A Violent Relationship

Note: So sorry this is a day late -- computer glitch!


Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is intended for writing purposes only and does not represent psychological advice.

QUESTIONS: 1. What kind of therapy would a teenage girl go through after she's been in an abusive relationship? 2. Are there any books or websites you could recommend for more information dealing with therapy post break-up? 3. Since there is a new love interest in the MC's life, would he be involved in any sessions?  4. Is there a way for him to learn how to be there for her, or is that something that is never considered? 5. From what I've read, girls who've experienced relationship abuse may have posttraumatic stress disorder after it's over. Do you have any other resources you'd recommend?
ANSWERS: For readers who aren't familiar with the signs and causes of domestic violence, you may want to drop by the HelpGuide for a comprehensive overview.

On to the questions!

1. What kind of therapy would a teenage girl go through after she's been in an abusive relationship? 

 If you're looking for the name of a therapy, I'd say a likely choice would be Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) coupled with feminist therapy.  The feminist aspect is  important for DV (domestic violence, a catchall term for relationship violence) because it does not blame the survivor (note the use of the word survivor rather than victim); in fact, it looks at how society cultivates violence against women via things like the popular media, attitudes that women should be subservient, court systems that don't provide adequate consequences for batterers, and so on.

2. Are there any books or websites you could recommend for more information dealing with therapy post break-up?

Getting a sense of the feminist theories and approaches that make therapy for DV unique will be a big help.
3. Since there is a new love interest in the MC's life, would he be involved in any sessions? 

No. Definitely not, unless, say, they're ready to get married and wanted to do some premarital counseling. Even then, I'd want them to see a separate therapist for the couples therapy. In fact, if a client asked the therapist if she could involve her new boyfriend, the therapist might want to explore what makes her want to bring him into therapy. The therapist's response would vary based on what she said, but without any extra information (as I write this), s/he might wonder about your MC's confidence in her independence and ability to function without a man.  Not in a blaming way, but s/he might want to work with her even more on autonomy, recognizing her unique strengths, and feeling (and behaving) as if she is equal in a relationship.

4. Is there a way for him to learn how to be there for her, or is that something that is never considered?

Absolutely, there are things he can do, and he'd be a keeper if he really tried to do these things!

Many people believe DV is rooted in sexism, so fighting sexism in himself and the people around him would be huge.

A man who has feminist attitudes can be a great support.  I should probably clarify -- a lot of people feel like "feminist" is a bad word. Like many people, until I was exposed to feminist therapy and truly began to understand what feminism meant, I bought into the stereotype that feminists are militaristic man-haters. Though certainly some fall into that category, they are the exception rather than the norm.  All feminism is is the belief that women should have equal rights and opportunities.

The Maine Coalition to End Violence has a great resource that shows what a feminist man's attitudes and
behaviors would be like.


The nice thing is that younger men often do have more feminist attitudes than older men. Overall a supportive man would believe that what had been done to your character was wrong and that she didn't deserve it and doesn't deserve any blame for it. He wouldn't push her around, smother her, or breathe down her neck -- he'd trust that she is a capable human being.  

Other attitudes that are much more subtle are things like avoiding assumptions of male privilege.  For example, he doesn't assume he should be the one who drives, even when they're taking his car. He can open doors and be nice, but he's not seizing control of things just because he's male. 

He wouldn't put up with sexist jokes and overt exploitation of women -- ie he's not going to endorse pornography that shows women saying "no" when they "really" mean yes. He's not going to see shoving yiour character against the wall or pinning her down as sexy.  (Don't get me wrong, perfectly healthy couples can play at things like that if they've agreed to it and have safety words in place -- but something like this would probably scare someone who's been abused.  So he'd need to be sensitive to things like that.)  

He would need to leave room for her opinions, and respect them even if he disagrees with them.  (He can disagree openly, but he doesn't try to intimidate her into anything, or blame her if, say, she chooses a movie he
doesn't like.)

I don't know how old your characters are or if they're sexually active, but if she was raped, that's definitely something to address in therapy.  He would really need to respect her boundaries and he'd want to make sure she knew it was okay to ask him to stop if she got scared or uneasy.


 5. From what I've read, girls who've experienced relationship abuse may have posttraumatic stress disorder after it's over. Do you have any other resources you'd recommend?


Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want to see answered here, use the Q&A form on the Archetype site or send an email using my QueryTracker email address to the right. (Please use Q&A in your Subject Line!).  




8 comments:

Kristi Helvig said...

Great post! Lenore Walker is a professor at my graduate school, so I'd second that it's worthwhile reading anything written by her.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks, Carolyn, for the info. My characters appreciate it, too. :D

Candyland said...

This is invaluable. Excellent info.

LynnRush said...

Great post. THANKS!

Matthew Rush said...

Great info, lots of good resources, thanks for posting Carolyn.

The QQQE

Deb Salisbury said...

Great post, Carolyn! Thanks!

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Lydia Kang said...

Great info, thanks!