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Domestic Abuse Counselling

Domestic abuse counselling

The trauma of enduring an abusive relationship can linger for many months, if not years, after the partnership ended. That is where domestic abuse counselling can have a role to play.

One of the so-called talking therapies, formal counselling allows you to discuss your feelings, problems and associated issues with a trained counsellor confidentially and safely.

What counselling is

The goal is to help you understand yourself better and come to terms with what has happened to you, gaining greater self-esteem and self-confidence in the process.

Counselling is a two-way relationship with the counsellor listening to you, encouraging you to talk about your experiences and emotions, perhaps by asking questions which challenge the way you think and your assumptions.

Counsellors are non-judgemental and are not there to give advice, but can help you to find ways of coping. If you want to change aspects of your life, a counsellor can create a plan of action with you.

To gain full benefit from counselling, you should have regular sessions every week or two lasting up to an hour. It is vital you find a counsellor who you strike up a good rapport with, can trust and who has a good understanding of how domestic abuse effects survivors.

Forms of counselling

Though traditionally a face-to-face, one-to-one activity as that allows intimate conversations and the chance to react to facial expressions, there are other ways of receiving domestic abuse counselling.

One is through groups, which offers the advantage of talking about your experiences with others going through similar traumas, potentially offering you a support network.

If you have a busy life or cannot get away from other responsibilities such as childcare, telephone counselling is an alternative. This is more flexible and you can receive domestic abuse counselling in the comfort of your own home.

Online counselling is also possible and you may find that a good option if you prefer to order and write down your thoughts as part of the emotional healing process.

Psychotherapy

To complicate matters, the borderline between counselling and psychotherapy is blurred and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. But psychotherapy tends to be more intensive than counselling, explores issues in more depth and lasts longer.

Finding a counsellor

Your GP surgery may be able to refer you to a counsellor. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has a link to therapists on its website, as does the online Counselling Directory.

Respect

Prevention, of course, is better than cure and Respect runs a confidential free helpline (0808 8024 040) with email and webchat options for domestic abuse perpetrators wishing to end their behaviour. The organisation also offers advice and guidance to those working with domestic abusers, counsellors included.

Respect strongly recommends abusers are directed towards individual domestic violence perpetrator programmes instead of anger management courses, mediation and attending counselling sessions with their partner as the victim may be coerced or put at risk of retaliation.

By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”