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Violence, the legal system, and the counselling process

June 9, 2011

A friend of mine, who happens to be a criminal lawyer, visited me recently. We spent many hours in good conversation discussing a myriad of topics. Both he and I are fortunate to be in professions that allow us to connect with people on a deeply personal level. In my capacity as a psychologist, my clients share with me things they may have never share with anyone else. Similarly, lawyers hear deeply personal stories and experiences in their clients’ lives.

As we discussed the topic of family violence, we both agreed that victims of relationship violence are faced with a myriad of complicated decisions. Some of these decisions are complicated due to the impact that the outcomes can have on their children. For example, my friend was summarizing a case whereby a single mother had to decide whether or not she should press charges on her former boyfriend for uttering threats. She was hesitant to press charges for two reasons. Firstly, if she were to press charges and thereby extend his jail term, it would further limit the opportunities their son would have for connecting with his father (the father had already been in jail for several years). Secondly, making the decision to press charges might seriously jeopardize the woman’s safety: the ex-partner made it a point to remind the woman of all the “friends” he had on the outside, and how “accidents can happen.”

This is only one example of how abuse can continue to permeate one’s life, even after one has taken the difficult step of leaving the abusive relationship. In such cases, my friend and I both agreed that the best remedy would be to visit a counsellor/psychotherapist who has experience in working with family violence. While a counsellor will not specifically tell a client what they should or should not do, effective counselling will facilitate the client’s ability to find their own answers and to choose what is best for them and their children. Additionally, helping a client find their own answers provides them with a sense of empowerment – something that perpetrators of abuse work so hard to destroy. While there may not be a specific “book” that can tell us definitively what to do when dealing with abuse in our lives, the counselling process can guide us to make choices that are congruent with our values and current situation. Additionally, psychotherapists can provide us with knowledge derived from research in the area of family violence. Having this knowledge will in turn allow us to make more informed decisions.

Hoping you find the right people who bring out your wisdom….

(Richard Amaral, Ph.D., is a registered psychologist with a private practice in mid-town Toronto. Click on the About Me tab above for more information or to book a session.)

  1. This is a relevant article, Richard. It’s true that even if a woman has left the conjugal home, the abuse and threat of abuse could continue.

    I will link this article when I write about women in abusive relationships, perhaps next week.

    More power and blessings to you!


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  1. Two perspectives on counselling people in abusive relationships - Psychology for Growth

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