Make Sure You Get the Right Therapist
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Five qualities of a good domestic-violence or sexual-assault therapist
Many women who’ve survived or are surviving abuse are advised to get professional help. But not all professionals are the same when it comes to their level of experience and skill in helping clients with problems related to domestic violence and sexual assault. Here are five things to look for if you are seeking help.
- The therapist has specific training and experience with clients who’ve survived domestic violence and sexual assault.
Domestic-violence and sexual-assault counseling is a specialty area that has its own research and perspective. Well-meaning professionals who lack this background can make unhelpful and sometimes damaging recommendations. For instance, a counselor or therapist who does not have this background might advise a client who is reporting partner abuse to go to couples therapy; but couples therapy is not recommended in situations where partner abuse is happening, and it can increase abusive behaviors.
- The therapist has a style that you find empowering.
He or she listens to your concerns and considers you to be the primary expert on you, your life, and your decisions. Part of the abuse dynamic is someone exerting power and control over you; therefore, an important part of recovery is connecting with a helping professional who sees you as competent and capable and who will relate to you as an ally, as opposed to telling you what to do.
- You find the therapist likable, and his or her style meshes well with yours.
Counseling and therapy are most effective when the fit between client and professional is right. Do you communicate better with someone who is active and verbal or more quiet and reflective? Formal or informal? How important is a person’s sense of humor? Think about the qualities that have made you feel comfortable with people in other situations.
- The therapist is clear about his or her practices, availability, and boundaries.
This includes the rules for and limits to confidentiality, policy about calling in between sessions, and business aspects such as fees and billing. After surviving abuse, it helps to have expectations and parameters clear from the beginning, since conflict, especially early in the work, can feel very unsettling. It is important for you to know what you can depend on your therapist for and what your responsibilities are as the client.
- When you work with the person, you feel a sense of hope.
This is important in all counseling or therapy, but for abuse survivors, it is especially vital. Hope is contagious. You want someone who knows that people can and do heal after abuse, and who can support you well as you do so.
Susan Lemere, ESME’s Addiction Resource Guide, is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
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