Tuesday, January 11, 2011

DV 101: Domestic Violence and Mental Health

What we know, from working with women experiencing domestic violence for 25 years, is that women experiencing domestic violence are vulnerable to mental health problems because of the abusive environment in which they live. They may also be vulnerable to self-medication through alcohol or drugs as they attempt to escape the pain of what they have experienced or are experiencing.

We also know that women with existing mental illness, as well as women with any physical or mental disability, are at a higher risk for victimization.

Most importantly, we understand that the majority of women who experience intimate partner violence do not have a diagnosable mental condition. Therefore, an assumption that victims of domestic violence require our diagnosis, psychoanalysis, therapy, or“treatment” is inaccurate at best. It is not the victim of domestic violence who has made a choice to use controlling and abusive behaviors, and it is not the victim of domestic violence who has committed a crime. Therefore, the victim is not the person who needs treatment. For most women, they simply need the abuse to stop.

As for the abuser, some people with mental health problems are violent, but most people who use violence to control their partners do not have a mental illness. In fact, many who use violence against their intimate partners are at times charming, and caring people. Most men who use violence against their women partners believe, on some level, that it is their right and even their responsibility to control their partner and their children. Our society often reinforces this thinking. "Treatment" for these batterers includes helping them change the thinking that they are entitled to use violent and abusive tactics and instead helping them see that their partners deserve their respect.

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