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Trauma Therapy for Domestic Abuse Victims

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A person’s home is a haven from the outside world, a place where they are supposed to feel loved, safe, and secure from life’s uncertainties. When violence takes place there, it is a violation of those things and a frightening experience for anyone who encounters it. 

Such an experience lingers long after the actual event is over and continues to affect domestic abuse victims for years to come. Some may never recover from the effects of domestic violence, and those who do might have to fight many demons for their peace of mind and well-being.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) defines domestic violence as “the use of intentional verbal, psychological, or physical force by one family member (including an intimate partner) to control another.” 

When domestic abuse is mentioned, most people think of men who batter women. But anyone can experience such abuse, including men, children, senior-aged adults, and people in same-sex relationships. No one is immune from such violence, also known as family violence or intimate partner violence. 

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) offers some sobering statistics about who domestic violence affects and its costs. 

It highlights data that says:

  • More than 10 million U.S. adults experience domestic violence every year.
  • An intimate partner physically abuses nearly 20 people per minute in the United States on average.
  • In 2018, partner violence accounted for 20% of all violent crimes reported.
  • Intimate partner violence is estimated to cost the U.S. economy between $5.8 billion and $12.6 billion annually.
Many people

It also shares that national domestic violence hotlines receive 20,000-plus phone calls on a typical day, illustrating how widespread the problem is.

As the coalition reminds us, “Domestic violence is prevalent in every community, and affects all people regardless of age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. “

“The devastating consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime,” it writes.

Domestic Violence and Trauma

Countless things can happen when domestic abuse occurs, and what will become of those who survive it can take a lot of time to realize. One disorder that can come about for victims is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which commonly happens to people who have experienced a distressing event.

According to the American Psychological Association, trauma involves an emotional response to an upsetting event. As Medical News Today notes, trauma is how a person responds to any incident that they find threatening or dangerous. 

Domestic abuse victims could experience acute trauma, which happens after the harmful event, or chronic trauma, which is repeated and prolonged exposure to several distressing events. People who endure domestic abuse could do so for years before they get help—if they get help. 

They could even experience another kind of trauma, called complex trauma, when someone experiences multiple traumatic events. This is likely the case for people who live in a situation where they experience several incidents in the home that could happen at any time.

Domestic violence survivors can also develop anxiety disorders, major depressive disorders. They can live in extreme stress and fear that affects their self-image and self-esteem and leads them to dangerous ways to cope with their lives, including using drugs and alcohol to numb their feelings and minds and escape.

Trauma and Substance Use

Domestic violence and substance abuse are linked, and SAMHSA cites research showing how complex the relationship is.

According to data it cited, researchers have found that 25% to 50% of men who commit domestic violence acts abuse substances in past studies. It also notes that a sizable percentage of convicted batterers were raised by parents who abused drugs or alcohol. 

It also highlights the following by saying, “Studies also show that women who abuse alcohol and other drugs are more likely to be victims of domestic violence.”

Self-medicating with addictive substances may offer relief, but it is not a healthy way to deal with mental health disorders. A person who engages in this practice is at high risk of developing a substance dependence that can turn into an addiction. 

Using substances can lead to overdose as a person is apt to use more of a substance when they no longer feel the initial effects they once did due to a high drug or alcohol tolerance.

Long-term substance users who then abruptly stop their use and then return after a break are at risk of overdosing as well. While many people do not get the help they need to effectively manage trauma-induced disorders; there are therapies available to help them, including trauma therapy.

If you or someone you know is a domestic abuse survivor and needs resources to help them, find your nearest women’s shelter, community mental health center, United Way agency, or even substance abuse treatment facility for help. 

These places have resources or have connections to resources to offer domestic violence therapy and counseling survivors and their loved ones need. You can also call your local law enforcement agency, which can also offer direction on who can help you.

How Trauma Therapy Can Help People Overcoming Abuse

People who experience trauma experience a range of negative emotions after an upsetting event. Domestic abuse survivors could feel any of the following:

  • Anger
  • Shock
  • Confusion
  • Denial
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Pain

They can also experience feelings of loss, guilt, shame, and helplessness. They may even come to loathe themselves. Unless they get help, they are bound to continue on an unhealthy path.

PTSD brings on stressful dreams, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, and intrusive thoughts in those who have it. The disorder also makes it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or even function normally throughout the day.

Trauma therapy can help people with post-traumatic stress and other disorders that affect their mental and emotional health. This form of therapy considers a person’s history and experiences of trauma and incorporates tools and strategies to address those specific needs. 

If an individual has a substance use disorder, trauma therapy will also include a recovery program to address that as well. It is critical that a person addresses both their mental health disorder and substance use disorder at the same time. An effective trauma therapy program will:

  • Respect domestic abuse survivors’ needs and unique experiences
  • Inform survivors and make them feel involved in their recovery program
  • Understand trauma’s effects and how they affect the outcomes, which include substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety

Working with a therapist can help domestic violence survivors work through emotional trauma and make decisions to improve their lives. They can also rebuild their self-esteem and learn to recognize triggers and manage their behavior and negative emotions so they can live more productively.

Here are three therapies that domestic abuse survivors can use to help them.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) 

People who are recovering from domestic abuse may be prescribed short-term therapy to help them. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is one approach. 

Patients work with a licensed mental health professional using adapted cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help them identify negative, destructive, or self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that can lead to adverse behaviors. 

Once these are identified, the individual can then work on improving their decision-making and experience positive outcomes. Such therapy can help domestic abuse survivors process difficult emotions related to the traumatic events that took place in their lives.

TF-CBT can last between eight and 25 sessions, depending on the person’s progress. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)

Domestic abuse victims might also be introduced to a form of therapy that teaches them how to reprocess negative life events. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that was created specifically to help people struggling with PTSD. 

Women with PTSD could benefit from this therapy as they are also twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when they have a bad experience, according to the APA. 

During EMDR sessions, which can last 60 to 90 minutes, trauma survivors work with a licensed therapist who will expose them to different stimuli that will help them revisit memories of distressing events and neutralize those memories. They will move their eyes back and forth while concentrating on the stimulus, such as the therapist’s moving fingers or tones in one ear, or tapping movements on different sides of the body. 

This exercise aids them in reprocessing their thoughts about these memories and helps them reframe the negative emotions and reactions they feel when faced with thinking about these events.

EMDR aims to change how the brain stores a negative memory and helps patients unblock distorted thinking that influences how they see the past, present, and future. This therapy also aims to help patients choose supportive and positive thoughts to guide them forward.

Healing from Domestic Abuse Takes Time

Domestic violence effects can last for a long time, so people affected by it should give themselves all the time they need to heal from it. Healing happens differently for different people, so having patience is a must. The therapies mentioned above are good places to start for recovery.

Survivors of domestic violence need to get to a place of physical safety to start to regain a sense of emotional safety. If they are also battling a substance use disorder, they must receive treatment for that as well.

The Palm Beach Institute provides quality substance addiction treatment for people from all walks of life. If you are battling a mental health and/or substance use disorder, call us today so that we can help you start your life on a new path. 

If you are in a domestic situation that is abusive to you and your loved ones, we urge you to call us right now so we can get you to a safe place and get you the help you need. Our licensed mental health professionals can offer support and guidance you or your loved one needs to leave a negative situation behind.

We also offer a full continuum of addiction care services here, from medical detox to aftercare programs, and we can help anyone at any stage of substance use or recovery.

Give us a call today.

Sources

NCADV: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (n.d.). from https://www.ncadv.org/statistics

TIP 25: Substance Abuse Treatment and Domestic Violence … (n.d.). from https://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-25-Substance-Abuse-Treatment-and-Domestic-Violence/SMA12-3390

"Trauma." American Psychological Association. from https://www.apa.org/advocacy/interpersonal-violence/women-trauma

Leonard, Jayne. “What Is Trauma?” (June 2020). Medical News Today. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/trauma#definition

Healthline. (2019, July 15) EMDR Therapy: What You Need to Know. How effective is EMDR therapy? Gotter, A., Legg, T. Ph.D., CRNP. from https://www.healthline.com/health/emdr-therapy

American Society of Addiction Medicine. asam-criteria. What is The ASAM Criteria? from https://www.asam.org/asam-criteria/about

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