by Kay Gimmelstad
THE BACKGROUND: Bonnie was referred to me after a domestic violence incident which involved the police. Bonnie and her husband, Carl, are in their mid-30s and have been married for 15 years. They have two young children.
Bonnie has reported abusive behavior from Carl following the birth of their first child, which has included incidents of pushing, shoving and slapping. Her friends encouraged her to report the most recent incident to the police to get it on record. Bonnie followed this advice, but to her surprise, the police were mandated to speak to Carl, arrest him and take him to jail overnight.
Under the law, Bonnie and Carl were allowed to be seen together through their counseling program, after they obtained permission from a judge due to the restraining order, which followed police intervention. Carl also has individual counseling as part of the court order. The goal of conjoint sessions was to start to process the most recent incident, and address their anger, communication and coping skills.
THE FIRST JOINT SESSION: At the end of the first conjoint session, a contract was drawn up with a specific plan around communication, stress reduction and anger management, should Carl become angry again or if a fight was about to occur. Bonnie was aware that she had a role in the process, which was to allow Carl space and time if he needed it before they tried to talk over the problem. The contract gave specific actions to help defuse the anger and avoid any further violence between them. (In cases with more severe abuse, a safety plan is put in place for the partner that is being abused. It also includes a safety plan for the children and pets. Some of the issues covered in the safety plan include: where to find safety and shelter, leaving personal items at that safe place, financial resources, where to store money and a bag of belongings in the event that the person has to leave quickly, how to handle safety issues pertaining to the children and where to leave pets.)
SUBSEQUENT MEETINGS: Bonnie and Carl were able to start to handle their conflicts in a more constructive way by talking without raising their voices, taking a break and going for a walk if either of them was upset, and giving each other time to speak without interruption.
The contract was reviewed during each session, and revisions were made if some aspect of the contract was working or if something was not working. At times, they started to digress from the contract and discuss their list of complaints about each other. They needed structure and support from me to stick with the plan that they both initially agreed to with the knowledge that this was a tool to effectively reduce the conflicts and fighting.
After we completed our sessions, I contacted an agency that specializes in domestic violence work that was closer to their home, and suggested that they continue therapy there for a period of time to continue to monitor use of the contract and receive support.
*** Our guest blogger, Kay Gimmelstad, is an experienced mental health professional who offers short-term, solution-focused counseling for people involved in divorce and transitions. If you have any questions about this case, please do not hesitate to email Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Law Firm and Mediation Practice of Alla Roytberg, PC