Posted by Julie Cederbaum Goschalk
Recently an acquaintance, Sheila*, asked me how she could tell whether the therapist she just started working with was the ‘right’ one for her. I wondered what made her ask the question. She explained that for several sessions this therapist was asking her about her childhood and what had made her marry her husband when all she really wanted to talk about was how he frightens her, how her children run to their rooms when they hear him come home, and what she can do to make him stop tormenting her. She expressed great frustration at finally having found the courage to talk about this painful secret in her life, yet the person on whom she was pinning her hopes for support seemed to be missing the point.
Sadly this is not an uncommon situation. Not two weeks later, a couple’s therapist wanted to refer a man to me who needed help regarding his trauma history. The therapist mentioned that he had filed a report with the Department of Social Services because he was concerned about the man’s treatment of his children; he assured me that the wife was safe because “there is no physical abuse.”
What can we do when a loved one who is in an unsafe or controlling relationship is ready to seek help from a professional? In many ways this is no different than when a person needs surgery or the services of a medical specialist: we ask for recommendations from those we know, we look those individuals up, and we interview them. I would not go to a surgeon for a procedure that he or she had never previously performed. Similarly, I would not want to go to a therapist who did not have training in the particular matter for which I was seeking help. We must raise awareness amongst counseling professionals in order for them to know that working with someone in an abusive or controlling relationship requires specific skills and training just as therapists would need when working with someone who has an addiction or an eating disorder. Therapists need to provide an active approach that focuses on these clients’ safety, not their childhood.
But it is not only professionals who should be aware of and sensitive to the particular needs of domestic abuse victims. I have been involved with The Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition and JF&CS Journey to Safety for the past 25 years. I continue to notice people’s shocked response when I talk about domestic abuse in the Jewish community. Despite all the awareness that has been raised in our community, people still gasp in disbelief when they hear about abuse in their midst or hear someone like Sheila, a Jewish woman, tell her story. We must continue with educational programs in our community to keep raising awareness. Believing abuse happens amongst Jews too is how we create the environment for a loved one to come to us for support. In other words, educating ourselves is really how we begin to help our community be safer, because it helps those in unsafe relationships feel less alone and isolated with their secret. This may well be what will encourage them to take that first hesitant and scary step in seeking help.
If you are interested in learning more about the professional and community workshops that Journey to Safety offers, please contact JTS Director Elizabeth Schön Vainer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (781) 647-JFCS (5327).
* Name changed to protect privacy.
Julie Cederbaum Goschalk is a licensed independent clinical social worker in private practice in Newton, MA. She has over 30 years of clinical experience, specializing in trauma work and issues relating to domestic violence in the Jewish community. She was a founding member of the Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition of Greater Boston, which she chaired for 3 years. Julie is on the Resource Advisory Board of Journey to Safety. Julie lives with her husband in Newton and has 3 grown daughters.
Read more from our Domestic Violence Awareness Month blog series.