How to Find a Good Therapist If You Are Involved with an Abusive Woman
If you’re a man who’s in a relationship with an abusive woman, finding a good therapist can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Although couples counseling is often futile when one partner has NPD and/or BPD, if you must pursue couples work, protect yourself by screening out therapists who will collude and enable your partner to further abuse you.
A far better use of your time and money is individual therapy or consultation in which you seek support and guidance to understand the effects of your abusive relationship, to decide if you want to end the relationship, to learn coping skills, to mourn the loss of the relationship and/or to understand what attracted you to this person and the faulty belief system that kept you in the relationship.
Making the decision to seek therapy.
There are several scenarios by which men who are being emotionally abused seek counseling:
- Your wife or girlfriend wants you to go to couples counseling with her. This is usually to blame and shame you into submission with the help of a therapist that she cherry picks. You have the problem and she wants a therapist to second her opinion. Meanwhile, the real problem is her. If your wife has been working with this therapist individually, you’re probably walking into a turkey shoot. The therapist is unlikely to be objective and probably believes your wife’s lies and distortions. Instead, find your own individual therapist and then do joint sessions with both therapists present. Otherwise, you’re likely to be tag teamed.
- You want to go to couples counseling to save the relationship, but she doesn’t want to because therapy “doesn’t work” or she “doesn’t need it” because you have the problem, not her.
- She tells you that you need help and insists that you attend individual therapy. She does this to pathologize and shame you. The reality is that you do need help, but not for the reasons she thinks.
- You’re considering ending the relationship and want advice and support.
- You’ve ended the relationship and are in distress.
If your wife or girlfriend finds a couples therapist for the both of you, I encourage you to speak to the therapist before agreeing to the session. First, to make sure you’re not walking into a trap. If your wife likes this therapist, it’s probably because she feels confident that she can control him or her.
Second, you need to establish if the therapist has certain gender biases that will turn every session into a blame and bitch fest about you. A good therapist doesn’t allow one partner to criticize and blame the other partner. It’s counterproductive and antithetical to good treatment.
If you’re seeking individual therapy, you should also screen potential therapists to ascertain if they have experience working with people who are in relationships with personality disordered individuals, if they understand the dynamics of these disorders/traits and if they are comfortable counseling a person on how to end a relationship rather than to “work harder” to “save” the relationship and thus keep you on the never-ending hoop jumping track.
You have the right to consult with a therapist before beginning treatment. If you get a receptionist or service, tell the person that you want to have a brief 5-10 minute screening interview to see if the therapist is a good fit for the issues you’re currently facing. If the receptionist or the therapist refuses to do this and insists that you come in for a session, find another therapist. Even exorbitantly paid attorneys typically offer free brief initial consults. Here are some screening questions you may want to ask:
1. Do you believe women can be the abusive partner in a relationship? If the therapist says “no,” is noncommittal or replies that it’s highly unlikely, rare or unusual, politely end the call and find another therapist.
2. Do you have experience with Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the other Cluster B disorders? If they say, “no,” move on.
3. Do you have experience working with male victims of female perpetrated abuse? If not, keep looking.
4. What do you typically advise men who are being abused by a woman who may have BPD, NPD, HPD and/or sociopathy? If they avoid the question by explaining that these are severe mental illnesses and that you have to exercise patience and learn how not to trigger their behaviors; end the call and keep looking.
5. Do you encourage a client to keep working on a relationship no matter how painful and damaging it is to him or do you accept that some relationships can’t be repaired because one partner is too damaged and/or abusive to be in a healthy relationship? At this point, explain that you’re currently married to/dating a woman you strongly suspect meets the diagnostic criteria for HPD, BPD, NPD and/or sociopathy.
The therapist may ask if your wife/girlfriend has ever received an official diagnosis and “how do you know?” Explain that after years of craziness, verbal attacks, emotional distance, etc., you researched your wife’s behavior and believe it meets the criteria. If you’ve been journaling or keeping records of your wife’s/girlfriend’s behavior, offer to bring them with you to the session. It’s hard to say you’re “exaggerating” or being “too sensitive” when you have a compendium of abusive events.
6. If you know or are fairly certain that you want to end your relationship, explicitly say so. Calmly and firmly state that you’re not seeking support for your wife, but for yourself. Explain that you recognize that this relationship is causing you psychological and physical distress and you’re looking for coping techniques and support for yourself through the break-up process.
7. Ask the therapist straight up if he or she is a feminist. Feminists believe men are almost always the perpetrators of domestic violence and that women are the victims, even when it is the woman who is emotionally or physically violent. Their belief is that abusive women are reacting to “the patriarchy” and eons of oppression, therefore, even if you have the black eye and broken cell phone to prove it, she’s still the victim. Feminist therapists view the people they “treat” through the lens of a hateful and discriminatory ideology.
Other points to consider:
Level of education and training. Psychiatrists are Medical Doctors (MD). Only psychiatrists can prescribe medication. In fact, most psychiatrists no longer do talking therapy and do 15-minute medication sessions instead. Psychologists hold either a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) or EdD (Doctor of Education) and have at least two times the course hours and supervised training hours of Masters level clinicians.
Masters level clinicians have either an MA (Master of Arts), MS (Master of Sciences), LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Clinician), MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist), MSW (Master of Social Work) or LICSW (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker). Most of these programs are under 2 years and they’ve far less supervised training hours. Furthermore, in my experience, there’s a reason for the negative “man-hating” social worker stereotype. Caveat emptor.
Faith-based counselors. If you want to divorce your abusive spouse, you should probably avoid christian counselors. Typically they advise you to practice forgiveness, turn the other cheek, remind you of the vows you took before God and encourage you to pray with your abusive spouse. Unfortunately, prayer doesn’t “cure” BPD or NPD. Unlesss you want to be the sacrificial lamb to your wife’s/girlfriend’s pathology, I’d find a secular counselor.
Therapeutic style. I suggest you also base your choice on therapeutic style. For example, do you want a more active therapist or one who primarily listens and asks questions to help you reach your own answers? Do you want a therapist who works with you to develop solutions or one that lets you develop the solutions on your own? Do you want someone who is more insight driven (i.e., psychodynamic) or learning and task-oriented (cognitive-behavioral)? Do you want someone who’s very nurturing or more confrontational?
It’s really the luck of the draw and being very clear about what you want in the therapeutic relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask potential therapists about their theoretical orientation and their working style. It’s important that you find a shrink that’s a good fit for you otherwise you’ll never reach the level of trust and comfort necessary to do the work.
In closing, I’d like to share a therapy anecdote one of my readers emailed awhile back. It’s priceless:
I’m going to marriage counseling with my wife now, and the therapist keeps saying “it takes 2 to tango” and is trying to find things that I did wrong. She started off with “you were part of this marriage, so you must take some responsibility.” When I rejected that, she back pedaled and said that “you should have left earlier.” I told her how ridiculous that was because it’s blaming the victim, and she replied, “Do you want to be a victim?” “No,” I told her, “that’s why I’m leaving.”
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
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