Does counseling work with an abuser?

I was at a support group of women who have survived domestic abuse recently. Each was in their own stage of the experience. One in particular was sharing that her boyfriend was in a batterers’ intervention program and was truly sorry for the physical abuse he inflicted on her. She was hopeful that the therapy would “work” and they could live happily together.

I listened and cringed as I heard her speak. Sad, because I had once been there, hopeful that therapy would “fix” my husband and we could live happily ever after.

During my 15 years with my ex-husband, we sought help from six couples therapists, our first sessions were before we were married. In addition, my ex-husband spent about two years attending batterers’ intervention group therapy. He attended an anger management class and at least one individual counselor.  We also attended a weekend retreat to work on our marriage and the ways to communicate effectively.

My ex-husband, who had a family history of mental illness and substance abuse, was given prozac for about a year and spent that time visiting a psychiatrist.

I can not add up the amount of money and time we spent on therapy, all of which was arranged by me and was forced on my husband. But there were few years in our marriage when we were not seeking help for our problems. However, it wasn’t until the very last years that we told the professionals that he was beating me.

The first counselor we told recommended the anger management class. The next recommended the batterers intervention program. My ex-husband was the only man there not ordered to be there by the court, but he knew I would be getting a divorce if he didn’t go.

But during all of this, therapy, drugs, support groups, intervention, my ex-husband continued to beat me, lie to me, manipulate me, leave me, and generally not change one thing about his life.

One night after returning from his intervention group, he told me that he did tell the group that he was still hitting me… I believe they are required to disclose it… and one of the guys in the group told him “You’re going to go to jail if you keep it up.”… but that advice didn’t stop my ex-husband.

Whenever it made sense to him to hit me, he did. Whenever it made sense to him to lie to me, he did. Whenever it made sense to him to leave me, he did. And he never saw himself as like those men in the group.

I’ve since learned that couples therapy is useless with an abuser because it requires something that they have long ago forsaken… honesty. Most abusers will abuse again. Most abusers will abuse their children. Most abusers will never change. Those are harsh statistics, but unfortunately true. One of my attorney’s is a former prosecutor in family criminal cases and he has seen dozens and dozens of spousal abuse cases. He said, they are pretty much all the same.

Those sobering thoughts won’t do my friend in support group much good now. She is hoping that her boyfriend will get “better”… I know the feeling. I put so much energy into trying to help my husband get better so that we could be happy. It didn’t work and still doesn’t.

Now, I am spending my energy on me and my children so that we can get better. It’s not always perfect, but at least I have real hope that we will.

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