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Therapist Self-Care Compassion Fatigue & Secondary Traumatic Stress
Domestic Violence continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

Section 3
Countertransference Management

CEU Question 3 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last track we discussed the feelings of inadequacy and burn-out that may occur when a battered woman enters the cycle of leaving and returning to her battered partner.

In this track we will look at Countertransference and three shields a therapist can use to protect his or herself while treating battering relationships.

As you know, countertransference is both the conscious and unconscious feelings, associations, thoughts, and fantasies a therapist connects with a particular client. These feelings and connections can often reveal something about the client as well as something about the therapist. Here's what I mean.

When a therapist is so fully involved, as in family violence treatment, it is easy for the therapist to be affected deeply by this countertransference. As you know, feelings, both positive and negative, are an integral part of the therapeutic process. Two issues can present themselves for the therapist. These two countertransference issues are: putting these feelings to positive use, and avoiding being so drained by the feelings that burn-out is the result.

Countertransference Issue 1: Putting Countertransference to Positive Use.
Have you found, like I, that by recognizing countertransference, a therapist can use it positively and in the battered client's behalf? I have found that the anger aroused in me while treating battering relationships can help me to understand the element of anger that is intrinsic in the couple's battering relationship. If I can admit these feelings, thereby not being afraid of them, the clients can be more willing to do the same.

Countertransference Issue 2: Avoiding Burnout.

In addition to the recognition of how countertransference can be used positively, I have found that I need strategies for preserving my energies so that I don't become burned out. These strategies, I find, can form a shield for myself, protecting me from emotional overwhelm and burnout.

Have you worked with the battering population for many years? Have you, like I, become burned out and unable to continue treating those cases for a period of time? I took a break for several years before being able to resume treating battering cases. Let's look at the three shields I learned to use that can prevent burning out for me again in the future.

A Therapist's 3 Shields

Shield 1: Say No.
As you know, it is always ok to say no if you are not comfortable treating a particular case. There have been times that I do not accept family violence cases in order to give myself a breather from this type of emotional work. Think of your current workplace. Would your coworkers be supportive of you passing on a battering case for you own well-being or not? If not, do you see anything you can do to change the agency dynamics? If not, and you stay, can you make an action plan based on the content of this course or other materials for self-care?

Shield 2: Have Passion.
As you know, working with battering relationships is not for everyone. I have found those therapists who are best suited to deal with these types of cases find something appealing and satisfying about the work. For example, a coworker of mine stated, "I really struggled to find passion when working with battering relationships until violence struck close to home. I learned my sister was being abused by her husband, and ever since then have been very passionate about treating family violence, now that it means something to me personally."

Shield 3: Believe.
In addition to the shields of saying no, and having passion, I have found the most important step to avoiding burnout is to believe. I am a firm believer that a batterer can stop battering, and that the presenting violent situation can improve. Or that even though the woman may return, she may return with a few more resources and perhaps a certain level of increased self-esteem. Without this belief, as you know, I find I start to have little motivation to continue the emotional battle of treating battering relationships and I quickly become burned out.

By utilizing the three shields discussed in this track, I have found myself able to maintain my emotional perspective and deal with the stresses of treating violent relationships more effectively. Do you have similar shields of saying no, having passion, and believing to avoid burnout? If not, perhaps you might consider using them with your battering relationship cases in the future.

In the next track we will discuss the role of client denial and resistance to the basic protocol for educating a battered woman and how this can affect a therapist.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Abargil, M., & Tishby, O. (2020). Countertransference as a reflection of the patient’s inner relationship conflict. Psychoanalytic Psychology. Advance online publication. 

Connery, A. L., & Murdock, N. L. (2019). An interactive view of countertransference: Differentiation of self and client presentation. Psychotherapy, 56(2), 181–192. 

Hayes, J. A., Gelso, C. J., Goldberg, S., & Kivlighan, D. M. (2018). Countertransference management and effective psychotherapy: Meta-analytic findings. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 496–507.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 3
What are three shields that can prevent burnout when working with battering relationships? To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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