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
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.
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.
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.
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
What are three shields that can prevent burnout when working with battering
relationships? To select and enter your answer go to .