Intimate Justice III: Healing the Anguish of Abuse and Embracing the Anguish of Accountability
Jory, Brian, Anderson, Debra, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy
This article presents an exploratory approach to couples therapy for abuse based on intimate justice theory. The article explains "the accountability axiom," which brings the relationship between the anguish of abuse and the anguish of accountability into focus. Understanding the accountability axiom can help therapists simultaneously engage both the victim of abuse and the abuser by creating two therapeutic environments in conjoint therapy--one environment that affirms the victim and one that challenges the abuser. The ideas are based on a qualitative study conducted by the authors, and the approach is illustrated with a clinical case involving psychological abuse.
Many therapists have rejected the possibility that couples therapy can be helpful when the man abuses the woman. We use the term abuse to include physical violence, psychological abuse, and sexual violence or exploitation.' Arguments against couples therapy usually focus on power differences between the victim and abuser and question whether it is safe for the woman to make herself more vulnerable in therapy (Avis, 1992; Bograd, 1994). However, there are reasons to consider conjoint therapy for some of these couples. For example, the woman might be empowered by therapy, many of these couples are already in treatment, the couples often stay together despite abuse, and levels of risk can be assessed on a case-by-case basis in therapy (Stith, Rosen, McCollum, & Locke, 1998).
This article presents an exploratory approach to couples therapy based on intimate justice theory (Jory, 1998; Jory & Anderson, 1999; Jory, Anderson, & Greer, 1997) and the burgeoning literature that incorporates ` justice" into therapy (Almeida & Bograd, 1991; Goldner, Penn, Sheinberg, & Walker, 1990; Jenkins, 1990; Serra, 1993). First, we explore how accountability and abuse are linked together in human systems through a principle we call "the accountability axiom." Then we examine the implications of the accountability axiom for couples therapy with a clinical case involving psychological abuse.
The ideas presented in this article originated from a dual-phase study of abuse that we conducted. In the first phase of the study we interviewed 30 abusive men and their female partners to explore how they viewed the ethics of their relationship. In the second phase, we used the knowledge gained in the first phase to develop new approaches to intervention by conducting therapy with another 40 couples. In this article we present general aspects of the study. Details regarding validity and reliability are available in Jory et al. (1997) and Jory and Anderson (1999).
The 40 couples in the second phase of the study voluntarily entered therapy. All were referred because the man was known to be abusive; 26 were referred by the men's probation officers, attorneys, or other therapists and 14 by women's centers from which the abused partners sought help or information and where a counselor had determined that couples therapy would be safe. Of the 40 men, 22 were facing criminal charges for domestic violence (16 were first offenders and six were second offenders). The other 18 men exhibited varying degrees of abuse, but law enforcement was not involved. Unfortunately, racial diversity of the sample was limited because nonwhite individuals made up <4% of the population of the Midwestern U.S. city where the clinic was located. Specifically, two couples were Asian, one was African American, one was Hispanic, one was Native American, and 35 were Anglo-American.
The primary goal for the therapy was complete cessation of physical and psychological abuse rather than working on communication, sexual problems, parenting, or other concerns. We made the safety of the victim paramount in all therapeutic decision making. Most of the men began therapy with only a rudimentary understanding of what it means to be accountable, and many hoped to get a better deal from a judge or probation officer by attending therapy. …