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Do therapists have to report physical abuse? 
6th-Apr-2009 11:41 am

I'm hoping someone can help me with a question I have.  My boyfriend and I have been seeing a couples counselor for almost a year now for our issues.  He has a  bad temper and gets angry very easily, short fuse, can go from happy and loving to angry and frustrated in a matter of minutes and he has gotten physical with me (ie throwing things near me like a small empty tin or bottle caps, and typically shoves me when we get into bad fights, if it matters he has never slapped me or punched me or anything like that....not trying to make light of it, just trying to paint an accurate picture).  In some ways the counseling has helped, but it all seems to be a temporary band aid and he falls off the wagon a lot (in his attempt to change, he isn't an addict of anything).  We have had issues with our therapist for a while, not agreeing with stuff she says or her approach to things.

Her main theme seems to be harping on the fact that he is like a little kid and I have to treat him as such and that he is not at my maturity level to think and behave in the same way I do.  We've asked her repeatedly for some tools or resources or some tips on how to diffuse his anger, but she constantly seems to stick to the fact that he isn't ready for that yet, that once we can get his maturity level to where it should be, then we can work on the tools for anger management.  She also focuses on what I can do to diffuse his anger, which I admit can be helpful.  But, his anger isn't just with me, and he needs to learn to diffuse it on his own because not everyone he comes across will know he has anger issues and that they have to be the one to keep from escalting the situation.  I feel like she is just enabling him to continue acting the way he is by reinforcing his belief that he cannot help it or has no control over it.  She also says a lot that I signed up for this and I accept this since I choose to stay in the relationship.  I understand that to a degree....no one if forcing me to stay in this relationship, but I want to focus on getting him better and getting us better, rather than telling me I just have to deal with it because I chose it.  He wants to change also, last night he said he is tired of hurting me and tired of not treating me right.  He said he doesn't know why he does the things he does, and he wants help to stop doing them.

I also feel at this point that she feels like we're hopless so she isn't really trying anymore.  Like last week I had to go somewhere so he went to the session alone and she let him manipulate the session and talk about bullcrap the entire time rather than steering him back to more relevant conversation.  We're not paying her to sit and chit chat about work and who knows what else the entire time.  I found a church nearby that offers anger management counseling and I am going to call the guy today to see what he can do for us, and if it works out I would like to stop going to her and try this (or something else if this doesn't work out, I just don't want to see her anymore).  The problem is, we never told our current therapist that he gets physical.  I think she senses it, and she has told him before that given the way he gets mad that she predicts he will become a hitter one day...but other than that we have never come out and said that he gets physical with me.  I think it is a vital thing for the therapist to know that, so if we start seeing someone new I would like to tell them, but I am scared.

Does anyone know if the law requires a therapist to press charges or take some kind of legal action if they know there is physical abuse(we live in Michigan by the way, if each state is different).  I'm not saying this to defend my boyfriend or his actions, but I really don't see how pressing charges (especially after the fact) will help our situation at all.  If he has a record he is never going to be able to get a better job, if he can keep the one he has now, and I just cannot imagine all the additonal problems this would cause.  Of course it is not right that he gets physical with me, but I have never felt that my life was in danger or that I needed to call the police, and he is 100% on board with trying to get help, so we're just trying to save our relationship and, well his life as well.  Because not surprisingly I am not his first girlfriend that he has had these problems with, and his anger affects everything from his family members to his job, so he obviously wants to get help for more reasons than just our relationship.  If anyone has any knowledge of what the law is, I would really appreciate the input.
6th-Apr-2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
It depends on your state (I'm unfamiliar with Michigan laws), situation, and therapist, to be honest. If you're under 18, most states legally require therapists to report ANY abuse. If you're over 18, the lines get fuzzy. Most therapists understand that if a couple is coming to them for counseling to *stop* the abuse, reporting the abuse is counterproductive; it breaks the trust of the couple with the therapist, and it halts any progress the abuser would be making, by disrupting his routine, etc. However, if a therapist feels your life is in imminent danger, almost all of them will report it.

Try googling "mandated reporters" and Michigan together. You will be able to see what is mandated, by law, to be reported. Technically, any citizen with knowledge that a crime has been committed "should" report it - but many people don't. For example, I was in a relationship which was abusive while I was in therapy. I disclosed my partner was abusing me, and it was not reported - but I was specifically counseled on how to address it, set healthy boundaries, and how and when to separate from the abuser (even if it was a separation with intent to continue the relationship). I've yet to experience a therapist reporting abuse without my consent, and it seems to be how most therapists in my area work.

As for your therapist - it's okay to address with her that your preference is to work on BOTH his maturity levels and anger management. While she is demonstrating her knowledge that you must work from a stable baseline before delving into where problems come from, she isn't getting a clear enough picture to understand, that in order for your home life to be stable, the anger management MUST be addressed. Otherwise, you're both being constantly triggered by his abusive outbursts in regards to anger and frustration, and you're not being as effective as you could be in establishing that stable baseline. Advocate for yourself and your relationship by making this clearer to her, and remember that it's okay to tell her your therapeutic relationship needs an adjustment.

If she still wants the focus of your couple-therapy sessions to be maturity, it's time for him to seek individual counseling in relation to his anger management as a supplement to your couple's counseling. He absolutely must deal with it, even if it ends up not being "optimal". he needs his anger under control, even if it's just working on skills to calm down or remove the physical danger for the both of you.

If you can, I highly recommend the Anger Control Workbook (the link takes you to its amazon page). It's what my husband used, to great success, in getting skills to calm down in the moment, know when to walk away, and to give him a better idea of how to manage his anger in the moment, so he could tackle the reasons for the anger later on in therapy.
6th-Apr-2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, I will google what you said about state mandated laws and will definitely check out the workbook. You don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but was your husband at all abusive to you earlier in your relationship? I ask because I wonder if there is hope for us.

I love him very much and I know he loves me, and I believe that if I claim to love him, I have to love all of him including his bad sides. I want to marry him someday, and I don't feel I could ever take that vow of through good times and bad if I am not willing to at least try to get us help and work through the problem. Again, you totally don't have to answer that question if you don't want to, and thanks for the advice.
6th-Apr-2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
He has never been physically abusive with me, though in a previous relationship (I was friends with him at the time), he would reach a point of grabbing his partner out of anger. That partner was abusing him verbally, constantly, and they most assuredly brought out the worst in each other. His anger most often manifests itself verbally. Without treatment, he very well could have become an abuser, especially if he stayed in an unhealthy relationship instead of into a healthy one.

Previous partners of mine were physically abusive. They were not in a place to be able to address their anger management, and I left when I knew change would not happen. But my husband has always been willing to address it, and it's why I stayed. I stayed with him through the worst of his anger, and we were able to get to the bottom of it and get it to an absolute minimum - and then, healthy expressions of anger rather than abusive. he, too, is a survivor of abuse, so much of his anger stemmed from that - and then having no skills with which to manage the anger escalated it. Getting him the skills to manage it healthily was really the key.

It might be that you need to separate from him during this process - to take away the opportunity for him to lash out at you, while he's learning healthy and non-abusive methods to express anger and frustration - but I want you to know that's normal and okay, and I want to make sure you know it's an option. A lot of people think that choosing to stay in a relationship with someone means you have to live with them, or spend a lot of time physically near them, too, and end up making it harder for both people to adjust to the new skills. So if you two find you need to spend less time together for a while, remember that it doesn't mean you're leaving each other - just getting adjusted to new habits within your relationship.
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