Men and women who have experienced domestic violence may feel afraid, confused, shocked, angry or numb. Relationship violence is associated with mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress (PTSD), anxiety, depression and substance use disorder.
After leaving a violent relationship, a difficult first step to seeking help is recognizing that these feelings are normal, and that help is available. One tool to help process these feelings and emotions is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT is a research-based treatment approach to mood disturbances and behavior problems. This form of psychotherapy helps identify the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and their impact on life situations.
Although CBT can treat various types of behavioral health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, many patients at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital also use it as a form of therapy for domestic violence.
Dr. Christina Huang, a licensed clinical health psychologist with Sharp Mesa Vista, shares how patients are able to use this form of therapy for domestic violence.
"Many survivors believe that they deserved the abuse or caused the abuse to happen," says Dr. Huang. "These thoughts must be challenged in therapy."
CBT focuses first on identifying and challenging these pervasive negative thoughts, and helps target the problematic behaviors that can perpetuate the cycle of mood dysregulation.
"For example, if I were to really believe that I am worthless and deserving of abuse, then I'll act in accordance with these beliefs and will likely and unintentionally end up in another relationship that will reinforce these beliefs, and thus the cycle of abuse will be perpetuated," says Dr. Huang.
"CBT is one of the most scientifically valid and robust forms of treatment available," she says. "What I like most about this form of treatment is that it ultimately gives the patient the most empowerment. We teach our patients specific tools that they can continue to use, so that they can start to feel better on their own and learn ways to maintain that."
Studies show that CBT produces longer-lasting positive outcomes than other modalities of therapy. "It can also help foster independence, which individuals often appreciate as this differs from other forms of treatment, such as medications, in which the intended effect is often only as long lasting as the continual application of the treatment," says Dr. Huang.
She warns that CBT requires a lot of hard work, both on the part of the therapist and the patient, because it requires a change in thinking about mood and emotion.
"Many types of treatment are aimed at helping the individual to 'feel better,' but what's dangerous about this idea is that it inherently judges all emotions other than 'happy' to be bad," says Dr. Huang. "The real goal of CBT is to increase tolerance to distress and, hence, to teach individuals how to feel bad effectively because let's face it — life is hard and will always throw us lemons."
If you or someone you know needs help or information about leaving a violent relationship, advocates with the National Domestic Violence Hotline are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), in over 170 languages. All calls are confidential and anonymous.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Huang about CBT for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.