04/11/2013 08:25 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Abusive Relationships and Bias in Victim Treatment Programmes

In this blog post, my associate Natasha* talks about her own experiences with domestic violence, and the anti-man agenda prevalent in mainstream treatment programmes.

My extensive experience of being involved in unhealthy relationships has permitted me to explore domestic violence in great detail. I have analysed the dynamics of such relationships and the traits of the couples involved as well as the causes of this unbearable behaviour that can have tragic consequences.

What I have found to be concerning are the programmes designed to assist victims and also perpetrators of abuse. What are their true goals and what evidence do they base their suggestions on? Thus the question I find very important is: why aren't more psychologists involved in these programmes? What evaluation has been completed?

Domestic abuse is such a problem in our society with the government continuing to bankroll nearly £40 million of funding into specialist support services and helplines (Home Office, 2013). Yet there is a popular programme that has been used all over the UK since 1999 without any consistent psychological intervention, written by someone without psychological qualifications and based on no scientific data. This is the Freedom Programme whose aim is to provide a chance for female victims of abuse to develop ways of thinking and behaving to protect both themselves and their children from harm (Craven, 2013). The 12 week course challenges the beliefs of what is considered to be a patriarchal society. Women's Aid, the main national charity whose ultimate goal is to end domestic violence, stress that they do not endorse such a programme, yet they are regularly and clearly associated with it, refer victims to it and even train facilitators to run it (Mackie, 2013). It appears that no one is accountable. Or at the very least; no one wishes to be...

David Yarwood, the honorary secretary of Parity; who promotes the equal rights of both men and women, insists there is a polarised view of domestic violence: men are persistently the perpetrators and women the victims (Yarwood, 2013).

He says that Erin Pizzey, who founded the first women's refuge in Chiswick (the first in the world) in 1971, later concluded that many women were as aggressive as the men they had left and were also violent to their children. For this candid admittance she was banished by the sisterhood and eventually had to leave the refuge.

Despite Women's Aid's and Refuge's impressive influence on the understanding of domestic violence, research into intimate partner violence do not always support their underlying feministic driven viewpoints; much of the violence in relationships is often bi-directional and men can certainly be victims too (Dixon and Graham-Kevan, 2011).

Tina Royles (2013) a leading expert in the field of domestic violence believes that if a programme can assist a victim of domestic abuse in any way has to be positive but that unfortunately 'one size fits all' programmes have the potential for causing damage by providing victims with unyielding outlooks and inaccurate information, hence provoking emotions in vulnerable women that could, in fact, lead to grave consequences (Dutton, 2006).

Sue Parker Hall (2008), a counsellor and psychotherapist and huge critic of the principles and methodology that dominates the field of domestic abuse today, suggests such an ideologically driven programme as the Freedom Programme to not take into account the complexities of relationship variables. The multifarious personal, relational, historical dynamics of a relationship in such a programme are reduced to ridiculously simplistic notions of social bias based on a lack of psychological awareness.

Sadly, research has indicated that programmes such as these may have hidden financial agendas. Respect (2013) is charging an extortionate amount to receive their accreditation for agencies to receive referrals from them and it appears Relate won't refer victims or perpetrators of domestic violence to a programme or practitioner who isn't on Respect's list. What does this mean for victims of domestic abuse? Where is their freedom of choice and options? It is essential, therefore, to examine the individuals, such as Pat Craven, who have devised and written such domestic abuse programmes, as well as those delivering it; is the programme for their benefit or for the benefit of the service user?

In conclusion, I feel psychologists should feel very concerned that there are programmes being run without the benefit of appropriate skills, qualifications, knowledge and experience in which to deliver them; which could have extremely dangerous consequences for the victims of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is extremely complex; are these programmes allowing for this?

Further vigorous evaluation of domestic abuse programmes is urgently needed (Williamson, 2013) for such evaluation in this field is sparse.

A programme that can effectively combine theory, education, empathy, life experience and recovery with psychological studies is essential for a unique victim of domestic abuse.

It is time for psychologists to sit up and take notice; if there really isn't an appropriate integrative domestic abuse programme out there, when will one be written?

*Name changed for protection