Treating Trauma in Victims of Intimate Partner Violence: A Unique Challenge

Why Effective Trauma Treatment for Intimate Partner Violence Victims is Particularly Difficult

Research shows that even though there are several different treatment modalities being used today, making a full recovery from trauma can be a difficult and lengthy process. However, therapeutic and medication based interventions have proven effective with a lot of hard work and time. Sounds promising; right? Not necessarily for domestic violence victims. Most of the research currently being done on trauma treatment is focused on combat victims and military personnel. Their experience when it comes to effective treatment of trauma is often vastly different than that of a domestic violence victim. This is particularly true for victims of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). There is ample evidence to show that IPV victims face with an especially unique set of challenges when it comes to trauma recovery. (National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health– NCDVTMH).

Limited Resources and Access to Treatment

The unfortunate fact is that not only does a full recovery from trauma take a lot of hard work and time, but it also takes a lot of money. The long-term therapeutic and medical interventions used to treat trauma are often quite expensive and hard to access. This may be a serious problem for an IPV victim. While military personnel has access to the resources of the Veterans Affairs Administration, an IPV victim may have close to nothing when it comes to monetary resources or access to care. IPV victims who are seeking treatment for their trauma are often just getting out of a seriously damaging relationship. They may be forced to leave almost everything behind to get free from their abuser. This often includes the victim’s source of income and access to healthcare. This loss severely affects the victim’s access to any, let alone effective, treatment options for their trauma. For them, treatment is at the very least delayed, if not put off altogether. The sad truth is that IPV victims are frequently forced to deal with their trauma symptoms completely on their own for most, if not all, of their lifetime (NCDVTMH).

Continued Contact with The Abuser

While for military personnel the source of their trauma is usually a closed book while they are undergoing treatment, most IPV victims are forced to deal with an ongoing relationship with their source of their trauma. IPV victims often must maintain contact with their abuser even after they have left the relationship. This contact is most commonly seen under the purview of legal matters. Victims may be dealing with a variety of different issues with their abusers that often lead them to have repeated contact with them through the court system. For example, they might be dealing with restraining orders or alimony issues. The most complex legal issues arise, however, when the victim and their abuser have children together. The victim must then deal with issues such as custody and child support. These legal matters are tough for any couple to deal with. For an IPV victim, they can be devastating. Sustained contact with an abuser has been shown to re-traumatize IPV victims. This continuous re-traumatization makes the recovery process extremely difficult if not altogether impossible (NCDVTMH).

Ongoing Abuse

Another unique complication for IPV victims who are suffering trauma is that they may still be experiencing active abuse. It is not uncommon for an IPV victim to stay with their abuser even after the symptoms of trauma have begun to be experienced. Even if the relationship is over, the victim may be being actively stalked by their abuser. This not only impacts the treatment of this person’s trauma but must also cause a re-examination of what we have come to call such an individual’s trauma “symptomology.” For an individual who is still being abused, many of the behaviors seen as trauma symptoms are at the same time rational reactions to their daily reality. For example, it is completely appropriate for a person still being abused to be constantly on guard for danger. While such hypervigilance is often a seen as a symptom of trauma for a combat veteran, their war is over. This is not the case for someone still experiencing active abuse. Their war goes on. The challenge now becomes how to treat a symptom that is harmful on one end of the spectrum, and actively protective on the other (NCDVTMH).

It is easy to see how IPV victims are in an inimitable position when it comes to the issue of trauma treatment. Ample evidence shows that traditional treatment modalities for trauma may not be effective for victims of IPV. There is a huge need for far greater research into the area of IPV trauma so effective treatment for its many victims can be found.