Coparent Academy Podcast

#96 - Treating the Abusive Parent - Part 1 of 2

January 22, 2024 Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore
Coparent Academy Podcast
#96 - Treating the Abusive Parent - Part 1 of 2
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In part 1 to episode 7 of our series on domestic violence and coparenting we discuss the kinds of treatment needed for the abusive parent before that person should be reintegrated into the child's life.

If you would like to participate in our domestic violence series as a guest, please contact us and let us know. We are interested in all perspectives and backgrounds for our conversations.

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.  To learn more about becoming the best coparent you can be, visit coparentacademy.com.

Speaker 1:

All right, welcome everybody. We are in episode seven of our domestic violence and co-parenting season, and today we're going to be talking about treating the abusive parent. So, linda, how's it going?

Speaker 2:

Really good. I'm excited to talk about the rest of this.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, this is getting into some areas that I know a lot of people have difficulty with, because this episode we're doing treating the abusive parent, and then the next episode we have treating the custodial parent, and then we finish up on the most important one, which is treating the child, but the issue of treatment doesn't get covered enough, I think, and we just sort of leave it alone. And I know that this was a big part of your objection to how we were going through previously, because you wanted to make sure that the parties, especially the abusive parent and the child, were getting treatment before we tried to put everybody back together.

Speaker 2:

I wait too often. Everybody skips over all those steps and I'm working with a lot of wounded people in one space at a time.

Speaker 1:

Oh, that's true. I hadn't sort of thought about that, because everybody brings their own perspective. I just like the thing. Everybody brings their own perspective on what happened. Everybody brings their own perspective on who's at fault. So let's get into treating the abusive parent. So, linda, what's the key thing that we need to be thinking about? When we have someone who is an abusive parent, we know they're abusive. This isn't false allegations. This isn't things blown out of proportion. To whatever extent they were an abusive parent, what's the key idea for us in this conversation?

Speaker 2:

Well, I think if there are any hopes for the abusive parent to jump through in order to have contact with their kid via some kind of visitation, even if it's monitored or supervised, or therapeutic visitation or the reconciliation process, that would indicate to the abuser and I'm sorry, but to the child as well that there just are no real consequences for your behavior.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they have to take it. So there has to be buy-in for change, right? The first step is you have to acknowledge that there is a problem, and if you don't, you're not going to be open to receiving what's going to help fix the problem.

Speaker 2:

Right and you've got to make serious efforts and if you're not getting some sort of outside pressure, like the court, they don't tend to continue to work on things.

Speaker 1:

Right.

Speaker 2:

It's pretty young therapy. I mean years and years ago I did an internship at Divas. I think I brought this up a couple of times and they decided I needed to be the only female in the room kind of shack of a house and I was supposed to help facilitate the brand new men's group of abusers and it was really tough therapy. They call each other on their BS. They have to really be able to own it and admit it to each other and it gets them ready to own it to their child so that kind of therapy. I have watched work.

Speaker 1:

Well, and guys talk to guys in a different way.

Speaker 2:

Yes.

Speaker 1:

And also everyone, no matter which social group you're going to get into, there's a hierarchy and so people are going to I imagine, because I haven't been in that group but I imagine that there are some levels of abuse that people look down on even though they committed other levels of abuse, and they stratify themselves.

Speaker 2:

They do.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and so the first step is to make sure that the person is going to be open enough to actually benefit from some form of therapy, and I know that you've experienced this. Sometimes you can have someone come in and basically said they had a road to Damascus conversion story. You know, like, oh, with all of this going on, I went with my family, I went back to the church where I grew up and I just I got saved, and so now we don't have to worry about that behavior anymore, because all of that was just, you know, the devil working on me, and now I've been saved and so I can, I can, I don't need this.

Speaker 2:

And typically all that happens within a week, if not less, of a separation.

Speaker 1:

Right Right, which is always you know, because I know you grew up in the church and I've had lots of experience for the church too, and from my perspective, if that really had happened, what the person would say is I had this kind of experience and now I'm in a good place of humility to receive the kind of education that I needed before. They wouldn't say I don't need it. They would say I'm ready for it.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, very good point, so glad you said that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so when that gets back to what we talked about before, where a person who's abusive is often so caught up in their own stuff that they can't even understand how the words coming out of their mouth are going to be perceived by people who are not abusers.

Speaker 2:

Right and often they're pretty aware of the types of things that might impress most professional people, even a mental health professional, if they're not really used to working with that particular demographic.

Speaker 1:

Right For sure, all right. So let's get into the nuts and bolts of how this would work. So could you walk us through how the process of treatment for the abuser would work from the very beginning?

Speaker 2:

Well I know, if they had someone working with them that is an expert that has experience in this area, like we have an Intelsa, the Divis men's program. It would require, first of all, full disclosure of your history of physical and psychological abuse toward your partner, your children, whomever.

Speaker 1:

Right and just I don't think we've said this. Divis means domestic violence, intervention services and so full disclosure. And now that from the attorney perspective, full disclosure is difficult, because if you have unadjudicated allegations of domestic violence in the person maybe is waiting on a referral, because what happens is the police will investigate and then they'll make a determination as to whether or not to refer it to the district's attorney for prosecution. Then the DA decides whether or not to prosecute it and then it can take months. So in the meantime what's happened is maybe there's been this allegation of domestic violence that was physical and the police recalled, maybe somebody was arrested, maybe somebody wasn't, the maybe DHS is investigated. You know, typically I have multiple cases right now where this is the subject and I'll refer them out to a criminal defense attorney while proceeding in parallel with the family case, and then typically the criminal defense attorney is going to be telling them don't say anything, don't talk to the DHS investigator, don't talk to the detective who's investigating it, and you're just not going to see your kid for a while while this is happening. And then the problem is, is it maybe three, four, five, six months before a charging decision is made, depending on the county in which you live, or longer, or longer, and then it can take longer than that for all the disclosures and discovery and arraignments, and just it seems to take forever. And so you wind up getting to the point where this person wants to see their kid. They were or not abusive In some cases, but in our case we're saying they were abusive. Like we know, maybe they were abusive to one kid and not another. Sometimes I've seen fathers who will get overly aggressive with sons but not with daughters.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

For example, in the meantime that parents not seeing the kids, the extended family on that side not seeing the kids, there's lots of pressure to see the kids but same time they can't get into counseling because they can't make full disclosures, because you can't reach agreements. That prevents what's disclosed and counseling from being provided to the prosecution for the criminal case.

Speaker 2:

And more often than not In my experience, they are already sent to me with an order for reconciliation and all that is still hanging in the balance.

Speaker 1:

Right.

Speaker 2:

And so the fathers are telling me just exactly what you've said on this side of the fence. You know, and I've never really even heard all those steps on the other side of the fence.

Speaker 1:

Right, right, exactly so you know. On one hand, that would be some exceptional disclosure, for if a parent who was abusive is so willing to work on their issues that they're willing to disclose fully what they did, with pending litigation or criminal prosecution, that is someone who has radically accepted what they did, they're willing to take whatever punishment comes their way and they're willing to start the process. That is actually the person that I might tend to trust most is ready to fix themselves.

Speaker 2:

But then they also realize and they're right in some cases that the child may be sneaking in some recording device like their phone, already set on record and not out where we can see it and I don't risk children, you know and they may be either themselves or their other parent hoping to catch the abuser doing that disclosure.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I don't think there's any expectation of privacy in a reconciliation counseling session. That's ordered by the court, because inherent in it is you providing reports to the court about the progress. So I think you could even be called to testify in a criminal prosecution. Yeah, regarding what you've heard, so right, so let's. So I mean, if that person is so ready to make change that they're willing to have the conviction go to jail, if that person is that ready to make change, then that's a person who I'm excited to see what's going to happen with their treatment.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

But so let's assume that either the person has reached that level of radical acceptance or, you know, no charging decisions going to happen. Whatever, they're going to avoid prosecution, so they're ready to actually fully participate in the process without fear of criminal prosecutions. Let's remove that hurdle from it. I know we talked about it for a long time, but it is one of the, under said, the most important factors in how we start up. I think the reconciliation, counseling with someone who's abusive Right.

Speaker 2:

Well, and this is mostly things that should be once again tackled and confronted and understood, recognized. You know in individual and or group therapy that the abusers undergoing before they ever get to me, but then when I start to kind of go down the list and say, okay, have you disclosed this? Are you recognizing that any form of abuse is not justified, or are you still blaming your partner that might have been your victim and or your children? Right, Typically, by the time I get them, they're still blaming somebody else. Right and they're still extremely defensive.

Speaker 1:

And that's why it's important for reconciliation counselor to have the option to make it therapeutic determination as to whether the reconciliation process is ready, if they're ready to enter that process in the first place.

Speaker 2:

Right, they've got to accept it, admit that their behavior was intentional, yeah, that they had perhaps hidden or not so hidden agendas, goals for what they were doing, how they were being manipulative and what they expected to get out of it. You know, I mean that's that's something that takes a lot of soul searching and it's not really part of my process. I can see what it hasn't been accepted and admitted to, but it's really not my job to be their individual therapist.

Speaker 1:

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Speaker 2:

I mean, it's supposed to be there as a reconciliation therapist for the relationship to see if they can be repaired and to do so, but not to repair everybody. To get to that point.

Speaker 1:

Well, because then you're getting into how many roles which you're really not right. It's not best practice and, to some extent, depending on your relationship, it's not permitted.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

So you got to be real careful with that and you know if to get the person to the place where they're ready, you know we have something called. Well, they've changed the name and I can't remember what the new name is, but it used to be batters intervention, bip, the batters intervention program, and they called it something else and I can't remember what they've changed the name to, but it's something in the intent in changing the name was to recognize that physical attack isn't the only form of domestic violence. Right, but I can't remember the new name, but it's in Oklahoma. It's a 52 week program which has a great success rate at the person actually completes it. I mean, it's fairly low recidivism and from my perspective, I think if I were advocating for the abuser to be able to start the process, I think my perspective would be once they finish six months of batters intervention with good reports, then I think they're probably ready to have the intake with you and to have you make the assessment as to whether they're ready for the reconciliation council. I don't think they have to complete the whole thing.

Speaker 2:

I like how you put that, though, because I've only seen a couple of times when the order came really close to that, but they would say, not that I was going to assess where they were in the process, but that it would definitely start. The reconciliation would start halfway through. That's better than nothing. I mean I'm thrilled with throwing that bone out there, but I have seen once again sitting in that batters program with the guys from Divas. I have seen them blow it again with their partner, even in a new relationship or something at that point After that long right. Well, that's why the main things is they need to have a really good history behind them of getting it before we get to that point, because it's a hard thing to change.

Speaker 1:

Right for sure, and if you hear something in the background, I'm not injuring an animal. That is lemon, our cat, who is unhappy and but won't, also won't leave the room. So I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I haven't heard a yeah, I don't know what he's doing.

Speaker 2:

I know what the deal is. He hears my voice.

Speaker 1:

That's probably it and oh, that's one way to go with it. Okay, so we've got them in some treatment and now they're getting ready to go in and to work on this process, and one of the first things that it seems like they need to understand is what's expected of them in reconciliation counseling. One of the hardest things that I find with batter with people who have been abusive is they'll admit to some things which they're for some reason morally okay with. They think is not a real problem. Then they will refuse to admit to other things and they have to understand that in the reconciliation process they may have to acknowledge having done things that they didn't actually do, because the child has formed the perspective that it occurred and they can't reconcile until they address that need of the child for closure on that issue. Is that accurate to say?

Speaker 2:

In some cases I would say more so it would be willing to accept that maybe they had spanked the child, just not with the objects the child remembers them using, or not as many licks as the child remembered receiving or that kind of thing. They kind of pick and choose the parts of it they might. Typically it's because, like I said earlier, they kind of know what a professional might go what about you know and they want to normalize, like a spanking, as being something parents do. But if I'm giving them a pop on their bottom with my bare hand, that might be accepted, where if I'm hitting them with some object 10 times the professional might go what?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and those differences make a difference to the abuser, because their self-esteem is wrapped up in the fact that they may have done X but they didn't do Y. They may have messed up a little bit, but they're not a bad person. So getting them on those differences, that, from our perspective, you'd be like what's the big deal? You know, like you've already acknowledged this, let's go a little bit further and acknowledge that the child could remember it that way and let's make some progress. But they will be dead set that they're not acknowledging something that they say they didn't do.

Speaker 2:

And then you've got the whole trauma therapy thing that the child and the partner, or whoever the victims were, are going to be needing to go through. That you know it highlights, heightens everything during that experience. You know the person who is so angry that they're probably blacked out with their anger in terms of they don't even realize how many times they're hitting, kicking, doing whatever. The person who's receiving all that is probably remembering it better and in more detail than the person who's delivering it. Right.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and that gets into. You know, in Oklahoma corporate punishment is permitted yes, abuse is not permitted, and you can switch from one to the other real quick. And even with corporate punishment, it's one of those issues of just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean you should, right, and I think a lot of times that's a real triggering thing for me when I have a client, or if I'm the JL or PC and the person says why have every right to do this? And I'm thinking to myself you are not in the headspace for proper parenting or co-parenting, because it's not about your rights. It's supposed to be about what's good for your child and in your child's best interest. Well, often are two different things.

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah, at that point, they have just told you that they have a pattern of controlling behaviors and they've got a very entitled attitude as to what their rights are, even if they those things are having a destructive impact on their partner or their children.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, a lot of times, I think some folks who are really, really hung up on what their rights are, especially when it comes to their family and their interactions with their family. They feel like they don't have much control anywhere else, right, and they are darn sure that they're going to have everything that they're entitled to in their own home and in their own relationships, regardless of who it is.

Speaker 2:

And you're coming a long way from all that to the point in therapy where they are ready to experience empathy for the person or persons they've been abusing and then to say because it's a separate whole step, there's somebody liars to all this. That's why it really needs to be done before we get to my office. It's not like, should they experience empathy, but get it that everybody that was involved in receiving your abuse is going to have a long time before they can get over their mistrust of you. And even if it didn't happen, very often it's just as bad because they don't know when that's going to happen again.

Speaker 1:

You know yeah.

Speaker 2:

They're going to be literally walking on eggshells, waiting for that behavior to return.

Speaker 1:

And one of the difficult things is you can't really set that up in an office environment or online therapy or even really in professionally supervised visitation, because all of the pieces of the puzzle aren't there for the person to experience what they perceive to be the misbehavior or the triggering event and for everyone to know that they could lash out like they did in the past because there's no one there to stop them at the moment and they choose not to. You can't really test that before you have the child back with that parent, and so it makes it really hard for the professionals to indicate when it may be okay for them to go to unsupervised, and I'm sure it makes it that much more difficult for the children and for the custodial parent to have that trust because everything's fine and dandy until they're alone in the abusive parent's house and something that used to trigger them in the past happens.

Speaker 2:

That's why my viewpoint on reconciliation therapy has always been that we have to dig in and do the really yucky, scary confrontation of this abuser. Because if all we do is sit around and play a game together, guess what? Everybody can fake that for a while, you know. But if you are sitting there and your child is confronting you with the words you've used, the behaviors you've done, what part of your body you hurt, some part of their body or their mothers or whoever, it's going to be hard on somebody not to let that facade slip.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's why, as a JAL in the past, when I've been uncertain about the abusive nature of the person, I've intentionally done things that I've been told will make them mad. Like I will show up late without calling them to a visit, because I've been told they get furious if you're late. They see it as disrespect, and so I'm like, okay, well then I'll do that or I'll do no other little things based on what I'm being told by the custodial parent or others that are triggers for them. I'll do those things, but I acknowledge that me is not the same, because I'm a quite large male and it's different to have a child or someone who's smaller, less able to defend themselves and also not in a position of institutional power, because I'm the guardian and light them. So there are lots of reasons why I know that that's not a great experiment, but of the things that are possible in the toolbox at the moment, that's a start, but that's the kind of thing that we have to do. We have to do the things that would trigger them, to see how they deal with it and if they acknowledge that it would have triggered them in the past or maybe even today. If they acknowledge those things, at least it's telling you that they're aware that there's an issue, and that's the first step.

Speaker 2:

There have been many times a child has told me after a parent has been triggered and had a very negative reaction, and I, of course, have left the room with the child in tow back when I was in office. The child has told me they were so relieved that somebody outside the family system saw that happen. Yeah, because it's been such a secret within their system for years.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and it's so, it's so devastating, yeah, when that happens. You know we on our Instagram and if you haven't been to our Instagram, please do check it out and follow us, because we're starting to actually do that. Oh, and also, it's only been a few years, so why should we have social media? We're also starting to put. We're working on putting all of our podcasts on YouTube. We have video of almost all of our podcasts. I just never put them out. So now I'm going through and we're going to be putting them up on our YouTube page, so we'll tell more about that. When they're up there, you'll sort of see them trickle up little by little. If you ever just have that hankering to see us, there's your opportunity. But on our Instagram page I put something, a post, I guess. It is about how to structure this station to be super parent, and a comment that I got back was don't oh, how do you do it? You don't ever.

Speaker 2:

That wasn't me either.

Speaker 1:

That was not you. So my response to that was if you listen to the podcast, you'll see that our conversation is court ordered supervised visitation, where there's really no choice, and that's what we're talking about. But I think it's important to maybe address that here too, and we'll probably address it more. It's probably more beneficial in treating the child, but I just want to throw it out there that the goal is to give every child two good parents if possible, and just because someone had been abusive doesn't mean that they can't play any role in providing marginal benefit to their child. So we don't throw away people. We try to help them get better so that they can be the best parent that they can be, and so a child has some access to some good part of their biological parent. I mean, that's how I see it.

Speaker 2:

I hear you, thank you, but of course, with me the child always comes first because they have no power in the situation with the courts or with the parent that was abusive. And even if the parent was abusive to them and they were the witness or a pawn or targeted in some way, you know it is really important for the abuser parent to get to a place, not where we're going to totally keep them away for the rest of their life from the child, but it's best for them. I mean, I watched just in the year that I was there at Divas. I watched these men get some self-respect and some self-esteem back that they had lost, perhaps in childhood, right. So I'm just talking about doing the best thing for everybody. I completely agree, just the order that you do it in is important.

Speaker 1:

I completely agree with you. I think we're both on the same page. We want to make everybody the best they can be in that family system and sometimes it just it takes longer to work on one piece before you can put the puzzle back together and I've had children.

Speaker 2:

I'll tell you this. I've had children tell me who are getting very supervised visitation, like we talked about. What are two of those levels? Maybe it's in the same room, you know, in a very structured environment for weeks or months, but they are enjoying seeing the parent actually Right, if they just know they're in a very safe venue to do so.

Speaker 1:

Yeah and yes, right, the you know. And that goes back to a child who hasn't been alienated from the parent. Even an abusive parent is going to want to see that parent. And if we don't try, while the court has jurisdiction over custody and visitation matters, if we don't try to help rehabilitate the abuser parent to make them suitable to have interactions with their child, when that kid turns 17, 18, maybe 16, they may seek out that parent and they may try to have a relationship with them, and the parent won't have received the counseling, the treatment to be the better person. And so the child is just going to get sucked back into a manipulative web with an abusive parent who now is just using different tactics.

Speaker 2:

I don't kid, said I've wound up back with a parent like that as young adults that deteriorated quickly into a world of drug and alcohol and then abuse themselves with their respective partners.

Speaker 1:

Right. That's why we have to. That's to me. That's part of the answer of how do we do this with an abusive parent. It's not, don't it's? We try, we do everything humanly possible within the jurisdiction of the court and our abilities professionals to rehabilitate the abuser so that they can have a better life and, more importantly, the child can have a better life now and in the future. And we're going to lose the tools if we don't try to do it when the child is within the court's jurisdiction.

Speaker 2:

Right, I think I'm getting so fervent about all this that I've probably talked a lot extra time that we might just need to get into the other deep part of it, which is actually more where I would come in with the child in the reconciliation process in a perfect world and the kinds of things that I would be hoping to work on with the abuser in my role.

Speaker 1:

Okay, all right. Well then let's do this. Let me summarize sort of what we covered today. If you could, I'll ask you to sort of give a highlight about what we're going to cover in part two. Then if we're doing two parts and then we'll wrap this one up. So today what we covered was sort of the beginning thoughts about how to help treat the abuser parent, and so the first step was the abuser parent has to be in a place where they're ready to receive the treatment, and that means acknowledging what the abuse was, to be prepared to really give a full disclosure about the history of the abuse whether it's physical, psychological to both the child and the custodial parent. They have to be ready to recognize that there's no justification for the abuse that they unleashed on everyone. They can't still be defensive in blaming their victims, whether it's the child or the custodial parent or both. They have to acknowledge that they had a purpose. Often they'll say, oh, I'm not sure what happened, but if you have a long history, of course, of control and abuse, there was an objective that they wanted to accomplish, and they were doing it by abusing the child or the partner or both, and they have to acknowledge that it wasn't just something that happened to them. They had a goal and they went after that goal by abusing the people in their life. They have to acknowledge that too. They have to be started down the course of individual counseling. They have to be in something like a batter's intervention where they're having some real therapy, where they're learning to have some empathy for their victims and to start seeing things from their perspective. And then they have to be prepared to follow the rules, to jump through hoops and to recognize that the hoops are there for their benefit as well as for the benefit of the children and the custodial parents, because they need to prove to themselves, for their own self-esteem and to everyone else that they're ready to change.

Speaker 2:

That's all true, all right.

Speaker 1:

So that's a summary of, I think, what we talked about today for the most part. What can we look forward to in the second part here? What's the deep stuff we're going to get into?

Speaker 2:

Well, I think at this point it's where, in an ideal world, I would like to receive, like you said earlier, maybe six months, into their batter's program and they've done a lot of work on those issues you just recapped on and now I can work with them because they will recognize a lot of the things that I will be bringing up, or if I'm coaching them on certain behaviors that I'm seeing at least a glimmer of when I've got the child with them, they will probably much better receive the coaching I can give them at that point.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so this episode was dealing with all the preparatory work and mindset that has to be in place before they come to you. The next episode, part two of how to treat the abuser parent, is going to be you running us through what kind of work you would be able to do with the prepared abuser parent in session with the child.

Speaker 2:

Correct.

Speaker 1:

Okay, well, that's what we've got to look forward to. So that does it for today, and we will see you all next week for part two of episode seven of our domestic violence and co-apparenting series, treating the abuser parent. Thanks, everybody, see you next time.

Speaker 2:

Thank you.

Treating the Abusive Parent
Addressing Reconciliation and Trauma in Relationships
Rehabilitation of Abusive Parent-Child Relationship
Abuser Parent Treatment and Preparation