Solution-oriented therapy for the experiences of domestic violence
What kind of therapy there is available? What happens in solution-oriented therapy? Does it mean you have to focus on solutions rather than what has happened? Or is it about denying the negative events? Our solution-oriented therapist Katja Kytölä tells us…
Those who have experienced intimate partner violence may have difficult traumas and a huge number of unresolved issues. It may be that a person who has experienced violence has never been able to tell anyone what they have had to go through. They may have lived for years, if not even decades, under pressure and having to modify themselves and their own way of acting. They may have had to dig their deepest feelings “underground” in order to cope with it all, or some of the experiences may be beyond the reach of memory.
Of course, not everyone who has experienced intimate partner violence has this situation. The experiencer may have a good sense of resilience and self-efficacy even in the midst of difficult trials. They could talk about their experiences and feelings to their friends or write a diary. Every person has their own way of dealing with their difficulties, so there is no single correct form of therapy for intimate partner violence experiences.
It is known that some people who have experienced violence never need outside help to recover from their experiences. Some, on the other hand, may need long-term, systematic trauma psychotherapy, and for some, it’s fine for them to visit therapeutic support a few times, even at a shelter. As an expert in violence work myself, I recommend those who have experienced violence to visit a professional to discuss what kind of support or therapy approach would suit them. Violence has effects on the person who experienced it, and the effects may not be assessed by oneself, or they may surface even years later. It is also important from the point of view of survival that the things experienced get some kind of narrative, i.e. a coherent story in one’s own mind.
Solution-focused therapy is suitable for everyone and does not harm anyone. Solution-oriented therapy is sometimes understood as therapy where the idea is to find solutions to a difficult situation. A more appropriate name is actually resource-focused therapy, because the therapy focuses on making use of all one’s own resources in order to achieve the desired situation. In solution-oriented therapy, we think that the problem is a problem, and that’s why it’s not worth looking into any more — we don’t want more of it. Let’s focus on what works and how to increase it.
I have been doing solution-oriented therapy with those who have experienced violence for years. So what’s going on there? First of all, we start with situation mapping and try to understand the customer’s current life situation as precisely as possible. You can also talk about problems — it often helps to structure the situation and what is going on becomes clearer to yourself. Especially for those who have experienced violence, it is useful to get names for what they have experienced or are experiencing, because violence can feel very vague. Everyone also has the right to vent their feelings and thoughts out. As a professional, it is also important for me to hear about violence because I can assess the client’s safety at that moment. Safety can sometimes be an illusion for the experiencer, in which case safety can only be evaluated objectively from the outside.
In solution-oriented therapy, we soon begin to outline what the client would like their life to go towards. The miracle question can be used to help here. The miracle question looks for a situation where the customer’s problem is gone and the best possible has happened without conditions or restrictions. With the help of the scale exercise, we can find out where we are in relation to this ideal situation and how we got to the present moment and what the next steps forward would be. The survival question, on the other hand, looks for the client’s skills, means of survival, ability and resources, which they used to survive the violence. Let’s think together about how they could be refined and what it would all mean in practice.
As the therapy progresses, I always monitor the realization of safety. Often the client also focuses on the perpetrator in their thoughts and thinks about their motives, childhood, goals, etc., which is not relevant in terms of the client’s own recovery. Many people want to understand and be aware of a possible threat. The answer to the miracle question for someone who has experienced violence is often that there would be no more violence. However, the focus in therapy work must be turned to the client themselves: Violence is not their fault or under their control. They cannot cause or prevent it from happening. Let’s focus on what it is possible to influence ourselves.
The feelings of someone who has experienced violence vary a lot, and especially when breaking up, strong emotions arise. There is never a rush in therapy and back packs are included. Emotions are dealt with by unpacking the thoughts and needs behind them. The process of letting go involves doing grief work, dealing with feelings of fear, shame and guilt — but equally awakening hope, strengthening increasing joy and peace. Each customer also builds their own story and is in control of what kind of story it will turn out to be. Is it a horror story or a survival story? Does the story have a happy ending?
Solution-focused therapy is thought to have three stages of coping. The first step is the victim(s). At this stage, the person who has experienced violence recognizes that they are a victim of violence — that is, that the violence was not their fault, which is not always obvious to those who experience it. The experienced violence, the dynamics of the whole relationship and the cyclical nature of violence are put into words and the experiencer becomes clear about what it was really about and why the feeling was so bad. Let’s also go through their rights and that they don’t have to be a victim — so the next step is a survivor. I imagine that everyone who comes to my clinic is already a survivor. At the very moment we meet, they’re not under violence — but safe with me. They made an appointment and came to the reception.
The public talks about survivors of violence, but in a solution-oriented world, the ultimate stage of survival is a bloomer (blooming). Because a survivor is a survivor from something or somewhere and then the survivor’s identity is determined through that particular experience “I am a survivor of violence”. The bloomer, on the other hand, reaches their full bloom, when what is experienced no longer has any meaning in terms of that moment and the future. Identity is made up of completely different things. Of course, violence in history does not disappear anywhere, but it has been accepted as part of one’s own life history. Violence itself does not have to be accepted, and some people prefer to use the word acknowledge. Let’s acknowledge or accept it as a fact that this has happened to me — it is a life left behind and does not affect life in any way at this moment. The person themselves makes their own choices, without thinking that they cannot do something because they have experienced violence. It is also about taking responsibility for one’s own life and removing power from the perpetrator of evil.
Written by Katja Kytölä — Katja is our substance matter expert in building the AinoAid™ AI content, a solution-focused therapist and an expert in work against domestic violence. She has been developing the work and created Hyvinpitely Oy in 2020 among two colleagues of her. Katja has written and published two books of domestic violence after studying domestic violence from different aspects. As a part of We Encourage, Katja’s main responsibility is the AinoAid™ AI content.