Each year, more than 10 million women and men are the victims of domestic abuse in the United States. An average of 20 acts of domestic abuse occur every minute in this country. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to look at the causes of this epidemic– and how to heal from domestic violence.
When therapist Kristy Pauls first meets with survivors of domestic assault, they are often feeling incredibly overwhelmed. Most have just left a partner after enduring years of abuse. They are often searching for a new place to live, a job and childcare. But, most pressingly, they are dealing with trauma.
“In many cases, they are coping not only with the trauma from their abusive partner, but historical trauma from being abused as a child, a previous rape, sexual assault or physical assault,” said Pauls.
Pauls uses Accelerated Resolution Therapy, or ART, with domestic violence survivors to help them process specific troubling memories. ART is a highly effective treatment for trauma that studies have shown reduce or completely eliminate the physical and emotional symptoms of PTSD and trauma in an average of four sessions. With ART, therapists are able to guide their clients to replace troubling memories with peaceful images.
“Clients keep the knowledge, but lose the pain,” says Pauls, who has worked extensively with domestic violence survivors. “If you can lose those negative emotions and sensations, you can reframe your experiences. You’re always going to know who the abuser was and what their role was in your life. But you can let go of the pain attached to those memories.”
Pauls says her clients think of creative ways to reframe their relationship with the person who abused them. One woman, she says, imagined shrinking her abusive ex and then sealing him into a snowglobe. Pauls herself underwent ART to deal with a hostile work environment with a former job. “I can tell you everything with this boss, but I don’t feel any negative feelings or sensations about that person anymore,” she says. “I went through ART in 2016; those feelings left and never returned.”
After Pauls leads a domestic violence survivor through ART, they are able to move past their trauma. “I have seen women become so much more confident after they go through ART therapy,” Pauls says.