In the 2010 report of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, it was reported that “48.4% of women and 48.8% of men have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner during their lifetime.” Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also revealed that about “1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.” Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, is a common tragedy that impacts people of all ages and gender. Although this can occur during childhood, it is also prevalent amongst romantic relationships. Victims of emotion abuse face low self-confidence and struggle with performing their daily activities. Because of this, occupational therapists should be aware of how they can utilize their skills to provide therapy for victims of emotional abuse.
How to Use Therapy for Victims of Emotional Abuse: A Guide for Occupational Therapists
What is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is defined as any form of manipulation on another person, typically towards a child or intimate partner. The perpetrator in an emotionally abusive relationship exhibits various non-physical aggressive behaviors that are targeted towards the victim’s emotional state. Specifically, perpetrators utilize these tactics to control their victims. These variables can range from instilling fear or guilt onto a person to exposing them to humiliation, bullying, and isolation. Symptoms of emotional abuse include:
- Social withdrawal or forced isolation from a partner
- Loss of interest in activities
- Yelling or verbal abuse from one partner to another
- Insults, name calling, mocking, shaming/humiliation, and sabotaging from a partner
- Denial of behaviors from the perpetrators, and instead blames the victim for the cause of the behaviors
- The utilization of threats
- Decrease in self-confidence
- Lying or cheating
- Fear of one’s partner
- Exhibition of possessive and jealous behaviors
- Accusation of imagining situations
What Are the Effects of Emotional Abuse?
Because there is no physical proof of abuse in psychological abuse cases, the effects are more evident in changes in the victim’s behaviors and mental state. For example, children who have experienced psychological abuse have difficulty performing in their academics as well as social life. Similarly, victims tend to engage in unhealthy relationships with others. In extreme cases, victims can also develop mental health issues such as dissociation or PTSD to name a few. Therapy for victims of emotional abuse is important because victims are often unaware that they are involved in an abusive relationship. In the same way, the anxiety and negative feelings associated with their experiences can create further trust issues and an inability to confront the situation. Occupational therapists can use their skills in occupational therapy, specifically in psychotherapy, to help their patients overcome their experiences and learn to conquer their past.
How Can Occupational Therapy Help Emotional Abuse Victims?
Occupational therapy can help victims of emotional abuse by helping them restore their confidence and autonomy in everyday situations. To start off, occupational therapists can educate victims with what constitutes as a healthy relationship, followed by how to identify warning signs for a psychologically abusive relationship. Through a series of sessions, occupational therapists work towards helping victims set boundaries for future relationships.
Often times, victims of psychological abuse tend to feel guilty about their experiences – specifically by expressing the belief that they deserved the situation. This can cause mental health illnesses in victims such as eating disorders, depression, or anxiety. Occupational therapists can utilize therapy for victims of emotional abuse, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), to help analyze the relationship between their victims’ internal thoughts and their behaviors. As a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the externalization of one’s internal thoughts, CBT aims to specifically help victims of emotional abuse understand how their behaviors are influenced by their experiences. By incorporating various CBT techniques such as cognitive restructuring, occupational therapists can help victims overcome their traumatic experience.