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Teletherapy and Domestic Violence: What You Need to Know

domestic-violence-teletherapy-300x200Among the many things that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced to change is how domestic violence perpetrators and victims receive the help they both need. Psychotherapy and counseling are typically recommended for those who have been traumatized by violence at home. Here in California, those who are convicted of domestic violence are required to complete 52 weeks of counseling as part of their sentencing.

But stay-at-home orders have thrown a wrench into the works, so to speak. Not only has the quarantine prompted a surge in the number of domestic violence cases, but it has also created an obstacle when it comes to seeking the mental health counseling those affected by DV so desperately need.

Here’s the good news: Thanks to modern technology, many mental health professionals are now conducting sessions online through “teletherapy.” You can schedule a video chat with a therapist and attend your session online, and these sessions are now covered by most insurance plans. That being said, teletherapy has a different dynamic than in-person sessions, so it helps to be prepared for these differences. Let’s explore the topic of teletherapy when it comes to domestic violence cases, and what you need to know.

Why Is Therapy Required for DV Convictions?

By mandating group counseling for those convicted of domestic violence offences, the State of California obviously recognizes the benefit of counseling for perpetrators as well as victims. But domestic violence is a crime, not a diagnosable illness. We don’t require therapy for other crimes, so why does this mandate exist? Let’s look at a couple of reasons.

Domestic violence is a symptom of a deeper problem.

Almost no one commits violence against someone they care about simply as a random act. There is an underlying cause, often a mental health or unresolved issue, or a combination of issues. These might include any/all of the following:

  • Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)—Many veterans returning from war have struggled with domestic violence issues, for example.
  • Substance abuse and addiction.
  • Unresolved childhood abuse. Many perpetrators of domestic abuse were victimized themselves as children.
  • Anger management issues.
  • Depression and anxiety—both of which may be enhanced due to the current crisis.
  • Other types of mental illness.

There are other examples, but you get the idea: For many DV offenders, if not most, the act of violence is a symptom. The law doesn’t just seek to punish offenders, but to help prevent future offenses so people don’t get hurt. By requiring therapy, the law hopes to address the sickness, not just treat the symptom, in the hope of long-term recovery and preventing future crimes.

Domestic violence occurs within families who may have continued contact with each other.

For other types of violent crimes, the convicted person may serve jail time and easily be prevented from further contact with the victim. With domestic violence cases, it’s not as cut-and-dried. Even with restraining orders in place, the victim and defendant may have children together or desire to patch things up—or they are part of an extended family where they may still have contact in the future. These complicated dynamics make it all the more important to treat the causes of violent behavior through therapy because there may be ongoing relationships involved.

Getting the Most out of Teletherapy

Obviously, teletherapy works a bit differently than in-person classes or sessions, mainly because the health professional can’t control the environment when patients are in their own homes. However, whether you’re seeking therapy for your own benefit or as part of a mandated sentence, here are some things you can do to get the most out of remote therapy sessions.

Have Your Sessions Privately

Teletherapy doesn’t really work outside of a private environment. If you’re having a Zoom call with your therapist in the kitchen with friends or family members coming in or out, you’re not going to have the same fruitful conversation as if you were in the therapist’s office or in a group therapy session. Make sure you have as much privacy as possible; get alone in a bedroom or even in a closet, and make sure anyone else in your living space knows to leave you alone during the session. (If you’re in a “classroom” environment with others, this will also help the others to open up.) Use headphones, if possible, so only you are the one hearing what comes over the computer. Therapy only works if you’re free to speak your mind.

Create a Peaceful Space

When you come to the office or a class for a therapy session, your therapist (hopefully) designs the environment to you make you comfortable. When you’re at home, it’s up to you to create that space. Try to set up a spot that is clean and orderly (e.g., if you’re in your bedroom, make the bed, put away clothes, etc.). Feel free to light candles or set up pillows, if that helps. There are no rules except for you to be comfortable—just make it a space where you would enjoy spending an hour.

Take Responsibility for Your Own Treatment

If you simply attend therapy sessions because “the court told you to,” you’re probably not going to benefit much from them. That goes double for teletherapy because there can be so many distractions when doing it from home. Whether or not you have a court mandate, therapy is good for you, and it can help you have a better life moving forward. Don’t waste the opportunity. Remove all distractions and lean into the process. Take personal responsibility for your own recovery; after all, if you don’t, you could continue to hurt yourself as well as people you love.

Teletherapy isn’t a perfect solution, but if you’re willing to adapt to the process and embrace it, you can use this moment as a launch pad to a happier, more productive life—even in the midst of a pandemic. If you’ve been accused of or charged with domestic violence and need legal representation, we are always here to help. Call our offices for a free initial consultation today.


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