CCEF is excited to announce that we are offering a new course in 2015! The course is “Counseling Abusive Marriages” and will be taught by Darby Strickland. Darby has been a counselor for fifteen years and has gained a wealth of experience and case wisdom on how to effectively intervene in difficult marriage situations.
CCEF interviewed Darby (DS) to learn about the new course.
Who should take this course?
DS: Pastors, elders, lay counselors, counselors, lay ministers who lead men’s and women’s ministries—anyone who ministers to people who are married.
What is the course about?
DS: My experience with these marriages has led me to see the goal of counseling as redeeming worshippers from oppression, so the course is centered on this theme. When God’s people were enslaved in Egypt, God sent Moses to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go so they may worship me.” We are meant to worship the Lord. But in abusive marriages, there are two people who cannot fully live as worshipers. One is the oppressor who is enslaved to the desire to be served, instead of serving the Lord. And the other is the oppressed who is trying to serve and follow the rules of the oppressor. Both spouses need help so they are free to worship the Lord.
When people think of abuse in marriage, they generally think of physical abuse. Is that the focus of this course?
DS: That will be one focus. One in four marriages have abusive elements to them, but that does not always mean it is physical. So I will also have lectures on sexual and emotional abuse. I will equip students to recognize abuse in all its different forms. This is important because abusive patterns are not always easy to recognize. Some of the signs are quite subtle.
What are forms of oppression that you have seen in marriages and how can counselors help?
DS: Oppression occurs when one partner consistently demands that things go his or her way and punishes the other partner when they do not. Oppression takes many forms and creates a destructive pattern that permeates the relationship. It might look like a husband or wife ruling over a spouse by not allowing input on things like setting a budget or who the spouse can be friends with. Some people misuse Scripture in order to get their spouse to comply with their thinking. Others are belittling and make attacks on their spouse’s character. Perhaps a spouse demands sex, or consistently blames the other spouse for personal sin.
In all these ways, the oppressor tries to control and instill fear to keep the oppressed spouse in compliance. When this is happening, pastors and counselors should not do traditional marriage counseling. That could be more damaging. Until both spouses recognize the abusive patterns, counseling can actually perpetuate the problem.
So how can you best help? The course will explore this question by reading and discussing case studies and by providing practical ways to work in these situations. Each class will have a “tool time” that gives students concrete exercises to use in counseling. For example, students will be equipped to recognize an abusive argument, along with an inventory to identify if abuse is present in a marriage.
Students will also learn how to utilize the church community to support the counseling process. The church has resources that one counselor cannot offer, so if they work together there is greater potential for true and lasting change. I will provide specifics on both how a counselor can work closely with a church leader and how a pastor or other church leader can coordinate care with a counselor.
Why is abuse in marriage an important topic for people in ministry to consider?
DS: Destructive dynamics are prevalent in marriages—even in Christian ones. These situations are complex and can become overwhelming very fast. Unknowingly, churches and counselors can do harm in these situations if they do not recognize that abuse is occurring and have knowledge about how to intervene. Navigating care for a couple in this situation takes a tremendous amount of wisdom. This course will help build that wisdom.