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Why women stay in/return to abusive relationships: Mental health professional's perceptions

25 July 2005


Despite an increase in services and assistance for victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), the rate at which women return to abusive relationships has remained relatively stable over the last two decades (Griffing et aI., 2002; Hilbert & Hilbert, 1984; Schutte, Malouff, & Doyle, 1988; Strube, 1988). This suggests there may be something missing from current intervention strategies and that the mental health field may not be . fully addressing the underlying dynamics that keep women trapped in abusive relationships. There is, in fact, very little empirical literature about which strategies are most effective in helping women extricate themselves from their abusers. Furthermore, mental health professionals (MHP) perceptions and beliefs about this subject have not been researched at all. Theories about the stay/return dynamic have shifted over the last 50 years from intrapsychic, victim-blaming models to socioeconomic, systems deficit models, and current intervention strategies reflect this. As a result, victim's intrapsychic experiences about what sustains this stay/return cycle have been avoided. At the same time, there is recent literature suggesting a link between IPV and attachment issues. Perhaps the missing piece in the intervention process is, after all, an intrapsychic one. Incorporation of attachment theory would allow MHPs to acknowledge the victim's very basic human need for love and connection without the specter of victim-blaming, and may lead to more effective interventions. Results of the study support the potential importance of understanding how attachment impacts a woman's decision making processes as she struggles to deal with the ramifications of IPV.


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