Making the Invisible Visible: Assisting Counsellors to Understand and Spot Coercive Control
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Coercive control is gradually coming into public awareness as the underlying mechanism of male to female partner abuse. Proposed by Stark (2012) as a much-needed reframing of the concept of domestic abuse, coercive control is being recognized as a crime against women's liberty, freedom, autonomy, and dignity, returning the focus of men's abuse of women away from the physical incident model and back to its roots as a complex pattern of domination and subjugation of women by men. However, the understanding of domestic abuse as physical assault remains dominant in society and in the counselling field. Counsellors need to understand domestic abuse as coercive control and be able to spot it in the counselling room. The dominant understanding of domestic abuse as physical assault means most abuse assessments do not successfully identify coercively controlling behaviours and counsellors are likely to miss the signs. Using an interpretative phenomenological analysis of the lived experiences of five women who were being coercively controlled and sought the help of couple counsellors, 15 emergent themes were discovered. From these themes, 6 observable signs of coercive control were identified, as well as 8 key learnings that may assist counsellors in understanding and spotting coercively controlling relationship dynamics.