House of Ruth

Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer’s Story

31-year-old Jennifer* came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) for help in dealing with conflict with her husband and her concerns about how this impacted her small children. It didn’t take long for Jennifer to see that she was married to a highly verbally abusive partner, and had become depressed and increasingly isolated from others outside of her immediate family. Like many clients, Jennifer felt embarrassed about her own behavior, blamed herself for any conflict in the home with her partner, and had trouble talking about it. Addressing this shame head-on in counseling had the effect of liberating Jennifer from its toxic effects.

After about a month into working with her DVSC counselor, Jennifer reported it was as though a one-hundred pound weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Once she began to believe that her experiences were common and that her responses to them were understandable and not “crazy,” Jennifer felt less depressed and less isolated. She began socializing more with others outside of her family, and she also felt a greater capacity to explore her marital conflict and consider all her options for changing her situation.

*Name has been changed.

Catherine’s Story

38-year-old Catherine* came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) for help separating from a long-term physically and verbally abusive relationship. Like many clients who seek services at the DVSC, Catherine described her boyfriend as very controlling through most of the relationship, with occasional escalations to physical violence. Recently when talk of separating was broached, her boyfriend vandalized her property, harassed her workplace with malicious calls, threatened suicide, or promised to kill her if she ever took legal action against him—in effect punishing Catherine for any attempt to separate from him.

Understandably, Catherine initially presented as very anxious, felt discouraged in pursuing any of the various legal options available to her, and felt hopeless about her situation ever changing. Instead of focusing on “taking action” (which Catherine made clear she was not ready to do), her DVSC counselor first focused on understanding her very long-standing anxious thinking style, especially as it related to her sense of self and her own capacities in life.

Over a few months, Catherine came to feel less anxious and more empowered, which led to her taking several actions against her abusive boyfriend that rendered him unable to contact her without very serious legal and professional consequences for him. Feeling safer and less anxious, Catherine has since turned her attention in counseling to understanding some of her longstanding ways of relating to others, especially in intimate partner relationships, and has become especially interested in the impact some of her early childhood experiences have had on her ways of relating.

Through counseling, Catherine has been able to achieve a much higher degree of freedom in her life and has cultivated a renewed feeling of hope about her future.

*Name has been changed.

Jenny’s Story

31-year-old Jenny* sought counseling services at the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) after a long stint of counseling elsewhere. Jenny felt concerned that her previous counselor was frustrated with her “lack of progress.” Jenny is a survivor of prolonged childhood abuse and neglect, and when she started services at the DVSC she was still living with some of the abusive family members she grew up with.

Jenny was suffering from depressed mood and panic attacks on a regular basis. She experienced extreme social anxiety (making it difficult for her to leave her home), and reported a phobic anxiety of driving. Jenny noted that overcoming her driving phobia had been a goal of hers since she got her license as a teenager, but her anxiety had only grown worse over the years. She also reported a less concrete goal of moving away from her family, but admitted to feelings of guilt and obligation were “keeping her there.”

Working with her counselor, Jenny prepared and executed a plan to buy a car for herself. She created and implemented a plan with her counselor to stick to a driving schedule to practice her skills and gradually become less anxious behind the wheel.

At present, Jenny is driving several times a week and is able to access more resources for herself and spend more time away from home, which she has reported is helpful to her mental health. Additionally, Jenny has begun talking more seriously about her long-term goal of moving out of her family’s apartment and living independently.

*Name has been changed.

Megan’s Story

34-year-old Megan* came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) six months ago because she recognized some unhealthy patterns in her relationships. Although Megan had never experienced physical violence in an intimate relationship, after she got divorced last year she realized in retrospect the relationship had been emotionally abusive. Her needs were often dismissed and disregarded by her then-husband.

After her divorce, Megan dated a man who often openly flirted with other women when they were together. He was not interested in Megan’s work accomplishments, her personal interests, or in meeting her friends. He often misled her or lied to her about what he was doing and who he was with. Upon intake at the DVSC, Megan completed the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC), which is widely used to evaluate symptoms connected with childhood or adult traumatic experiences. Megan’s initial score was 67 (of a possible 120), indicating that Megan was experiencing a variety of symptoms.

In the first couple of months of her work with her DVSC counselor, Megan was surprised to find herself exploring her experiences in her early life, and even more surprised to find that her feelings of being dismissed, unimportant, and ‘invisible’ in her family growing up were many of the same feelings she had in her adult relationships. Megan and her counselor worked to understand how triggers from adult relationships were stirring things up from earlier in her life, and how she might be able to prevent that from continuing to happen.

After two months of working with her counselor, Megan’s TSC score improved to 44. Megan was reporting far fewer and less severe symptoms. For another four months Megan and her counselor worked to enact the strategies they identified as useful in helping Megan cultivate relationships where she felt seen, understood, and valued.

After six months, Megan completed the TSC again and scored a 22. Her symptoms have been largely reduced and she is working on consolidating the gains she made in counseling and enjoying the higher quality of relationships in her life.

*Name has been changed.

Eric’s Story

Eric* is a 38-year-old man who came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) seeking services after his wife became physically abusive towards him, resulting in his decision to leave her. Eric began counseling with the goal of processing the effects of the abuse, exploring his relationship patterns and previous experiences of abuse, and learning ways in which he could avoid abusive relationships in the future.

Since beginning his sessions with the DVSC, Eric has worked hard to explore possible links between past trauma and the abuse he experienced in his relationship with his wife. He has also identified ways in which he would like to practice having better boundaries with others and prioritize himself, which Eric has reported is very difficult for him to do.

Eric is currently living apart from his abuser and has begun the court proceedings to obtain a divorce. He has worked with his DVSC counselor to navigate this process and negotiate issues in the divorce that are important to him. Eric has also identified long-term goals which include moving closer to family and pursuing his career and hobbies in a way he was not able to while married to his abuser.

*Name has been changed.

DVSC Partners with Local Groups

The Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) not only serves individuals who are working to recover from their abusive experiences, but also partners with other local organizations to provide psychoeducational groups to support the growth and development of their clients. One such partnership is with an after school program for at-risk adolescents.

In a recent group session focusing on ‘healthy relationships,’ the subject of sexual relationships came up during the discussions and the participants, ranging in age from 14-17, actively engaged in an exploration of their beliefs around sex, including when and who they decide to have sex with (or not). After the group session, several of the teens thanked the presenter and asked when the next group would be. Fortunately, due to the ongoing collaboration the DVSC has with this program, the next group was already scheduled! 

The program staff who were present also approached the DVSC facilitator and commented on how engaged the students were around such an intimate topic, and they were surprised at how readily the DVSC facilitator was able to establish a rapport with what many would consider a challenging population. The DVSC staff was not surprised, as this is what they often find: individuals who are working hard to improve their lives. And it’s why the DVSC provides high quality, highly trained professionals who can meet clients where they are at and hit the ground running!

Desiree’s Story

54-year-old Desiree* was referred to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) by another social service agency in DC where she had been receiving counseling services. Desiree has a long history of abuse beginning early in her life, continuing through adolescence when she was placed with an abusive foster family after her mother died from a drug overdose, and into adulthood with several extremely violent intimate partner relationships. Despite a full year of working with her counselor at her previous agency, Desiree was still suffering from significant post-traumatic symptoms, was having to be hospitalized regularly, and was struggling to maintain her sobriety from alcohol and PCP.

When Desiree came to the DVSC she had little insight into her post-traumatic symptoms. She was referred to our expert counselors at DVSC specifically for help with managing extreme post-traumatic hyper-arousal and dissociation, an area of expertise that she could not receive from the counselor at her previous agency. Over the course of several months, Desiree’s counselor at the DVSC was able to provide education regarding the nature of traumatic hyper-arousal and dissociation, as well as some concrete coping strategies, that helped Desiree have a better understanding of what she was going through and begin to be able to manage her symptoms.

After 11 months of treatment at the DVSC, Desiree has reduced her need for emergency care and hospitalization from once every 6 weeks (before DVSC) to only once in the last 7 months. As a result of the specialized services that Desiree was able to access at the DVSC, she is now more able to fully engage in substance abuse treatment services and work with her AA/NA sponsor. This is enabling Desiree to better maintain her sobriety.

Desiree is also attending a day treatment program for trauma survivors, a setting that she was previously unable to tolerate. Despite her gains, the severity of Desiree’s trauma history and symptoms suggest she will benefit from ongoing therapy for years to come. In Desiree’s words, “It’s nice to know that for once someone isn’t going to try and get rid of me.”

*Name has been changed.

Tonya’s Story

36-year-old Tonya* came to House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) to address feelings of depression related to a recent miscarriage, along with concerns about her relationship with a highly physically and verbally abusive boyfriend. Like many clients who seek services at the DVSC, Tonya felt unable to discuss her circumstances with family or friends due to fear of criticism, judgment, and condemnation.

Throughout her therapy, Tonya consistently remarked that her trust in the therapist helped her “think through” her relationship difficulties. For example, with the therapist’s help, Tonya has spent time evaluating her boyfriend’s potential for violence and identifying ways to maintain her safety. She has also explored deeply-held negative beliefs about herself, and began cultivating more self-appreciation and acceptance.

Through her work with her DVSC therapist, Tonya has become increasingly able to confidently oppose her boyfriend’s threats and intimidation, specifically through the use of legal resources and law enforcement. In addition, she has made great strides in building a fulfilling life away from her boyfriend, by expanding her social support network, participating in organized athletic activities, securing a promotion in her career, and recently adopting a pet dog.

*Name has been changed.

Ashley’s Story

23 year-old Ashley* sought counseling at House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) after an incident with her then-boyfriend, an incident which she was having difficulty processing on her own. Ashley had no history of counseling and was, in her own words, “very bad” at emotional language. Ashley struggled with labeling and acknowledging her emotions, an issue which created many problems for her throughout her life, including stunted relationships and poor boundaries with others.

Over the course of her work at the DVSC, Ashley has been able to develop an emotional vocabulary and to recognize and label emotions as she experiences them. Using her new awareness, Ashley has also been able to examine past events and process them more productively.

Most recently, Ashley and her counselor have begun working through some highly traumatic events from her past that Ashley admits have gone unacknowledged in any meaningful way until this point in her life. She has formed a strong working bond with her DVSC counselor and attends her weekly sessions devotedly, despite acknowledging that she finds the process challenging and uncomfortable.

*Name has been changed.

Tina’s Story

28 year-old Tina* was referred to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) by the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency. When Tina came to the DVSC, her children had been out of her care for nearly 14 months. Her two children, ages three and four years old, had been placed in a foster care setting after an anonymous report led police to discover she had left them in her apartment unattended while they were sleeping. At the time, Tina had gone to meet the children’s father because he said he wanted to give her some things he had gotten for the children. Tina later discovered that he was the one who had called the police to report her absence.

Despite her anger, and the court’s concern that her interactions with their father jeopardized the well-being of the children, Tina struggled to limit her contact with him, and to complete the parenting classes and counseling required for her to regain custody of her children. However, once she connected with the DVSC, Tina was able to focus her energies on taking care of herself and completing the requirements to reunify with her children.

On reflecting with her counselor, Tina realized it was her lifelong history of abusive relationships, and fear of parenting on her own, that kept her tied to her children’s father. By working with her DVSC counselor, Tina was able to break down the process of completing the court-ordered services into manageable goals, and create specific strategies for staying on track. Tina was also able to see increasingly how her children’s father had sabotaged her efforts to parent, work, and further her education by constantly creating ‘fires’ for her to put out. As a result, Tina and her counselor developed some concrete strategies for helping her to take care of herself and her children first, and their father secondarily, if at all.

Tina’s gains came quickly, after only six months working with her counselor, she was able to set and continue supporting stronger boundaries, and allow her to allocate her resources in a way that would be most beneficial to her and her children in the long run.

*Name has been changed.

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