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New model in Harrow to help couples

Published in Press Releases on January 4th 2016

TCCR begins delivery of innovative counselling model in Harrow to help couples who are violent towards one another to stop.

As part of an ambition to develop and enhance its approach to dealing with couples who are violent towards one another (that is, who are involved in situational couple violence), Harrow Council has commissioned TCCR to deliver an innovative counselling intervention with a small number of carefully selected couples.

Bringing a number of couples together in a supportive environment, where it has been assessed as being safe to do so, this mentalization-based treatment model aims to help couples understand what causes them to become violent with each other, and how to refrain from such responses in the future.

TCCR believes that assessing and monitoring risk is of paramount importance when working with couples or individuals where there is actual or suspected violence in their relationship. Indeed, the intervention being trialled in Harrow is not intended or appropriate for the kind of domestic violence (often referred to as intimate partner violence) in which one partner uses a variety of violent and non-violent tactics to try to take complete control over their partner.

Traditional models tend to see all domestic violence as being the same in nature and origin, involving a perpetrator and a victim; such models therefore predominantly work with the abuser only and not the whole family. By providing specialist counselling to carefully selected couples who have experienced incidents of domestic violence which are situational in nature and carried out by both partners (often in response to identifiable emotional triggers), there is good evidence to suggest that future incidents can be reduced.

Domestic violence of this kind (often called ‘situational couple violence’) is much more prevalent than the perpetrator/victim type, and yet there has been an historic reluctance to look at the couple relationship dynamics which underpin this kind of violence. Harrow’s decision to utilise this new model is a sign that services are recognising that traditional approaches are not effective for many people in reducing incidents of domestic violence.

Ten couples will take part in the first phase of this scheme. The couples will initially be worked with individually, followed by 20 sessions with the couples together. Social workers from Harrow will undertake direct work with the children to assess the impact of the violence.

The programme will be run by trained psychotherapists and counsellors from the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. They will work closely with the families to discover the triggers for the abuse and help the couples to use techniques to defuse situations.

The programme started on 1 December 2015, which coincided with a local awareness raising campaign to ensure residents know where they can go for help and how to report domestic violence. Under the campaign called ‘it doesn’t have to be this way’ posters and adverts have been placed in libraries, doctor’s surgeries and other prominent locations around the borough.

Susanna Abse, Chief Executive of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, said:
“We are really delighted to be delivering, in partnership with Harrow Council, such a new and innovative way of helping with the major challenges faced when interpersonal violence occurs between couples. Our specially developed therapeutic Mentalization-Based Treatment aims to provide couples with the ability to better understand and manage their emotional responses to situations, which we hope will have a real and tangible positive impact on the whole family.”


For further information contact:

  • Paula Scott, PR consultant T: 07932 740221, E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Notes to Editors

About TCCR

Established in 1948 The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships (TCCR) is a registered charity internationally renowned for delivering and developing advanced practice, training and research in therapeutic and psycho-educational approaches to supporting couples.

The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, 70 Warren Street, London W1T 5PB.
Registered Charity Number: 211058. Company number: 241618 registered in England and Wales. The Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology

Different types of domestic violence

  • In recent years, researchers (e.g. Johnson, M. P., 2008) have identified three different types of domestic violence:
    • Intimate terrorism (or violent coercive control) - involves a pattern of violent coercive control in which one partner uses a variety of violent and non-violent tactics to try to take complete control over their partner (vast majority of this type of violence in heterosexual relationships perpetrated by men).
    • Violent resistance - perpetrated by a victim of intimate terrorism (can include self-defence, but also violence that is not self-defence, e.g. retaliation).
    • Situational couple violence (situationally-provoked violence) - violence that occurs because the couple has conflict which turns into arguments that can escalate into emotional and possibly physical violence. Situational couple violence often involves both partners (as opposed to intimate terrorism).

About the intervention

  • Couples must be willing and able to attend therapy sessions together for up to 20 consecutive weeks according to clinical need and in discussion with the therapist. Sessions that are missed cannot be replaced.
  • Couple must be willing to complete questionnaires in order for the project to be evaluated.
  • Parents must have a good level of English in order to be able to participate meaningfully in the therapy.
  • Mentalization-Based Treatment for couples is a form of psychotherapy for those who find that their arguments can get very heated, stormy or violent. It can also be a therapeutic intervention for couples where one or both partners find themselves sometimes withdrawing or retreating from the relationship in cold and rejecting ways. Mentalization-Based Treatment can help couples to understand their emotional responses to situations better, and to help with ‘reading’ the partner’s response to them, by specifically focusing on understanding the partner’s feelings and reactions, as well as their own. This can help couples become more aware of how they affect each other and how their relationship may affect people around them. Central to this approach is finding a way to anticipate and avoid situations that can lead to violence between partners.

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