Paige Hall Smith (UNCG Center for Women’s Health and Wellness), Christine E. Murray (UNCG Department of Counseling and Educational Development, Ann L. Coker (University of Kentucky)
Violence and Victims, February 2010
What does it mean to “cope” with being a victim of battering? Can any coping strategy victims use be considered adaptive if it makes it more likely for them to stay in the abusive relationship?
This qualitative study involved interviewing women in battered women’s shelters in order to understand how these women cope with the battering-related stressors they face.
Who were the participants, and what were they asked to do?
Ten first-time residents of three North Carolina battered women’s shelters were interviewed to learn about the coping strategies they used in response to abuse. The researchers used qualitative data analysis procedures to identify themes in participants’ responses.
The 19 identified coping strategies were categorized based on whether they focused on managing emotions or solving problems and whether they engaged intrapersonal or interpersonal resources. An example of a coping strategy from each category is as follows:
- Emotion-focused/Intrapersonal: Keeping hope
- Emotion-focused/Interpersonal: Family support
- Problem-focused/Intrapersonal: Active planning
- Problem-focused/Interpersonal: Formal help-seeking
The researchers developed a conceptual framework that involved the image of a window, in which these categories were surrounded by a frame of the context. Some contextual influences included the perceived threat of harm, the perception that there are alternatives to the abusive relationship, and beliefs the women hold about relationship commitment.
As a qualitative study with a small sample of mostly African American participants drawn from one geographic region, the findings may not be applicable to other populations. In addition, because all participants were residents of battered women’s shelters, their responses may differ from those of battering victims who do not seek shelter services.
What does this research mean for counseling practice?
Counselors should assess for a variety of coping strategies when working with clients who have been victims of battering.
The relative value of coping strategies used in response to battering must be considered in light of numerous contextual factors, particularly related to victims’ safety.
According to the authors, “Coping strategies can serve both a protective and a risk-engendering function for these women, and often the same strategy may serve both functions depending on whether a short- or long-term view is taken” (p. 27). As such, counselors can work with their clients to evaluate the extent to which the coping strategies they are using are helping them to meet their short- and long-term goals.