Interview with Catherine DeLoach Lewis (Part 1)
Catherine DeLoach Lewis is a Christian counselor. I came across Catherine when watching a presentation (via DVD) that she gave at a PASCH conference in 2011. PASCH = Peace and Safety in the Christian Home; an organization that is now sadly defunct.
Cathy impressed me as someone who was taking innovative action in the field of Christianity and domestic abuse. When I was recently in Charlotte, North Carolina, I made a point of meeting up with Cathy. I asked her to do an email interview for our blog; here is Part One of the interview. [click here for Part 2 of this interview]
My questions are in italics; Cathy’s answers are in regular type.
For more information about Catherine DeLoach Lewis, MA, LPC, BCPCC, go to Christian Therapy Services For Women.
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Please tell us how you came to understand about domestic abuse and apply your understanding to your practice as a Christian counselor.
I began my professional counseling career August, 1998. I was working with a married couple and in what came to be our last marriage counseling session, I noticed how close he was sitting to her and how he kept smiling and squeezing her hand. I also noticed how frightened she looked. I knew something was very wrong but I did not know what it was.
The next day I was attending a workshop on domestic violence and substance abuse. During my first break, I called the wife of this couple and said, “I am in a workshop on domestic violence and now I know what is wrong in your marriage. I will not conduct marriage counseling because now I understand you are not safe disclosing your concerns in front of your husband. If you can forgive me, I would love to work with you in individual counseling to help you work on your safety concerns. Would you be willing to work with me individually?” Through her sobbing on the phone, she said yes.
What proportion of your clients are victims of domestic abuse?
Three years ago it was 25%. Now it is 40% and here is the reason for the increase. About three years ago, I became frustrated in not knowing how to connect a victim of domestic violence to resources in my county. I am in private practice and am limited in how much support I can provide my clients which is why early on I begin helping my clients create support systems as I help them create a safety plan. Out of my frustration, I created a one-page resource tool for myself and others like pastors and lay ministers and really anyone who wants to help a victim of domestic abuse but needs resources in the community to do so.
I presented this tool for the first time at the PASCH conference in Abbotsford, B.C., May, 2011. I was so moved by people’s response, that when I came back home, I started scheduling training sessions with pastors and lay ministers who would meet with me. Because I now ‘hang my shingle’ so to speak as working with adult victims of domestic abuse, my referrals have increased. The greatest proportion of these referrals is adult victims of domestic violence.
What is your impression of how Christian counselors are handling domestic abuse? Do you have any concerns? What things would you like to see changed — if you could wave a magic wand in the field of Christian counseling and domestic abuse, what changes would you implement? Do you have any positive stories or impressions of how some Christian counselors are improving their response, and handling the issue well?
My overall impression is…not very well. Not because they don’t care but because this issue does not seem to be on their radar…and it’s not just Christian counselors. Counselors, especially marriage and family counselors are trained to save the marriage and family. Often times, the counselor will recommend that the abusive family member participate in family therapy, not realizing the danger they are creating for the other family members. This behavior also applies to marriage therapists. They are trained to save the marriage, not understanding that marriage counseling places the victim in danger. Remember my story as a new counselor? The difference in my story and other counselors is that it took my being in a domestic violence seminar to realize what was in front of me in the marital counseling session. I needed to have a name for what was happening and then to know what to do and NOT do.
I have many concerns and will attempt to be succinct. Many counselors do not receive training in domestic violence. I believe one of the main reasons is that most DV training is not approved for Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for their license renewal. Counselors, especially those in private practice, will not give up a work day of income to attend a seminar unless they can earn CEUs towards their license renewal.
The lack of training leads to another concern . . . counselors unknowingly creating danger for the victims of domestic abuse. In the attempt to be neutral and view the marriage and the family as a unit, the neutral view sides with the abuser. One cannot be neutral on abuse. One must take a stand against abuse in marriage and families. I have been unpleasantly surprised at the colleagues to whom I refer for marriage and family counseling (I only work with adult women now) who have wanted to include the abuser. Their reasons they give me is to save the marriage and family. When I attempt to explain the danger in their approach to the victims in the family, they just don’t seem to understand. Unfortunately, I only have one counselor to whom I can refer who has radar for domestic violence. This truth makes me sad and angry. But God is leading me to use my anger creatively by writing two domestic violence training programs, one for Christian counselors and one for non-Christian counselors and the attendees will earn CEUs for license renewal.
There are many concerns I have and at some point your readers would just stop reading, and I wouldn’t blame them. But one more concern I must hold up is the ignorance and denial the body of Christ has about domestic abuse. It seems to me that our response as Christians to domestic abuse is dismally similar to the world’s response…maybe even worse. Christians seem to hold up marriage and family as an idol to be worshiped at all costs, even at the cost of the victim’s life. If she survives physically, she dies spiritually, emotionally, and mentally when she is not believed and told to submit to her abusive husband. So pastors, friends, Bible Study leaders, small group leaders in their ignorance create danger for the victim of domestic abuse. As I mentioned earlier, God wants me to use my anger at this ignorance (remember, it used to be my ignorance as well) to make a dent in this denial with the tool I’ve created and the training I am currently writing.
If I had a magic wand to wave over the field of Christian counseling it would do this…open the hearts, minds, souls, and bodies of Christian counselors to be educated on domestic abuse and know that God wants victims safe and supported and wants abusers accountable and to stop their abusive behaviors. He wants both to get the help they need while also realizing that some people will never be safe enough to engage in reconciliation. This magic wand would have the word “SAFETY” written across it and every decision made would be based on what would create safety for the victim. Safety first and foremost….
Two years ago I was asked to provide some very basic training to a group of Christian counselors who work in a church setting. This training included my DV resource tool which also lists Do’s and Don’ts when working with adult victims of domestic violence. Remember the magic wand I just described? As a result of this training, these counselors started referring adult victims of domestic abuse to me because they now could recognize domestic abuse, work within the limits of their training, and collaborate with me on helping these women. Each referral I received from this group of counselors said that they felt safe with these counselors and that it was the first time someone believed their story. These women also learned just how abusive their marriage was because these counselors were able to hold up this very hard truth to them. So when these victims became my clients, I just kept building on the foundation that these counselors laid for me as a result of the training they received. By the way, the training session was only 1.5 hours.