In Russia, the activity of a psychologist is not licensed. Theoretically, any graduate of the specialized faculty of the university can call himself a psychologist and work with people. Legislatively in the Russian Federation there is no psychologist secret, like a medical or lawyer’s secret, and there is no single ethical code.
Spontaneously different psychotherapeutic schools and approaches create their own ethical committees, but, as a rule, they involve specialists who already have an active ethical position, reflecting on their role in the profession and on the role of psychologists in the lives of clients and society.
A situation has developed in which neither the degree of a helping specialist, nor decades of practical experience, nor work, even in specialized universities in the country, guarantee the recipient of psychological assistance that the psychologist will respect his interests and ethical code.
Still, it was difficult to imagine that helping specialists, psychologists, people whose opinion is listened to as an expert, will join the accusation of participants in flash mobs against violence (for example, # I’m afraid to say) of lies, demonstrativeness, desire for fame and “mental exhibitionism.” This makes one think not only about the absence of a common ethical field, but also about the absence of professional reflection in the form of personal therapy and supervision.
What is the essence of violence?
Unfortunately, violence is inherent in any society. But society’s reaction to it varies. We live in a country with a “culture of violence” fueled by gender stereotypes, myths and traditional blame and justification for the victim. We can say that this is a social form of the notorious “Stockholm syndrome”, when the victim identifies with the rapist so as not to feel vulnerable, so as not to be among those who can be humiliated and trampled.
According to statistics, in Russia every 20 minutes someone becomes a victim of domestic violence. Out of 10 cases of sexual violence, only 10-12% of victims turn to the police, and only one in five of the police accepts a statement1… The abuser often does not bear any responsibility. The victims live in silence and fear for years.
Violence is not only physical. This is a position from which one person says to another: “I have the right to do something with you, ignoring your will.” This is the meta-message: “You are nobody, and it doesn’t matter how you feel and what you want.”
Violence can be not only physical (beatings), but also emotional (humiliation, verbal aggression) and economic: for example, if you force a dependent person to beg for money even for the most necessary things.
If the psychotherapist allows himself to take the position of “blame herself”, he is violating the ethical code
Sexual abuse is often covered up with a romantic screen, when the victim is attributed to excessive sexual attractiveness, and the perpetrator – an incredible outburst of passion. But it’s not about passion, but about the power of one person over another. Violence is the satisfaction of the rapist’s needs, the rapture of power.
Violence depersonalizes the victim. A person feels himself to be an object, an object, a thing. He is deprived of will, the ability to dispose of his body, his life. Violence cuts off the victim from the world and leaves him alone, because it is difficult to tell such a thing, and to tell and not come across condemnation is scary.
How should the psychologist respond to the victim’s story?
If a victim of violence decides to talk about what happened at a psychologist’s appointment, then condemning, disbelieving or saying: “You are traumatizing me with your story” is criminal, because it can cause even more harm. When a victim of violence decides to speak in public space, which requires courage, it is unprofessional to accuse her of fantasies and lies or intimidate her with retraumatization.
Here are some theses that describe the professionally competent behavior of a helping specialist in such a situation.
1. He believes in the sacrifice. He does not pretend to be an expert in someone else’s life, the Lord God, an investigator, an interrogator, his profession is not about that. The coherence and believability of the victim’s story is a matter of investigation, prosecution and defense. The psychologist does what even people close to the victim may not have done: he believes immediately and unconditionally. Supports immediately and unconditionally. Lends a helping hand – immediately.
2. He doesn’t blame. He is not the Holy Inquisition, the morality of the victim is not his business. Her habits, life choices, dressing and choosing friends are not his business. His job is to support. A psychologist under no circumstances should broadcast to the victim: “It is her own fault.”
For a psychologist, only the subjective experiences of the victim, her own assessment
3. He defies fear. Doesn’t hide his head in the sand. Does not defend his picture of a “just world”, blaming and devaluing the victim of violence and what happened to her. As well as not falling into his own injuries, because, probably, the client already had the experience of facing a helpless adult who was so afraid of what he heard that he chose not to believe it.
4. He respects the victim’s decision to speak up. He does not tell the victim that her story is so dirty that he has the right to be heard only in the sterile conditions of a private office. Doesn’t decide for her how much she can increase her trauma by talking about it. Does not place the victim of violence responsible for the discomfort of others who find it difficult or difficult to hear or read her story. The rapist had already frightened her with this. This and also the fact that she will lose the respect of others if she tells. Or hurt them.
5. He does not assess the degree of suffering of the victim. The severity of the beatings or the number of episodes of violence is the prerogative of the investigator. For a psychologist, only the subjective experiences of the victim, her own assessment are important.
6. He does not call to tolerate a victim of domestic violence in the name of religious beliefs or from the idea of preserving the family, does not impose his will and does not give advice, the responsibility for which is not he, but the victim of violence.
There is only one way to avoid violence: stop the rapist himself
7. He does not offer recipes for avoiding violence. Doesn’t satisfy his idle curiosity by finding out information that is hardly necessary to provide assistance. He does not offer the victim to disassemble her behavior to the bone, so that this does not happen to her again. Does not inspire the victim with the idea and does not support such, if the victim has it himself, that the behavior of the rapist depends on her.
Does not refer to his difficult childhood or subtle mental organization. On the shortcomings of upbringing or the harmful influence of the environment. The victim of abuse should not be held accountable for the abuser. There is only one way to avoid violence: stop the rapist himself.
8. He remembers what the profession obliges him to do. He is expected to help and to have expert knowledge. He understands that his word, even spoken not within the walls of the office, but in public space, affects both the victims of violence and those who want to close their eyes, shut their ears and believe that the victims have made up their minds, that they are to blame.
If a psychotherapist allows himself to take the position of “her own fault,” he is violating the ethical code. If the therapist gets caught up in one of the points above, he or she needs personal therapy and / or supervision. Moreover, if this happens, it discredits all psychologists, undermines the foundations of the profession. This is something that shouldn’t be.
About the expert
Marina Travkova – Systemic family psychotherapist, member of the Society of Family Counselors and Psychotherapists. Works with marital conflicts, adultery, domestic violence. Leader of seminars on the experience of grief and trauma, teacher of the master’s program at the Higher School of Economics, author of the deck of metaphorical associative cards “Say Goodbye to Live”.
1 Information from the Sisters, an independent charitable center for survivors of sexual abuse, sisters-help.ru.