Debra is a 38-year-old, heterosexual, Chinese American female. She is a stay-at-home mother with 15- and 7-year-old daughters and an 8-year-old son. Her husband of 21 years, Tim, works as an insurance broker at a local insurance agency. Debra has been prescribed Xanax® from her primary physician for anxiety. While at the doctor’s office, she noticed a poster about the local domestic abuse center. She wrote down the number but did not call. Then, after being hit one night, she decided to call.
Debra called the center’s hotline a few times before deciding to come in for services. She came in to address her children’s behavior, which she believed stemmed from her husband’s anger problem; her eldest daughter had started yelling at Debra and the two younger children, and her son had begun to kick and hit more than normal. Debra had previously attributed these behaviors, as well as her anxiety, to her husband’s stress level. Debra had turned to her mother for help with the children, but her mother had told her, “It is your family, take care of it.”
Debra had been trying to appease her husband’s anger by having the house clean, dinner ready, and the children in bed by the time he got home. Although Debra was used to his occasional outbursts, the night before she first called he hit her in the face and threatened to take the kids away because she “was a terrible mother.”
While discussing her marriage, Debra did not want to label his behavior as abusive or unhealthy. She told me that he was just doing his duty as head of household to provide for his family, and it was her job to keep the family together. After a few sessions, she disclosed that she had been unhappy for years but that her family would disown her if she were to get a divorce.
Debra began individual counseling with the intent to learn about how to keep herself and her children safe from his outbursts and how to manage her children’s behavior. She told me she was not comfortable joining a group at this point. Debra also said that she would like to work on regaining support from her family members. Debra discussed her childhood, describing the way she was brought up in a traditional Chinese family where her mother stayed at home with her and her sister. Her father was the bread-winner and had the final say on any household matters.
During our sessions, I learned about Chinese cultural values related to marriage and family. I discovered that if Debra were to leave Tim, she would dishonor her family and lose any support system they did provide. Debra did not see divorce as a viable option for herself but wanted to try to prevent her husband’s outbursts.
We met once a week and worked on creating a safety plan for her and her children. The children were old enough to be a part of the safety planning process. Debra was open to having the children come in to the agency to discuss their concerns about their father and mother. The children supported their mother and her ideas to help keep their family safe. We worked on creating and maintaining healthy boundaries for herself and her children.
After 3 months, Debra decided that she did not need to come weekly, but rather on an as-needed basis, to change her safety plan. She felt comfortable with her decision to stay and felt that her husband was respecting the new boundaries that she and the children had put up. Her husband has now enrolled in private counseling.
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