When domestic violence is present, couples counseling can often cause more harm than good. The therapist tends to focus on the relationship rather than the abuse, which allows and even encourages the abusive behavior to continue. If it is addressed, there is an assumption that the victim and abuser both contribute to the behavior, when in truth, it is the abuser that is solely responsible for their actions.
Additionally, out of fear of further abuse, the victim may minimize the instances of abuse, giving the therapist a false impression that things are better than they really are. No matter how the abuse is being addressed with the therapist, couples counseling has the potential to keep the victim in the abusive relationship longer than they would otherwise be. Couples counseling creates a situation that can be dangerous for the victim and is not recommended when abuse is present.
Adapted from the Oregon Domestic Violence Council (Summary by Chris Huffine of a discussion by the Tri-County Batterer Intervention Provider Network). 9/98